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26th July 2003

Socialist Democracy


Paper of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)

Special Bulletin August 2003


POLICE KILLING OF PROTESTERS:

Labour Must Fight For Justice

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) has called for an independent labour movement enquiry into the killing, by the police, of several unarmed protesters during the general strike and protests against hike in fuel price increase. In a statement issued on 8th July 2003 and signed by the organisation’s general secretary, Segun Sango, the DSM demands for the prosecution of those responsible and the dismissal of the police high command. The full text of the statement is produced below:

"The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) condemns the callous killings of several innocent Nigerians and peaceful protesters by the Nigeria Police in the attempt by the Obasanjo government to quell the nationwide strike and mass protests against its 20th June cold-hearted and anti-poor hike in the prices of petroleum products.

"We demand the immediate resignation of the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun and the police top hierarchy over these heinous killings and general police brutality against strikers and protesters.

"We equally demand for the immediate release of scores of people being detained by the police as a result of their participation in the strike and protests. Among them are Mr. Eko John-Nicholas, a student of Lagos State Polytechnic and member of DSM, and 49 other students of the institution who are presently being detained at Panti Police Station, Ebute Meta, Lagos. If the police are of the view that any of these detainees has committed any offence, then he or she should be immediately arraigned before a court rather than being detained illegally in a police cell.

"Reports from many parts of Lagos confirmed that many unarmed peaceful protesters and in some instances innocent bystanders were shot dead as armed policemen indiscriminately fired live bullets into crowds of unarmed protesters.

"In the Dopemu/Akowonjo area in Lagos, three people were reportedly shot dead including a man who was coming from a pharmacy where had gone to procure drugs for his wife who put to bed last week. A young man was equally killed in front of his house along Tejuosho Road around Ojuelegba and his corpse was brought by sympathizers to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) secretariat in Lagos. According to a report in The Punch of Tuesday, 8th July 2003, not less than twelve people were killed by the police during the protests in Lagos and Ogun States on Monday, 7th July 2003. This is on top of the four people killed by the police in Abuja last week.

"These killings came on the heels of the order of the Inspector-General that the police should use "maximum force"

to suppress the NLC-led strike and protests. These killings are barbaric and reveal the desperation of the Obasanjo regime to force the unpopular and anti-poor fuel price hike down the throat of the already impoverished working masses.

"To us in the DSM, peaceful assembly and mass protests are legitimate, basic democratic rights. The use of teargas and live ammunitions to disperse unarmed protesters is a brazen crude and dastardly violation of these rights.

"Above all, these killings and the suppression of legitimate protests by the Obasanjo regime expose once again the hollowness and the undemocratic character of the present civil rule in the country.

"We call on the NLC, trade unions, students' unions, human rights and pro-democracy groups to organise an independent enquiry into these killings and to demand that the perpetrators be dismissed from the police and prosecuted. The labour movement should equally demand the resignation of Mr. Tafa Balogun and other police commanders who gave the orders that led to this wanton loss of lives.

"This state murder of innocent and defenceless Nigerians, incessant fuel crisis, worsening living conditions and general economic, social and political crises confirm the need for a fundamental social transformation of the Nigerian society. The decadent, anti-poor and crisis-ridden neo-capitalist system which engenders mass poverty and endless misery in the midst of potential abundance needs as matter of urgency to be overthrown by the Nigerian working people and replaced it with a democratic socialist order in which satisfaction of the genuine needs of the masses and not profits and wealth for a small capitalist super-rich minority will form the basis of production, economic management and governance.

"To this extent, the NLC and the labour movement should as matter of priority commence the building of an alternative, independent mass working class political platform, which will be fundamentally different in ideology and methodology from the pro-rich capitalist political parties, to champion the rights of the masses and lead the struggle to change society. Towards this end, the NLC should immediately call a conference of trade unions, students' unions, peasant farmers' groups, artisans' and market traders' associations, youth and community groups, human rights and pro-democracy groups, socialist organisations, the National Conscience Party (NCP), Party for Social Democracy (PSD) and other mass-oriented organisations to discuss the establishment of this independent mass working people's party."

As a result of the widespread condemnation of these killings, the Senate has set up a committee to investigate the matter. But the labour movement should not rely or place any hope in this effort or any investigation conducted by any arm of the capitalist government. The members of the senate are all in one with Obasanjo over the fuel price increase. None of them came out to oppose the increment. From past experience of investigations into crimes committed by the state security agencies or members of the ruling elite, it can be safely predicted that nothing meaningful will come out of senate investigation. At best, it will only put the blame on the individual junior ranks of the police while exonerating the Obasanjo government and the police top layers who gave the orders that the strike and protests be forcefully repressed.

Therefore, the NLC should not relent in its campaign on this issue until the murderers are brought to justice. If necessary, industrial action should be organised by labour to achieve this objective, as the NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole, pledged during his visit to the home of one of the victims of the police brutality. NLC should also demand that those who have been put on trial in various courts for participation in the struggle should be freed. While it cannot eradicate the wanton violations of democratic rights of the working people by the police and the capitalist state, this approach will show the determination of labour to always defend those rights. Among other things, this will encourage participation in future mass struggles by workers and youth.