Friday, January 20, 2012

Nigerian Military Occupies Capital in Aftermath of General Strike

Nigerian Military Occupies Capital in Aftermath of General Strike

Probe launched into fuel subsidy corruption

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

In the aftermath of the general strike in Nigeria, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan has deployed troops in the commercial capital of Lagos. The leadership of the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) declared the strike over on the evening of January 15 after the administration imposed a 50 percent price reduction on fuel cost increases that prompted the nationwide actions.

There was much dissatisfaction over the conclusion of the strike by members of the Civil Society Organizations and other forces within the labor movement. Demonstrations have continued for several days in Ogun State and Kaduna.

In Lagos on January 18 several people attempted to march in protest against the troop deployments when the demonstration was broken up by police using tear gas. The action was led by Tunji Braithwaite, a 1999 presidential candidate, who like many others, have strongly condemned the use of soldiers against the civilian population.

Under the banner of the National Action Coalition, protesters marched toward the Gani Fawhinmi Freedom Park in Ojota, Lagos. Soon afterwards, the Secretary of the June 12 Coalition, Nelson Ekujimi, passed out in the course of the commotion generated by the police attack and was later brought back to consciousness at the State General Hospital.

Members of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) had applied for a permit to march the following day on January 19 but were turned down by the Lagos Police Command. Although the coalition wanted to hold the demonstration under the security arrangements established by the authorities, they were still denied the right to peacefully protest under the guise of security concerns.

Both the police and military defended their actions on the basis of the current political situation inside the country. The Nigerian Guardian reported that Defense Headquarters stressed on January 19 that “all military personnel that are part of last Sunday night’s deployment were members of the Lagos State sponsored Operation MESA and not an Army of occupation as alleged by critics.” (Guardian, Jan. 20)

The Guardian went on to note that the “Director of Defense Information, Col. Mohammed Yerima, told journalists in Abuja (the political capital) the deployment was part of the military’s commitment to ‘the defense and protection of our country’s hard earned democratic credentials.’”

Explaining this further Yerima said “the attention of the Defense Headquarters has been drawn to the unsubstantiated claims by a section of the public alleging that the Federal Government ordered the deployment of troops in Lagos to halt the protest against the petrol subsidy removal. While the defense Headquarters do not wish to join issues with any individual or groups regarding the matter, we wish to state categorically, in the interest of the larger society, that there is no element of truth in those claims.”

Just one day prior to the break-up of the demonstrations in Lagos, elder statesman Braithwaite and Prof. Ben Nwabueze, the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), Senator Gbenga Ashafa and other activists called for the immediate withdrawal of the troops from the capital.

During the rally Braithwaite said that “The removal of the fuel subsidy issue is not yet settled because there are different constitutional deformities bedeviling the nation. We need to face this crucial issue once and for all because foreign economic exploiters are already using this as an avenue to rob the country.”

Braithwaite continued saying “there is no religious or cultural divide in the country, but on the contrary, the opportunistic politicians use this to exploit the masses and because of this, the soldiers must leave our streets today.”

The Jonathan government has made it known that they are not in any hurry to withdraw their forces from Lagos. Defense Minister Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed asserted that the troops would be pulled back as soon as the situation was normalized.

In a January 17 statement, Defense Minister Mohammed said “We learnt through security reports that there were people who were not members of the labor unions but had plans to use the strike to cause anarchy. When it was clear that Labor was to reach an agreement with government, they were to cause issues and show that the Nigerian government is killing its citizens as in Syria and the Maghreb region.” (Nigerian Guardian, Jan. 18)

In response to the ongoing discontent, the Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, said that anyone demonstrating in the country could be charged with treason.

Leaders of the NLC and TUC pointed out that they did not agree with the unilateral decision by the Jonathan government to reduce the price of fuel by 50 percent after the cancellation of subsidies had raised the cost to consumers by over 100 percent. Nonetheless, the labor leaders said that their reason for ending the strike was to prevent greater unrest in the oil-producing state, Africa’s most populous.

Investigation Begins Into Alleged Corruption in Fuel Subsidy Program

Also there are reports of massive corruption within the fuel distribution system that have resulted from the subsidies program. However, many Nigerians are asking: Why are these issues coming up now? Are the National Assembly and Federal Government attempting to justify the cancellation of subsidies or the half measures enacted in the attempt to quell unrest in the country?

Several leading officials in the Federal Government have in recent days emphasized the need to tackle alleged corruption in the fuel distribution industry. Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said on January 19 that her mission in government is to fight corruption.

The Finance Minister pledged her commitment to cooperate with the House of Representative Ad-Hoc Committee that is conducting an investigation into corruption saying that “We must get at the truth because the country needs every kobo we can fine. I will not invent any answers to shield anybody.” (Nigerian Guardian, Jan. 20)

Also under scrutiny is the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, under whose supervision a probe is being conducted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) into the practices of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

The Executive Director of Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Mr. David Ugolor, expressed dismay at the prominent role of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources in the anti-corruption investigation. In a statement issued in Benin City, Edo State, the ANEEJ made critical comments regarding the role of leading government officials in the probe.

The statement issued by Ugolor pointed out that “In the course of the weeklong paralysis of the Nigerian economy occasioned by the strike and protests called by organized labor and Civil Society Organizations over the removal of fuel subsidies by the Federal Government, Nigerians openly asked President Goodluck Jonathan among several other question: Why did the Federal Government not deal with the issue of corruption which informed its decision to remove subsidies on PMS?” (Nigeria ThisDay, Jan. 19)

This same statement went on to say “The Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, invited the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC) to probe activities of her ministry regarding fuel subsidy management, and says she will set up a committee to work with the anti-graft agency to discharge their duties along with other measures being taken to respond to the issue of corruption in the petroleum ministry.”

The Role of International Finance Capital in the Nigerian Crisis

Of course the not so hidden-hand of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are present in the economic policy shifts that are going on now in West and Central Africa’s oil exporting states. Nigeria is the largest oil exporter on the continent and the U.S. is becoming more reliant on crude from the country.

The Minister of Finance in the Federal Government of Nigeria is a former Vice-President for the World Bank and has on numerous occasions advanced arguments put forward by the Washington-based financial institution. Historically the IMF and World Bank have demanded the implementation of austerity measures in Africa which have caused enormous hardships for the majority of workers, farmers and youth on the continent.

In a forecast made by the World Bank in June 2011, it states that “Europe appears to have entered recession, and growth in several major developing countries (Brazil, India and to a lesser extent Russia, South Africa and Turkey) has slowed. The downturn in Europe and weaker growth in developing countries raises the risk that the two developments reinforce one another, resulting in an even weaker outcome.”

The report went on to predict that “No country and no region will escape the consequences of a serious downturn. Risk although contained for now is of a much broader freezing up of capital markets. A global crisis similar in magnitude to the Lehman crisis remains.”

A recent Reuters article on this analysis claimed that “political tensions in the Middle East and North Africa could disrupt oil supplies and add another blow to global prospects, the World Bank said in a sobering assessment of the challenges facing the economy. It said that while Europe was moving toward a long-term solution to its debt problems, markets remain restless.” (Reuters, Jan. 19)

With specific reference to Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil-producing state, the security situation is of the utmost concern to both the Federal Government as well as the United States ruling class. Closer ties between U.S. military, intelligence services and the Nigerian authorities have been rapidly developing over the recent period.

A Nigerian Guardian report indicated that “As part of its resolve to confront Boko Haram terrorism and security challenges in the country and the West Africa region, the Federal Government has accepted a proposal by the United States to create a new focus on security as a different agenda under the U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission (BNC), initiated just less than two years ago.” (Guardian, Jan. 18)

The article then reveals that “under the new security focus, top military chiefs from the U.S. will join the resumption of the BNC talks between the U.S. and Nigeria starting next week in Abuja. This disclosure was made yesterday (Jan. 17) by the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, Prof. Adebowale Adefuye, during a meeting with U.S. business investors and private sector executives under the platform of the influential Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), in Washington, D.C. on recent developments in Nigeria, especially Boko Haram attacks and the petrol subsidy crisis.”

Consequently, the U.S. imperialists have a direct role in the current economic and security policies now being implemented in Africa’s most populous state. This is part of the same pattern that is reflected in the increasing role of the United States Africa Command (Africom) with the enhancement of the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) presence on the continent in various countries including Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, the Seychelles, among other areas.

These are issues that both the peoples of the U.S. and Africa should be very much concerned about. There have been no humanitarian interventions in Africa by imperialist forces, all of these efforts are based on the calculated interests of the capitalist classes and to the detriment of the masses in both the Western countries as well as the continent.

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