LeiLani Dowell of FIST, Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor of the Pan-African News Wire and Monica Moorehead, Managing Editor of Workers World Newspaper, at a study forum on African history in New York City on July 11, 2008. (Photo: John Catalinotto)., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Nigeria General Strike Enters Second Week After Talks With Government Fail
Unions, mass organizations demand reinstatement of fuel subsidies
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Talks between the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) with the federal government have failed to resolve the dispute over the cancellation of fuel subsidies that went into effect on January 1.
Millions of Nigerians supported a nationwide work stoppage while hundreds of thousands joined protests in the capital of Lagos and other major cities throughout the country, Africa’s most populous state. The removal of the fuel subsidies resulted in the rise of petroleum prices by 120 percent.
The impact of the fuel subsidy policy of the federal government is causing widespread inflation throughout the entire economy which threatens to make basic commodities such as food, energy and rents even more unaffordable for the masses of workers and youth. Many people in Nigeria live on meager wages and unemployment officially stands at 23 percent.
On January 13, the two major labor federations, NLC and TUC, suspended strike action for the weekend pending the outcome of negotiations with the government of President Goodluck Jonathan. However, the unions pledged that if the administration did not reinstate the subsidies the strike activity would resume on January 16.
According the Nigerian Guardian, “Leaders of the 18-person labor team led by the President of the Nigeria Labor Congress, NLC, Abdulwaheed Omar, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, Peter Esele, told journalists at about 11:20pm (January 14) when the meeting ended, that ‘Government was not ready’ to yield to their demand of reverting to N65 per liter. When he was initially asked if the stalemate meant that the national strike would continue, he said he would communicate the results of his National Executive Council’s (NEC) meeting to the media by January 15.” (Nigerian Guardian, January 15)
Nonetheless, the NLC president later addressed the media stating that industrial action would continue on January 16. The strike has crippled the country, closing down ground transport and airline traffic in and out of the country.
Although the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) had not officially joined the strike, there have been ongoing blockades of production facilities. On January 12, leaders of PENGASSAN had pledged to join the strike as well by shutting down oil production effectively on January 16.
General Strike Takes on Political Character
Although the two major trade union federations have been the engine for the industrial action, the strike has been supported by various mass organizations throughout the country. Various groups including the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), Enough Is Enough (EiE), the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), among others, have vowed to continue the mobilization of the people for even larger street actions across the nation.
During a press conference in Lagos on January 14, the Executive Director of Enough Is Enough, Yemi Adamolekun, stressed that the demands of the general strike had now moved beyond the call for the reduction of fuel prices. Adamolekun placed blamed for the current crisis on the Jonathan administration saying that “you can’t add more money to a corrupt system and expect miracles.” (Nigerian Guardian, January 15)
Also the Enough Is Enough coalition pointed out that the government’s policy toward employees of the Federal Civil Service of “no work, no pay” must be reversed or protests would continue. The Executive Director of the CLO, Ibuchukwu Ezike told labor negotiators that the nationwide struggle in Nigeria is not solely about the demands of the unions.
Ezike said on January 15 that “Any agreement they strike with government devoid of reversal of N65 pump price will not be acceptable to Nigerians and it will be rejected. CLO rejects all the arguments presented by the government in the defense of its action because it lacks logic and are only fabricated to deceive Nigerians.”
Impact of the General Strike on Sectional Conflict
Just prior to the outbreak of the general strike on January 9, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan had declared a “state of emergency” in various regions of the country. These state actions were purportedly precipitated by the outbreak of regional and religious violence during the Christmas holiday season when several churches were bombed allegedly by the Boko Haram Islamic sect that is based in the northeast of the country.
There have also been retaliatory attacks on mosques and Koranic schools by suspected Christian groups. Statements attributed to the Boko Haram sect have called for the Christian and other southern and eastern ethnic groups to leave the north of the country and return to what has been described as their home areas.
These sectional conflicts, which largely stem from the colonial era when British imperialism deliberately divided the country along ethnic and regional lines, have spilled over into the current political atmosphere surrounding the general strike. Several groups have surfaced over the last two weeks which have threatened to rally in defense of the Jonathan government since he is originally from the south of Nigeria.
In a communique released by a group calling itself the Deltans Occupy Delta Resources (NDONDR) it states that “Niger Delta and oil resources found in the Niger Delta belong to Niger Delta people. All resources found in any other region of Nigeria belong to the people of such region.”
The statement continues noting that “We call on all our Niger Delta people, for the sake of our future to look to our nearest neighbors, the Ibos for immediate and strong alliance, to enable the Niger Delta nations and the Igbo nation to face the obvious change that will come to Nigeria, in strength, justice, brotherhood and truth. If Jonathan, a Niger Delta son is not good enough to govern Nigeria, the oil in his Niger Delta is not good enough for Nigeria.”
This same communique also says that “If the Niger Delta people are not good enough to be part of good governance in Nigeria, then our oil and gas of the Niger Delta peoples is not good enough for Nigeria.” The statement reflects the continuing failure to resolve the sectional conflict in Nigeria which resulted in the civil war that devastated the country during the years of 1967-70, when the peoples from the southeast sought to form their separate state of “Biafra.”
It is also suspected that attacks by a group of youth on members of the NLC, TUC and Civil Society Organizations (CSO) in Imo state may be linked to the government or forces who are promoting a sectional agenda. The incidents left several supporters of the strike injured.
The Nigerian Guardian reported that “In a statement signed by the Acting Chairman of the NLC in the state, Nze Obinna Okafor, Imo state chairman of the TUC, Nze Obinna Aharanwa and the convener of the CSOs in the state, Uche Wisdom Durueke in Owerri at the weekend, the groups said hoodlums drove to the venue in Owerri where they were having their peaceful protest in eight buses, brandishing knives and dangerous weapons. They said that after the assault, the attackers went to the offices of the Special Assistant to Okorocha on Youth Affairs and the Special Assistant on Niger Delta, Government House, Owerri where they were received.” (Nigerian Guardian, January 15)
Nonetheless, there are other organizations that have emphasized the necessity for national unity in the face of the current economic crisis. Christians and Muslims in Lagos joined together in a mass demonstration on January 13 calling for the reinstatement of the fuel subsidies.
At the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park in Ojota Lagos, people from various ethno-religious backgrounds rallied in a show of united mass action. The crowd was addressed by several leaders including Pastor Tunde Bakare, General Overseer of Latter Rain Assembly, and National Missioner, Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, Sheikh AbdurRahman Ahmad.
The Nigerian Nation newspaper reported that the rally “exhibited a rare unity of purpose.” The crowd chanted “Nigerians must come together. We must sink ethnic and religious differences. It is high time we laid emphasis on our common goals in order to forge greater unity and take this country to El Dorado.” (The Nation, January 13)
Problems Emanate From the Capitalist World Crisis
Nigeria’s role in the international oil industry is clearly related to the current struggle over the price of fuel for internal consumption. Despite the production of over two million barrels of crude oil per day inside the country, the masses of people have not benefited from the resources generated through export of its major industry where 90 percent of the country’s foreign exchange is garnered.
Two key government portfolios are occupied by ministers who have close links with transnational oil corporations and international finance capital. The Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, came to the administration from the oil industry.
Alison-Madueke has denied that she advised the Jonathan government to remove the fuel subsidies. In a statement issued on January 14, the Petroleum Minister said that “It is wrong for anyone to say that I unilaterally ordered the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency to announce the removal of subsidy. Withdrawal of subsidy is a policy of the federal government in which I serve as a Minister of Petroleum Resources.” (Nigerian Guardian, January 15)
Another key figure in the Nigerian government is Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, who spent many years as a vice-president of the Washington-based World Bank. Okonjo Iweala addressed the annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank during 2011, when she acknowledged the impact of the global market on economic policy within Nigeria.
Nigeria is not the only country in West Africa that has eliminated fuel subsidies. Ghana, which has recently begun to exploit its offshore oil resources, also announced similar policies in December 2011.
An article in Nigeria Next newspaper noted that “Ghana has cut fuel subsidies following an increase in crude oil prices and the depreciation of the Ghana cedi currency, the head of Ghana’s National Petroleum Authority said in a statement. Ghana, which joined the club of oil producers in West Africa last year, has come under increased pressure from the International Monetary Fund to remove the fuel subsidies.” (Next, December 29, 2011)
This same article goes on to point out that “The IMF has urged countries across West and Central Africa to cut fuel subsidies, which they say are not effective in directly aiding the poor, but do promote corruption and smuggling. The past months have seen governments in Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon and Chad moving to cut state subsidies on fuel.”
Consequently, these states, which remain firmly integrated into the world capitalist system, will continue to be pressured by international financial institutions to implement policies that further the exploitation of the workers, farmers and youth. Until Africa breaks with world imperialism and utilizes its resources for the benefit of the masses of people, these governments that produce strategic resources for export to the leading capitalist states will not be in a position to provide benefits to the majority of their populations.