Mass struggles break out in Nigeria over falling living standards and neo-liberal attacks
On Wednesday, August 2nd 2023, the less than three-month old Tinubu capitalist regime was greeted by a nationwide protest of Nigerian workers, youth and poor masses. Organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade union Congress (TUC), the protests were to demand reversal of fuel price, Naira devaluation, increment of fees on campuses, increase in VAT and the planned hike in electricity tariff amidst other anti-poor policies. The protests came about after about three months of the labour leadership dilly-dallying instead of boldly confronting the regime over its rabidly neo-liberal and anti-poor attacks. These policies, notable of which was the sudden removal of fuel subsidy, had thrown Nigerian working people, 63 percent or 133 million of whom live in multidimensional poverty, into new levels of misery. According to the World Bank, an additional 7.1 million people are expected to be thrown into poverty this year on account of the policies!
The protests, although small in several states, except Lagos and a few others where sizeable numbers came out, nevertheless gave a glimpse of the enormous anger in society. When at the country’s capital Abuja, security officials guarding the gate of the National Assembly failed to unlock the gate to protesting workers who had come to deliver a petition, the workers in their hundreds grabbed the parliament’s gate and tore it open! It was this anger, livid and raging, that propelled the NLC and TUC leadership to call the protest in the first place.
Way back in June when the regime had just bared its fangs by announcing fuel subsidy removal at its very inauguration, a general strike called by labour was hurriedly suspended before it even took off. The excuse at the time were that the regime had obtained a court order to stop the strike and also because labour thought it wise to negotiate for palliatives to cushion the effect of the policy. But three months after, no concrete progress had been made in the negotiation while the labour leadership were at risk of being pelted with stones by workers who were practically starving due to a crash in living standards. This was what gave the labour leadership the resolve to go ahead with the August 2nd protest despite that the regime again threatened to use the court to stop the action amidst other subterfuges.
Almost immediately, the protest bore “fruit” with President Tinubu meeting the labour leadership in the afternoon where according to them, more concrete agreement on the negotiations were reached thereby prompting the suspension of protest from continuing the next day. However, the news that the FG had issued a court summons against the NLC and TUC leaders is an attempt to intimidate the union leaders which the TUC has rightly rejected with the threat to commence strike on August 14 if the summons is not withdrawn. While we commend the labour leadership for the August 2 action, we must warn that no real concession will be won without an intensification of the struggle. Therefore, democratic discussion about the next step for the struggle needs to commence immediately in the trade unions and wider. We in the DSM propose as the next step a 48 hour general strike to follow the August 2nd action unifying the demands of all layers of the working class and oppressed masses. We also welcome the decision of the NLC and TUC to mobilize workers to down tools and show up at the courts on days the contempt preceding the Federal Government filed against the union for organizing the protests comes up. Only workers solidarity and fight back can defeat the regimes anti-union laws and measures.
Members of the DSM joined the protests in four (4) states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, where we intervened with our paper, the Socialist Democracy (SD), as well as leaflets. Despite economic hardship amongst the protesters about 200 copies of the paper were sold including at the preparation meetings in Lagos and Ogun, and about 5000 copies of the DSM leaflet circulated. In Oyo state, a local action of workers in the state had commenced a few days earlier on issues pertaining to workers wage and conditions but the workers also joined August 2nd nationwide action with a strong demo. Our comrades in the state played crucial roles in both struggles. We present below brief reports on the intervention:
The protest commenced at Unity fountain and had a temporary stop at the Ministry of Justice before marching to the National Assembly complex. The protesting workers met a locked gate at the entrance and were forced to pull down the gate in order to gain access to complex premises. The protesters triumphantly marched to the senior chambers, while some protesters wanted to force open the door to the chambers; they were begged by the Labour leaders not to. After few minutes of rancor, the corridor to the chambers was cleared and left with labour leaders, representatives of the Senate who were led by the Chief whip, and the media officials.
The senators spoke and pleaded that the house should be allowed to weigh in on the crisis between the workers and federal government. When workers requested for the period of intervention to be made specific, the Chief whip said the house should be given 7 days to try to resolve the crisis and if the outcome wasn’t positive, the labour leaders are free to proceed with any other actions.
The mood at the protest showed the enormous anger and complete loss of faith in the Tinubu led administration and the Nigerian ruling class in general.
4 copies of SD were sold and over 500 copies of the DSM leaflet were circulated at the Abuja protest action.
Report by Michael Lenin.
30 copies of our paper were sold and several leaflets circulated (not the current edition). 19 copies had been sold at the preparation meeting for the protest two days earlier. Two comrades, Eko and Peter Ogah, intervened. The DSM/CDWR was recognized and asked to address the workers before the protest train took off, and eventually berthed at the state government secretariat, Oke Mosan. A mind drama ensued at the secretariat. The gate was locked against us by the security. After much agitation, it was opened. At the secretariat the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Mr. Tokubo Talabi addressed the workers, on behalf of the state government. He conceitedly challenged labour and civil society organizations to make their “voices” louder for “Abuja” to hear and back down and alleviate the sufferings of the people. A protest letter from the national headquarters was later submitted to him by TUC and NLC.
Report by Eko.
6 copies of the previous SD edition were sold. The new SD sent was not retrieved until after the protest due to some challenges. Four comrades intervened at the protest, which was initiated and organized by National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and JAF. 1000 copies each of DSM and JAF leaflets were distributed. The protest which had a turnout of over 300 had members of unions, including NUEE, ASUU (Uniosun and OAU), NASU, NAAT, PASAN, AUPCTRE, etc. students, civil societies, the press and rank and file of the society, in attended.
There was a twist to the protest when a faction of NLC organised a separate rally after the one we had. The NLC in the state is in leadership crisis with a caretaker committee set up more than 3 months ago, as a result of inconclusive delegate conference. A faction which wanted to take leadership reportedly attacked the caretaker committee meeting two days ago, alleging that the committee should be disbanded. It is this same faction (obviously close to the ruling party in the state) that organised a separate rally. We (Fred and Raheem) later spoke at this rally, which had lower turnout and quality (they, including their leaders, wouldn’t even buy paper).
Overall, it was a successful outing, given that we had to mobilize within 12 hours. It reflects our moral and political authority. NUEE donated 40,000 naira to support the organizing of the protest.
Report by Raheem.
Protesters from the trade unions, pro-labour organizations like JAF, CORE etc., gathered at the Ikeja under bridge of Lagos at 7:30am. As at the time the protest procession started at about 9am, the crowed capacity was about 2,500. As at the time, the protest march got to Allen Junction, about 2 kilometres after, the crowd had increased to 4,000 as more workers, activists and Nigerians in general had joined. Many onlookers, passers-by, traders and motorists complained of the untold hardship in the land, many registered their support while some registered their distrust for the Labour leadership. One person (Mr. Goodness) who got our leaflet called to thank us and registered his Interest to join us.
At different points, labour leaders and JAF leaders addressed the crowd. Adeyanju Adewale (Deputy President of the NLC and President of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria), Babatunde Goke Olatunji (National Auditor of NLC and President of National Union of Chemical Rubber Leather and Non-Metalic Products Employees), Bello Ismail (Deputy General Secretary of NLC), Chude Achike (Deputy National Chairperson of Joint Action Front), Abiodun Aremu (National Secretary of Joint Action Front), Femi Falana, Funmi Sessi (Lagos NLC Chairperson), Comrade Olusesan Rufus, President of Precision Electrical and Related Equipment Senior Staff Association amongst others addressed the protesters. Omoyele Sowore also participated. The speeches criticized the Bola Tinubu-led regime for imposing more hardship on the people through its anti-poor policies and vowed to continue the struggle. The NLC leaders did not state concretely what the next line of mass action will be, apparently will be guided by the decision of the ongoing discussion between the NLC/TUC and the government.
10 Comrades intervened. We distributed leaflets and engaged in the sale of the Socialist Democracy (SD). Their involvement extended to advocating for a socialist perspective, demanding a rollback of fuel prices to N195 per liter, opposing tuition fee hikes, rejecting increases in electricity tariffs, and calling for an end to policies that oppress the less privileged. About 2,000 each of DSM and JAF leaflets were circulated while about 110 copies of the new edition of the SD were sold. One contact was made.
Report by Chinedu and Moshood
Over one thousand Oyo State working people, including workers in both private and public sector and members of civil society organizations, were actively involved in the nationwide action directed by the national leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, to demand a reversal in the continuous hike in the pump price of petrol to #195 as well as other anti-poor policies of the Tinubu-led government.
Members and supporters of the left coalition specifically CORE, ASCAB and JAF organized an independent convergence as early as 7:30am at the front of University of Ibadan (UI), main gate and later move in a possession under a joint banner through popular Bodija markets and joined mass of the Oyo state workers who had been converging on daily basis since Monday, 31st July, 2023 at Oyo State government secretariat to demand among other things an immediate payment of all of the unremitted salaries deductions from January 2023 up till this moment by the Seyi Makinde-led government.
The Oyo state chapter of Democratic Socialist Movement, DSM, has been intervening in this agitation of the Oyo State workers right from the time an ultimatum was given to the state government up to the point a mass meeting of workers was convened with a decision for a daily convergence at the government secretariat.
It will be recalled that a press statement was issued under the platform of Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as a response to the ultimatum given to the Oyo state government. SPN in the said supported the ultimatum and urged the leadership of state council of TUC and NLC to convene a mass meeting of workers for a discussion as to how to go about a possible action should the state government fails to accede to their demands at the expiration of the ultimatum.
Again, no fewer than four members of DSM intervened in the congress called after the expiration of the ultimatum. This includes Comrade Abbey Trotsky who was always recognized as one of the speakers to address the congress. A total numbers of 43 copies of the Socialist Democracy, SD, 13 copies of old and 30 copies of new editions were sold during the congress with one contact was gotten. Since the daily convergence, no fewer than three members of DSM have intervened at different occasions with additional 30 copies of new edition of SD sold.
Going by the character of the agitation of the Oyo state workers which is only limited to a daily convergence at the entrance of the government secretariat, there was a huge suspicion that the nationwide action could also be restricted to a mere convergence at the government secretariat, hence limit the overall political essence and possible political gains of the mass action itself.
It is in the consideration of this possibility, that the coalition of JAF, CORE and ASCAB in the state decided to have independent convergence of at the UI gate and subsequent procession through popular Bodija market up to the government secretariat where over 1000 workers were already converged.
The independent procession of the left groups and their supporters was joined by a group of workers who saw the procession on their way to the state secretariat. It was also joined by the state chairmen of both the NLC and TUC including the official of some affiliated unions like NASU, AUPTRE among others. Over 2,000 copies of leaflets were distributed to members of the general public in the course of the procession. These include part of the 1,000 copies of DSM leaflet produced to intervene in the NLC nationwide action and the one jointly produced by the coalition of the three left groups. The procession also stopped and addressed the general public at the Bodija markets and other junctions populated with working people before joining the convergence of workers at the government secretariat.
The decision for an independent procession of the coalition of left groups eventually turned out to a correct political strategy. It served as an inspiration to mass of workers who converged at the government secretariat and also gave the coalition the authority to prevail on the convergence of workers who eventually agreed to embark on a procession.
A bigger procession of workers kicked-off from the government secretariat, lasted for over 3 hours and covered at a range of areas which include Mokola, total garden, gate/bus-stop before it terminated at the state secretariat where workers once again reaffirmed their resolution that their convergence shall continue regardless the decision of the national leadership of NLC and TUC over the nationwide action against the hike in pump price and other anti-poor policies of the Tinubu-led government.
Four comrades intervened in the procession and a total of 20 copies were sold. So far, a total of 80 copies of new edition have been sold in the state.
Report by Abbey Trotsky