AFTER NLC PROTEST: WHAT NEXT?
SUCCESSFUL PROTEST IS IRREFUTABLE PROOF THAT THE SITUATION IS RIPE FOR A GENERAL STRIKE
SEIZE THE INITIATIVE – FOR IMMEDIATE PREPARATION FOR A GENERAL STRIKE AND MASS PROTEST NOW!
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) commends the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), affiliates, striking university unions, civil society organizations, students and youth groups, left and socialist coalitions and organizations for the successful two-day national protest organized by the NLC to solidarize with ASUU and other university unions over the lingering shutdown of public universities due to strikes that have lasted over five months now and still counting. The protests took place in all state capitals of the federation on Tuesday 26 July 2022 with a grand finale at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja on Wednesday 27 July 2022.
Going by the firsthand experience of DSM members in the areas we intervened as well as reports on social and traditional media indicating developments from other areas, there is no ambiguity that the protests were resoundingly successful. While the immediate trigger was the issue of the over five-month closure of public Universities, however, a major propelling factor behind the enthusiastic turnout at the protests is the mass anger and dissatisfaction with the way Nigeria is being run. This is why despite many not trusting the leadership of the NLC, workers and the masses trooped out nevertheless. From the point of view of the masses, the two-day protest represented an opportunity to take a stand against the rule of the Buhari/APC government.
In Lagos State, the turnout was significant with affiliates mobilizing big contingents unlike what has been the case in recent protests. Apart from the University-based unions who are the primary parties to the struggle, other unions like the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) mobilized significant numbers of their members. This is a brilliant demonstration of the spirit of solidarity.
The Lagos protest witnessed “a sea of heads” as between 3000 to about 5000 protesters poured into the street. Elsewhere in Kano, Benue, Ogun, Oyo and Edo states as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, various reports indicate good turnout, traffic snarl and partial closure of businesses as protesters stormed the streets. Even though previous labour mobilizations and protests dwarf this, yet this is clearly one of labour’s biggest and most combative demonstrations in recent years. It is also the first nationwide mass protest led by the Ayuba Wabba-led leadership of the NLC against the Buhari All Progressive Congress (APC) regime since 2016. Three previous attempts at protests or strikes (firstly in 2018, secondly in September 2020 and thirdly in February 2022) on a variety of issues were called off by the NLC leaders at the last minute without achieving any lasting result.
PROTEST SUCCESS INDICATIVE OF A MOOD OF STRUGGLE
In our view, the success of the two-day national protest in spite of the widespread suspicion of the pro-capitalist leadership of the labour movement due to their infamous record of generally betraying mass struggle is an unmistakable and irrefutable proof of the readiness of Nigerian workers for a showdown with the Buhari/All Progressive Congress (APC) government. This is in spite of the fact that if subjected to strict mathematical calculation, the total number of protesters that came out across the country over the course of the two-day protest would be no more than a fraction of the entirety of the working class and oppressed masses of the country. Yet their combative and militant mood is representative of the sweltering mood of anger across the country and sharply poses the question of what next should be done?
If a general strike is called today, especially one that is called around demands that goes beyond the shutdown of public Universities but addresses issues of wages, working conditions and cost of living, the response will be on a massive scale. There is no doubt that an important opportunity has opened up for the class struggle to advance the cause of working people. This opportunity, if seized, can allow the working masses win important concessions not just for university unions but workers across board. Organised labour needs to respond to the resolve demonstrated by the working people to fight back with a clear, concrete plan of action. Labour must not miss this golden opportunity and it is why the next few days are important.
AN OPPORTUNITY THAT MUST NOT BE LOST – FOR A GENERAL STRIKE NOW RAISING ALL DEMANDS!
Good enough, the President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, has variously at media interviews and while addressing the protest in Abuja, intimated that labour will not shy from embarking on a three day general strike should the Buhari government fail to meet the demands of ASUU and other university-based unions within two weeks following the two-day national protests. ThisDay newspaper quoted the NLC president to have said the following at the Abuja protest: “We are tired of lamentation. We want solution. We want the issues to be fixed that is why we are here comrades, and therefore we must be ready. We must be ready. This is the first phase, the second phase, which is a three-day national strike” (ThisDay newspaper, 28 July 2022).
We welcome this declaration and urge the NLC leadership not to wait a day longer hoping to see whether the government would meet the demands of the University-based unions or not before beginning earnest preparation for the general strike. So bad and desperate is the collapse of living standards that even if the government responds and ASUU and other unions suspend their strikes today, some students will most likely be trapped at home as they will be unable to return to classes due to inability of their working class and middle class parents to afford the cost of transport, feeding and hostel accommodation.
This is why during and after the two-day national protest came to an end on Wednesday 27 July 2022, the DSM called on the leadership of the NLC and the TUC to immediately begin earnest preparation for a general strike as the next step. This should include public mass meetings over the coming days at all state capitals, democratic constitution of “Strike Action Committees” at workplaces and communities and production of leaflets and other campaign and mobilisational materials.
While obviously a central demand of the general strike would be settling with ASUU and other unions to end the closure of public universities and underfunding of education, the desperate situation across the country and the crisis of insecurity requires that such a general strike must also be used to fight for a charter of demands that unite the entirety of the working class and poor masses. This includes: payment of owed salaries and pension, remittance of contributory pension, cooperative and other dues already deducted from workers’ salaries but withheld by many state governments, review of the minimum wage, reduction of the salaries/allowances of political office holders, reduction of prices of food and services, reversal of hike in fuel and electricity tariff etc. This is important otherwise the opportunity that the current moment presents for the winning of improvement in the wages and living conditions of workers across board might be missed, although it would need to be stressed that for such gains to be made permanent requires a socialist break with capitalism.
At the same time, we call on workers, activists and the left not to leave the initiative to the labour leadership. Rather, a campaign is urgently needed within the labour movement to demand that the leadership of the NLC and TUC translate its words into action by commencing an immediate preparation for a general strike raising all issues, and not just the closure of public Universities. Such a campaign to galvanize Labour into action can involve circulation of leaflets at workplaces, organizing of public meetings, passing of resolutions or signing of petitions, press conferences, creating action committees etc. all with the aim of piling pressure on the NLC and TUC leadership to act.
A 48-HOUR STRIKE AND MASS PROTEST IN THE FIRST INSTANCE
In the same vein, the DSM would like to urge that a 48-hour general strike be called in the first instance instead of a three day or an indefinite general strike. We make this demand for two main reasons which are presented as follows:
One, the present uptick in the masses mood for struggle is still at a starting point. While anger and discontent are widespread given the abysmal failure of the Buhari regime, it is not clear the degree to which the resolve to fight back percolates in society. Obviously, big section of the organized working class as well as layers of the middle class and youth will respond enthusiastically to a call for a general strike. But Nigeria also has a large population of informal workers and lumpen elements. It is important to consider the mood of these layers and ensure that any action called can be sustained. Otherwise we can have a situation where a three day general strike is called but descends into a fiasco or collapses by the second or third day due to the desperation of informal workers and lumpen elements who being daily earners are often severely affected by a prolonged strike. But there are also countless occasions in the past including in January 2012 when this layer stood solidly behind an indefinite general strike despite the enormous sacrifices this meant for them. So therefore, what is required is for the labour leadership to have a correct estimation of the situation and ensure that whatever actions called correlate to the balance of force in society.
Secondly, it is doubtful that organized labour is organizationally and politically prepared for a prolonged general strike. For instance, during the mobilization for the two day national protest in Lagos on July 26, the leadership of the Lagos State NLC council, once again, complained bitterly of inadequate resources sent from the NLC national secretariat to prosecute the protest. Unfortunately, this was not the first time the state leadership would make this kind of complaint. We have to stress that this kind of lackadaisical approach of the labour leadership towards mobilization for struggle cannot guarantee the success of a one-day general strike let alone a three-day general strike. This is without prejudice to the fact that impromptu initiatives/organizations from below like we saw in the January 2012 general strike and most recently in the example of the “Resistance Committees” in Sudan, can spring up during the course of struggle and take movements forward. But as historical experiences have shown for instance in the 2011 Arab spring, sometimes some of these spontaneous movements and impromptu initiatives from below can suffer a lack of a clear programme and what steps to take which may not be overcome in the course of the struggle, thus demonstrating the importance of concrete organizational and political preparation by union and socialist activists.
A general strike is not a play thing. It is a principal weapon of struggle in the battle between labour and capital. At its height, a general strike involves the shutting down of production, transportation either by land, water and air and rendering of the capitalist system prostrate. It is an enormous activity involving large-scale movement of forces, production and circulation of materials, pickets, rallies, mass demonstrations, building of action committees at workplaces and communities etc. Therefore it requires enormous resources to prosecute and sustain. In the same vein, a general strike, especially one that is prolonged, raises the question of political power especially as it creates condition for the collapse of both the capitalist economic system and its political representatives – the government, which can be left isolated and powerless in mid-air as started to be the case in January 2012. Therefore unless conducted within the framework of a perspective and programme for workers and the poor masses to take political power, a simple declaration of an indefinite general strike could lead to the collapse of the government creating a vacuum which other forces, either rival wings of the ruling elite, military or sectarian forces will step into but without any improvement in the lives of the working masses. This further underscores the need for a mass working people party with a revolutionary socialist programme that can take over political power.
ONLY ANSWER TO NIGERIA’S CRISES: A WORKERS AND POOR PEOPLES’ GOVERNMENT ARMED WITH SOCIALIST POLICIES
By and large, the NLC solidarity two-day national protest has opened a new vista in the class struggle in Nigeria. This is not surprising. This year has seen a further worsening of the situation manifested in the massive collapse in living standards, rising inflation and food prices and a cost of living crisis as the working masses and middle classes struggle to survive. Many can hardly feed and starvation stares millions of working-class families in the face! Instead of back-pedalling, the Buhari government’s response is to apply more and more neo-liberal poison pills (e.g. last week’s unveiling of Nigeria’s state oil giant, NNPC, as a commercialized corporation for instance) while accumulating ever-increasing public debt. For the first time, the cost of servicing Nigeria’s debt exceeded revenue in the first four months of 2022 while the naira is on a free fall. Every index points towards the prospect of an economic collapse.
This desperate situation is further compounded by raging insecurity and sectarian armed violence which raises the prospect of state failure. From all indications, Nigeria is at risk of collapsing! The government is barely functioning except as a propaganda machine and occasionally as an instrument of repression. Many of the capitalists are in despair at what is happening and fear the future for themselves and their system.
Like the forewarning of an earthquake, the working class, the middle classes and poor masses already can feel the tremor of this approaching collapse beneath their feet. At the moment, there is hardly any inch of Nigeria’s sovereign territory where the capitalist state maintains a monopoly of violence. Almost everywhere, non-state actors be they criminal gangs (bandits, kidnappers, and criminal herdsmen etc.), secessionist agitators (IPOB/ESN) and fundamentalist religious terrorist groups (Boko Haram, Ansaru, ISWAP) have turned Nigeria literarily into a killing field with little or no confrontation from security forces. Not even the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja where Boko Haram terrorists ransacked the Kuje prison and released hundreds of prisoners few weeks ago.
As we write, news reports indicate that parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are under siege and may be attacked by bandits and terrorists. The government had to rush to close down schools in Abuja and neighbouring Nasarrawa state. Most tellingly, a group of bandits and Boko Haram terrorists who attacked the Kaduna-Abuja train on March 28 2022 recently did a video where they pledged to kill their kidnapped victims while also threatening to kidnap President Buhari and the Kaduna State Governor, El-Rufai. Already, there were two daring attacks on the elite security operatives attached to President in Katsina and Abuja. All of these are indicative of the fact that Nigeria is in disarray and on the verge of a violent collapse. They also show that the capitalist ruling elite have lost control of the situation.
Nigeria is clearly adrift. If labour does not quickly act to provide a way out, other forces including sectarian forces or even the military can step in with catastrophic consequences. This is why a mass workers party with socialist programmes is urgently needed. While a Labour Party (LP) exists, its pro-capitalist programmes are at variance with the bold revolutionary programmes needed to pull Nigeria back from the precipice it is currently perched. Rather than a workers’ party, the LP is being built as a junior party of capitalism. Its programmes support Public Private Partnership (PPP) as the engine room of development. Also the party operates undemocratically just like any bourgeois party. For instance, its presidential nomination form was sold for as high as 30 million which means no genuinely working class element can ever run on the party’s platform. Although the LP’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi enjoys some popularity among layers of the urban middle class, the youth and a few working class elements, his pro-capitalist antecedent and characteristic means that even if he emerges, his government is not likely to be fundamentally different from that of the PDP or APC let alone challenge capitalism.
The DSM call on activists in the LP to begin to campaign for the rebuilding of the party as a genuine workers party with Socialist programmes. Instead of trying to win high or medium level defectors from the PDP, APC etc, it must open its doors to workers, youth and activists. They must insist that the LP should be run with internal democracy and its programmes and policies reworked to distinguish it from the mainstream capitalist parties of PDP and APC and to conform with the desire of the working class and poor for a Nigeria that works for all and not just for a tiny rich elite. This is only possible if the party adopts Socialism. Without a socialist programme that includes the nationalization of the commanding heights of Nigeria’s economy under the democratic control and management of the working masses, suffice to stress that a Peter Obi presidency will most likely end up as a monumental disaster just as the current regime of President Buhari.
The Labour Party’s future is not certain, but what is certain is that Nigeria needs a party of workers and youth that challenges the rotten capitalist system and the labour movement needs to strive towards that goal as a means of transforming society.
Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)