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General strike in Nigeria protests end to fuel subsidies

Published Jan 18, 2012 8:35 PM

BULLETIN: On Jan. 16, under extreme government pressure, the Nigerian Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress leaders ended a week-long general strike after the federal government cut gasoline prices from $3.51 to $2.27 per gallon. The original subsidized price was $1.70 per gallon. Other organizations have criticized the labor leaders’ decision and said they will continue the dispute over the government’s Jan. 1 decision to cancel fuel subsidies.

During the week of Jan. 9-15, millions of Nigerians supported a nationwide work stoppage demanding restoration of fuel subsidies. Hundreds of thousands joined protests in the capital of Lagos and other major cities throughout Africa’s most populous state. The removal of the fuel subsidies resulted in the rise of petroleum prices by 120 percent.

Removing fuel subsidies causes inflation throughout the entire economy that threatens to make food, energy and rents even more unaffordable for the masses of workers and youth. Many of Nigeria’s 155 million people survive on meager wages. Official unemployment is 23 percent. Imperialist financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund have pressured West Africa states to end petroleum subsidies.

During the week, the strike closed 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 Jan. 12, Pengassan’s leaders had pledged to shut down oil production on Jan. 16.

Although the two major trade union federations played the biggest role, mass organizations throughout the country supported the strike, including the Save Nigeria Group, Enough Is Enough (EiE) and the Civil Liberties Organization. Many vowed to continue the mobilization of the people for even larger street actions across the nation.

At a news conference in Lagos on Jan. 14, EiE executive director, Yemi Adamolekun, blamed the current crisis on President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, saying that “you can’t add more money to a corrupt system and expect miracles.” (Nigerian Guardian, Jan. 15)

CLO executive director, Ibuchukwu Ezike, told labor negotiators that the nationwide struggle in Nigeria is not solely about the demands of the unions: “CLO rejects all the arguments presented by the government in the defense of its action because it lacks logic and [they] are only fabricated to deceive Nigerians.”

Sectional conflicts or national unity

On Jan. 9, just before the strike, the Jonathan government had declared “a state of emergency” in various regions, purportedly because of the outbreak of regional and religious violence during the Christmas holiday season. Several churches were bombed then, allegedly by the Boko Haram Islamic sect, which is based in the northeast of the country. There have also been retaliatory attacks on mosques and Koranic schools. Christian groups are suspected.

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.

It is also suspected that attacks by a group of youth on members of the NLC, TUC and Civil Society Organizations in Imo state may be linked to the government or forces that are promoting a sectional agenda. The incidents left several supporters of the strike injured.

Other organizations have emphasized the need for mass national unity in the face of the current economic crisis. Christians and Muslims in Lagos joined together in a mass demonstration on Jan. 13 calling for the reinstatement of the fuel subsidies.

At the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park in Ojota, Lagos, people from various ethnoreligious backgrounds rallied in a show of united mass action. 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.” (Jan. 13)

Role of 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. Nigeria produces more than 2 million barrels of crude oil per day, earning with it 90 percent of its foreign exchange. Yet the masses of people have received no benefits from these earnings.

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, Diezani Alison-Madueke, came to the administration from the oil industry. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy, 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.

An article in Nigeria Next newspaper noted, “Ghana has cut fuel subsidies following an increase in crude oil prices and the depreciation of the Ghana cedi currency … 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. … The IMF has urged countries across West and Central Africa to cut fuel subsidies. … The past months have seen governments in Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon and Chad moving to cut state subsidies on fuel.” (Dec. 29)

These states remain firmly integrated into the world capitalist system, allowing imperialist financial institutions to pressure them to 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, governments of countries that export strategic resources to the leading capitalist states will not be in a position to provide benefits to the majority of their populations.