Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Attacks on Nasarawa Workers by the Police: We Call for Justice

Attacks on Nasarawa Workers by the Police: We Call for Justice

The Labour leadership should mobilize for a 24 hour general strike and nationwide mass actions such as national strike, pickets, rallies and protests, to confront the monster of nonpayment of salaries across the country

The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) condemns in absolute terms the killing and brutalization of protesting workers of Nasarawa State by trigger-happy police men in Lafia on Friday, July 29. We in the SPN call for the immediate arrest and prosecution of police officers who sanctioned and carried out this dastardly act. Labour must call immediate nationwide solidarity actions like mass protests and rallies as part of a campaign to ensure that the culprits are brought to book in order to serve as deterrent to others. We also call for full compensation for the families of the murdered workers, and to those fatally injured by the cowardly act of the police. Full and public apology must also be tendered by the police authority for this inhuman conduct of its operatives.

Public sector workers, led by the state and national leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), had embarked on a peaceful protest to demand payment of their outstanding salaries running to several months. However, while workers gathered at the government secretariat, awaiting the outcome of the negotiation the labour leadership were having with the state government, the overzealous police was busy brutalizing workers outside the venue of negotiation. That the government was not paying salaries of workers is itself enough economic brutalization. The brutal attack by the police on workers seeking payment of their salaries is an added assault on the rights of workers.

Notwithstanding the usual crocodile tears the Nasarawa government will be shedding, the government will do little to ensure justice for the brutalized workers or bring the culprits to books, since they helped the government to instill terrific fears in the minds of workers. Furthermore, with the legendary capacity of the police service to cover up heinous crimes committed by elements in its ranks, little will be done to ensure justice in this case. This is why we in the SPN call on the labour movement not just in the state but nationally, to follow up the demand for justice with mass protests and rallies.

Clearly, the government and the police chiefs want to instill fear into minds of workers and behead mass agitation against government’s economic onslaught. Thus only mass action can send the right signals to the government and the police that mass movement of workers cannot be quelled. Moreover, that the police carried out this dastardly and cowardly act at a time the leadership of the labour movement was in negotiation meeting with the state government shows not just disregard for the negotiation the government itself called, but also shows attempt of the government and the police tops to cow the workers and arm-twist them into submission.

However, as much as we welcome the intervention of the labour leadership into the salary debacle in Nasarawa State and other states, we feel that nation-wide mass actions are needed to confront this monster of non-payment of salaries and pension, which is fast becoming a fad across the country. Many workers and pensioners have been denied salaries for several months by state governments who shout economic crisis at the slightest excuse, but continue to live parasitically large on the funds accruing to the states. Currently, about twenty seven states are reported to owe workers’ salaries for months. This has meant mass pauperization of over two million workers and pensions, and more than ten million of their direct dependents. This is aside several millions of small businesses, artisans, etc. whose livelihoods depend on workers’ and pensioners’ emoluments.

Many workers cannot presently meet their daily financial obligations to their families while several of them have been pushed to dungeon of debts. This is not to mention several thousands of workers who are losing their jobs daily or are being turned to casual labourers, especially in private companies. When this is added to prevalent high inflation and cost of living, it will be obvious that mass pauperization of workers and pensions is an added impetus to economic crisis as it has led to dampened demand. Therefore, nonpayment of salaries and pension, among other attacks on workers, is no more a local or state affair, but a national political economic issue.

National action urgently needed

Consequently, we believe that nationally coordinated mass actions are needed in this period rather than state-by-state intervention. As usual, many of the state governments will use the national economic crisis to justify and even launch bigger attacks on workers and pensioners. In the situation where salaries and pensions are unpaid for months, workers are compelled, in the absence of national actions that unite workers in struggle, to accept meagre offers from state governments. In fact, the latest tactics of state governments is to deny workers their salaries for months, and use this to force workers to accept one or two months’ salaries, half salaries, or as in the case of Imo, a 3-day working week. While workers may organize mass action in states, the reality is that without a nationally-organized and coordinated action, struggles in states will be weakened. The heroic struggle of workers in Oyo State was ended by the NLC leaders with just the promise of a two month payment, out of seven months’ arrears.

Nationally coordinated and organized mass actions such as strike, pickets, rallies and protests will put the Nigerian government in the defensive and will mobilize the collective power of the workers to the negotiation table. We therefore call on leadership of labour movements in NLC and TUC, including the two factions of the NLC, to call a national meeting of labour leaders and pro-labour and socialist organizations to begin mass mobilization of workers for nationally-coordinated and organized actions against nonpayment of salaries and pensions, the pervasive retrenchment and casualization across the country and for a minimum wage of at least N56, 000 for all those working. We enjoin the labour leadership not to organize such national actions in the manner of the last strike against hike in fuel price, whereby there was poor mobilization of workers, poor coordination, half-hearted commitment to the strike by the leaders, and disunity among labour leaders. This is why we call for grassroots mobilization of labour leaders and pro-labour activists and democratic discussions within the labour movement.

The salary debacle and the serial attacks on workers have again underscored the need for labour leaders to go beyond mere economic struggle; rather they should begin the process of building genuine democratic and revolutionary political alternative, with clear socialist programmes. This is more important today than ever. The fact that all ruling parties are involved in this act of denying workers and pensioners their entitlements shows that they are not politically and ideologically different. Therefore, workers cannot continue to elect their class enemies into power every four years.

Chinedu Bosah
National Secretary