The Nigerian working class once again on the move

As the movement against the fuel price hikes and corruption continues, Ola Kazeem expains how the Nigerian masses are radicalising as the struggle is developing. The demand for the president to step down is becoming ever louder.

In one of our previous articles (Revolution in Tunisia and Egypt: lessons for Nigerian workers) we stated:

“If it was a necessity in Egypt and Tunisia, how much more will the revolution be necessary in Nigeria; where over 70% of the population live on less than 1 dollar per day, and over 91% of Nigerians are living below the $2 dollar a day poverty line; where 5000 of her children between the ages of 1 to 5 die annually; where life expectancy is barely 45 years with only 3% of her population manages to live above 63years; where her ruling class has not been able to generate more than 3000 megawatts of electricity when her actual energy need is conservatively put at 172,000 mega watt?

“As it was in Egypt and Tunisia so will it be on a higher scale in Nigeria. The last straw that broke the camel’s back in the Arab countries might be different from our own, but obviously, Nigeria is just waiting for her own “Mohamad Bouazizi!”, that is; for the last straw to break her camel’s back.”

No doubt, the latest hike in price of fuel, under the disguise of removing the oil subsidy, has provided the last straw that has now finally broken the camel’s back. What primarily took a lot of people aback is the desperation which this regime has demonstrated in implementing this policy; the regime deceived people by directing their attention to March 31st for the implementation, only to announce the hike suddenly on the first of January, when many people were already away on holiday; this is a striking proof of the old saying, "whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad".

Collapsing economy under ravaging corruption

Why is this desperation? N1.3trillion (about $8bn) is allocated for capital projects in the 2012 budget; this represents 28% of the total budget. Over N1.4 trillion was used for the oil subsidy in 2011, the simple implication of this is that if the so called subsidy is not removed; there will be not one kobo for any capital project. In the past, this would be the time to run to the IMF and World Bank for borrowing, but unfortunately for the Nigerian ruling class, the foreign donors are themselves broke and are the ones actually asking the developing countries to bail them out. This raises some important questions: how come Nigeria is this broke, in spite of the high price of oil at over $100 per barrel? Why is this regime paying such a whopping sum for an obviously dubious subsidy?

make refineries workThe Nigerian government runs one of the most expensive government apparatuses in the world because of an extremely large number of political cronies. A president having advisers, each adviser has assistant advisers and each assistant has its own assistant and so on. This puts a huge burden on resources. In addition to this, the government maintains its social base through patronage. Corruption is an endemic and inalienable aspect of the government. Access to wealth is completely dependent on access to power. The last election almost dried up our foreign reserve, which was lavishly spent without reference to any productive thing to point to. Having emptied the treasury, the regime became broke and is now on its knees like a prodigal son. The question as always, remains, who pays for this?

In a previous article, we explained how the so called fuel subsidy in reality is a subsidy on the rich and wealthy who by various means receive an over price for their fuel, which does not reflect the cost of production. Is there any justification for doling out trillions of Naira to a few mafias under the name of the oil subsidy? The government and its agents have been blackmailing Nigerians that to oppose the removal of the fuel subsidy means to support continuation of lavishly doling out money to a few rich fat cats. This is very far from the truth! Nigerians want an end to the irresponsible and scandalous spending of our collective wealth in the name of subsidy, first and foremost.

Why must it be the business of thieves and greedy buffoons to be helping us import fuel to Nigeria? Why can’t the government take over this business and push these mafias aside? Then there would be no need for a “subsidy” to keep the price of fuel down. Sure, the government and its agents will shout: “but Government has no business in doing business”. With this slogan, the useless ruling elites have mortgaged the future of Nigerians. The problem is not Government in itself, but what crop of people are in the government, in whose interests do they serve in Government; that is, is the Government existing for profit and promotion of private property or exiting for the promotion and defence of workers’ and other poor strata of society’s interest. Was it not the state that built the whole of Ilupeju industrial estate? Was it not the state that built that tall edifice in Ibadan call Cocoa house? It built Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, one of the biggest and most beautiful Universities in Africa, while still maintaining free education and building estates upon estates for low income earners, at the same time as constructing roads and paying decent wages. It is much more disheartening that the government in question was doing this with only money made from cocoa, while the useless current leadership raked in billions of Naira daily from oil and yet they cannot pay to their workers the 18,000 naira minimum wage.

All these contradictions combined to create the present deadlock being experienced. The present situation can be summed up thus: This is a result of the global crisis of capitalism; the Nigerian ruling class can no longer maintain the past reforms under capitalism, while the Nigerian masses can no longer tolerate any more attacks.

The deadlock becomes political

The situation is becoming really explosive on the political plane. The consciousness of the masses is moving in leaps. On January 3rd 2012 the mass rallies called by the Joint Action Front completely shattered the pessimism of many ultra-leftists who wrote off the Nigerian working class. The call to protest on that date received echoes throughout the country and demystified the existing and erroneous belief that Nigerians are not like Egyptians and therefore cannot act like them. It was this thunderous movement of January 3rd that put huge pressure on the leadership of the Trade Unions, who were left with no other option than to call a general strike starting on Monday 9th January 2012. Despite the obvious lack of genuine preparation on the part of the labour leaders, the mass rally that welcomed the general strike was huge. Over 200,000 people came out in Lagos alone and almost half this size was reported in Kano. The leadership of this movement was formalized around LASCO (Labour and Civil Society Coalition) and even the leadership was shocked to see such a huge turnout.

Reports indicate that the general strike was successful in 36 out of the 36 states of the federation, that is, 100% successful. The only state where the strike was not crowned with a mass rally and street protest was in Bayesa, the state of origin of the current president. All schools and Government offices were completely shut down in Bayesa, but those who actually planned to rally on the street were mercilessly repressed. The regime actually organized a pro-government rally, which was held with a lot of funfair under heavy military and police presence. This is another pointer to the nature of politics being played in Nigeria. Each politician bases his or her political position on his or her tribe. They consciously divide Nigeria along ethnic lines for the purpose of maintaining themselves in power.

Nigerians learnt from Egyptians

Muslims praying in Kano, whilst Christians keep watch, 6 January.Muslims praying in Kano, whilst Christians keep watch, 6 January.For 51 years the Nigerian ruling class has been exploiting the situation whereby the Muslim dominated North is confronted with the Christian South. The Nigerian ruling class entrenched the policy of divide and rule, dividing Nigerians along religious and ethnic divides. Something spectacular has happened within this ongoing movement: Muslims were protected by Christians by encircling them when they were praying in the mosque. A comrade from the north said they learnt it from the Egyptians. This was a landmark event in the history Nigeria, where the image always projected by the Nigerian ruling class is that we are irreconcilably divided along ethnic and religious lines. This act was repeated in many other Northern states. For example, in Minna where the Christmas bombing of Christians by Boko Haram (a Terrorist sect) took place, Muslim youths guarded churches on Sunday and directly challenged Boko Haram to come out and attack. Every day, major landmark achievements are being recorded in the area of stronger unity and class solidarity. This is seriously alarming the ruling class and is desperately looking for all means to further sharpen the division. It is arming thugs and secret police to attack peaceful protests.

Another interesting feature of this popular movement is the use of squares as the rallying point of the movement. Nigerians are creating Tahrir squares all over the states. People are taking over parks and naming them freedom square.

On the leadership of the movement

Like most popular movement of the people, this movement started out with a very simplistic demand: “revert the price back to 65 naira”. Underneath this simple demand lies a huge resentment for decades of failure and inefficiency of extremely corrupt Nigerian ruling elites; that explains why over 200,000 people marched through Lagos on the 3rd of January and similarly in five other major towns across the country, even before the trade unions called the general strikes. An indefinite general strike declared on the 9th was a direct response to the January 3rd movement. It sent a very strong message to the Labour leadership that, it is no longer the business as usual. It cuts across series of manoeuvrings going on behind the scene between the Labour leadership and the Government.

January 3rd movement was led by Joint Action Front (JAF), a broad left trade union front. The success of the 3rd January has made it very popular. The organizational structure of JAF started springing up here and there across Nigeria. In some areas, the leadership of the movement is formalized around LASCO (an organization comprising JAF and the two main trade union centres, that is, NLC and TUC).

goodbye goodluck nigeria-LatuffAs it was in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, so it was here in Nigeria: a section of the ruling elites, whose program and policies are not significantly different from the regime in crisis, always lay ambush to hijack the leadership of any popular movement. They always come forward like friends of the people despite their previous close allegiance to the ruling regimes. The leadership of labour, who in the first instance was highly reluctant to lead the movement, is gradually ceding the position of leadership to these friends in form but enemies in content. They exploit the initial raw and highly immature consciousness of the masses. It took the Egyptians several months to realize that the top echelon of the military is as corrupt and useless as Hosni Mubarak was, unlike the rank and file soldiers who fraternized with revolutionaries during the revolution.

No matter how long it may take, Nigerians will come to realize in the course of struggle that the problem is not only the Jonathan regime, though he is part of it. The problem is primarily the socio-economic system that the regime defends. Any regime will have limited options as long as it clings to a system that puts interest of minority over and well above the interest of overwhelming majority. Nigerians will come to realize that the other bourgeois political parties who are presently trying to steal the movement are in no way better than this crumbling regime. After-all, what is the difference between the fuel price hike and the hike in tuition fee in Lagos State University from 25,000 naira to 250,000 naira carried out by ACN Government in Lagos State? Or the imposition of toll fee in Lekki? Masses learn through real life experience and not through books, and with their eyes open, they are obviously learning.

Conclusion

As is always the case at the beginning of mass movement, Nigerian masses are not yet aware of the intensity of this crisis. The masses at first thought that merely threatening and shouting could force the regime to change its mind and cancel the implementation of this policy, but were shocked to see that the regime still went ahead with it. Now that the policy is here, Nigerian masses are still of the opinion that with just two days of General Strike, mass rally and street protest, the Government will back-down and revert to original price of N65 per litre, but it is now on day five and it doesn’t look like Government is even considering reversing its policy. The masses learn through experience, the consciousness is transforming as real life experience is being assimilated. They will later learn that under capitalism, the Nigerian ruling elites, like their colleagues in Greece, Italy and others, has no other option before them, except to keep on attacking the welfare of the working class and Nigerian masses in general. It is the crisis of a system and what ruling class is saying is that working class and other poor segment of the society have to carry the burden of this crisis. The masses are already coming to the conclusion that the present regime should go. It is already getting louder: “Jonathan must go”. This regime must end now they demand. Yet, they will end up realizing that it is not only this regime that ought to go, but so also is the system. This system that breeds the kind of regime we have, that puts profit before genuine human needs and exists in the interest of minority against the desire of overwhelming majority.

The working class will in the course of this struggle, realize the urgency in renewing its leadership. Working class will wash itself clean of corrupt and extremely degenerate leadership of its organizations! The masses are now closer than ever before, to understanding the need to have a mass party resting on the trade unions. That is a party that people can call their own, which will defend its interest against the greed and crushing exploitation of an ever diminishing minority. LASCO is springing up here and there, it has within it the genuine Marxists and main Labour centres, as masses are learning they keep building their own organizations without which that victory is not feasible.

Source: Workers' Alternative (Nigeria)

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