PETROL SUBSIDY REMOVAL: DSM WELCOMES NLC’S DECLARATION OF GENERAL STRIKE
Calls on the TUC to collaborate with the NLC to jointly prosecute the strike
No to Hike in Petrol Price and all Anti-Poor Policies
For immediate mobilization and setting up of strike committees at workplaces, communities and campuses to ensure the widest-possible involvement of the working masses and youth
Only about a week after assuming power, Nigeria’s new President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has already succeeded in demonstrating the resolve of his government to carry out brutal capitalist attacks on the lives and livelihoods of the working class and toiling masses.
Statement by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
On May 29, 2023 while Tinubu was being sworn in at the Eagle square, he announced that “Subsidy is gone” – a far-reaching attack on the livelihood of working people which is a consolidation of the anti-poor neo-liberal policies of the past 24 years! Less than 24 hours after, the whole country was thrown into chaos as petrol stations, whose capitalist owners are shylock bosses always out to profiteer at the people’s expense, raised the prices of a liter of petrol by 300 percent! Transport cost soared in response! Unable to afford the new fares, workers and ordinary Nigerians already reduced to a miserable existence by the eight years of the immediate-past Buhari’s administration took to trekking while many others have stayed home. These however may just be the tip of the iceberg of the sufferings to which average Nigerians, small scale businesses and enterprises, the urban and rural poor, pensioners, market men and women, etc., would be subjected should the new regime succeed in imposing this excessive fuel taxation disguised as subsidy removal.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) therefore fully supports the resolve of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to immediately respond to this provocation. The NLC has declared an “indefinite general strike” from Wednesday June 7 against this anti-poor attack should the Federal government fail to revert to the old price of petrol.
Going by the new pricing template put forward by the NNPCL which has increased the price from N185 a litre to as high as N557 a litre, the monthly national minimum wage of N30, 000 will be barely enough to fill the tank of an average vehicle while the entire amount can no longer take care of the transportation of workers who already being charged double the amount they used to pay. An average working class family spends at least N10, 000 every month to fuel generators. This may increase to at least N25, 000 on the basis of the new fuel prices, besides the multiplier effects on food and transport. We urge the working class, youth and oppressed masses across the country to enthusiastically respond to the strike call. As the ruling elite try to split the working people and youth along ethnic lines in order to undermine the struggle, we urge for class unity and a common resolve by all victims of the capitalist system to fight back. We hereby urge the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to hasten to take its place in the fight back by harmonizing with the NLC to down tools right from Wednesday!
We warn against the habitual practice of the labour leadership suspending a strike before it has taken off. This was the experience of the September 28, 2020 botched strike and a few others in the past. The decision to suspend, extend or call off the strike must be taken democratically through discussions at the relevant organs of the unions as well as consultations with the wider layer of the working and toiling people who historically look towards the labour movement for direction. We also warn against an insufficiently prepared strike, we do not want a repeat of May 2016. What is worth doing at all is worth doing well. Right now, democratic strike committees need to begin to be set up at workplaces, communities and campuses to draw in wider layers of trade unionists and activists at the local and community level to begin to prepare for the strike. Leaflets, public meetings and rallies must be organized to ensure that the public is sufficiently enlightened about what this struggle is about and why they need to be part of it. This has become even more crucial given the attempts by the ruling class to sow division.
We also call for an emergency convening of the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) which is a platform with which labour resisted the repeated attempts by the capitalist regime to remove fuel subsidy and impose other anti-poor policies between 2001 and 2012. As an umbrella coalition of trade unions and battle-tested pro-labour civil society, youth and Socialist organizations, the resuscitation of LASCO will give the general strike the solid ideological backbone and alliance of the radical youth and oppressed masses that are crucially needed for it to succeed.
During the campaign, Tinubu boasted that he would remove fuel subsidy no matter how long people protest. It is crucial that this strike succeeds in order to put the fear of the working people in the hearts and minds of the capitalist elite. Just as was the case in January 2012 when the Jonathan PDP regime attempted to remove fuel subsidy, we must use the strike to make the Tinubu APC regime know that Nigeria’s working people and youth will not take their criminal policies without fighting back. Make no mistake about it, if this strike fails at stopping the Tinubu government in its tracks over this policy or at least showing it that any of its anti-poor policies would be met with stiff resistance, the regime will most certainly become emboldened to carry out even more brutal attacks in the coming weeks and months.
Apart from the role of crude oil as the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, fuel is central to the survival of average Nigerians as well as for businesses and industry due to the inefficiency in the privatized power sector. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s ruling elite have succeeded over the years in running down the state-owned refineries such that crude oil has to be refined overseas before it is transported back into the country for domestic use. It is the subsidy, although blatantly corrupt, that has kept the prices of petrol from going completely beyond the affordability of average Nigerians. To remove the subsidy, therefore, is to increase fuel prices within the country, thereby subjecting the working people and poor to further hardship.
Subsidy is not a bad idea if the poor are the beneficiaries. The Tinubu government, just like the previous capitalist governments have no problem using the public resources to subsidize big businesses and top government functionaries with jumbo pays and criminal pensions in addition to their loots from public coffers. Private electricity companies were bailed out by over N2 trillion; private banks were bailed out by over N5 trillion and many big business owners are given subsidies through duty and tax waivers amounting to trillions of Naira etc. But they are trying to demonize subsidy when it concerns working class people and the poor.
It is true that the subsidy programme is very corrupt as it has become a slush fund for government officials and to make emergency billionaires out of the parasitic elements who have attached themselves to big oil and gas businesses. However, even every minimal investigation into the subsidy has always ended with revelations of mind-boggling corruption but without any thing done substantially either to punish the thieves or prevent further theft.
In April 2012, an inquiry by the National Assembly revealed a $6.8 billion fraud in the subsidy programme over a period of two years. This was at a time the country was reportedly spending $8 billion annually on the subsidy. According to a 205-page report, a total of 15 fuel importers collected more than $300m without importing any fuel, while more than 100 oil marketers collected the same amount of money on several occasions. The list of beneficiaries of this gargantuan heist included oil marketers, officials of both the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Goodluck Jonathan government. To show the futility of fighting corruption on capitalist basis, the Chairman of the investigative panel, which exposed this enormous scam, Farouk Lawan, was himself filmed collecting a hefty bribe of $3 million from billionaire tycoons, Otedola, one of the oil marketers fingered in the scam. While Lawan was removed from the National Assembly, Otedola went away largely unscathed.
Both remain free while Otedola perhaps continues to benefit from the subsidy scheme as well as other rackets orchestrated to transfer Nigeria’s collective wealth into private hands. This in a country where thousands are languishing in prison for stealing a piece of bread! Just like Dangote, Otedola is very close to the ruling APC! In reality, what the Tinubu government is saying is simply that it is much easier to remove the subsidy altogether than to go after their friends, relatives and cronies who are the oil subsidy thieves!
This is why it is necessary for the labour movement and activists not to concede to the effort by the capitalist ruling class to spin the corruption of the subsidy scheme, which they are all beneficiaries of, to push for the removal of the only barrier that has so far prevented the Nigerian working people from feeling the full weight of the global prices of crude oil and petrol. Once they succeed, as already shown with diesel and aviation fuel, both of which have been deregulated, it would mean that every change in the global prices of petroleum products will further have direct effect on workers and the poor. In the neocolonial condition of Nigeria, this would have adverse effects on living standards. Meanwhile the same crooks who have stolen so much wealth through the fraudulent subsidy programme are already positioned to gain even more from its removal! It is not an accident that Dangote refinery and petrochemicals was launched only a week before Tinubu’s inauguration. The entire aim of the subsidy removal as well as the conversion of the NNPC into a limited liability company is simply to complete the deregulation of the oil sector thereby paving the way for Dangote oil refinery to charge high prices for its petroleum products.
Apologists of the regime say that to oppose subsidy removal is the same as supporting the corruption that exists there. This is a lie! By opposing subsidy removal, we want to prevent the working masses from being immediately subjected to further hardship which its removal will engender. We say the working masses must not be allowed to suffer for the corruption, inefficiency and rottenness which is the only reason why the capitalist elite has failed over the decades to ensure Nigeria’s four public refineries are functioning at optimal level.
Additionally, we do not trust the same capitalist elite that habitually steal money meant to fund public education and other social services to judiciously use savings from subsidy removal to the benefit of the people. We urge the labour movement to demand the opening of the accounts of subsidy expenses over the past one decade to the public containing a list of how much was paid, what was paid for and the beneficiaries! Stolen funds, and assets that have been bought with them, must be immediately confiscated and companies etc. used in these rackets nationalised straight away without compensation so they all can be used in the public interest. We call for a public and democratic probe of the subsidy scheme through a probe panel made up of elected representatives of the labour movement, professional bodies etc. We also call for immediate steps, under workers’ control, to make the four refineries fully functional and demand the building of new ones which are publicly owned.
However, so far Nigeria’s crude oil wealth remains under private control, the present situation will persist. This is why the DSM calls on the labour movement to put forward the demand for the nationalization of the oil and gas sector under democratic workers’ control and management as its alternative solution to the problem.
It has been 11 years since the January 2012 mass uprising when the PDP regime of President Jonathan attempted to drive through this same policy thereby provoking a spontaneous mass protest and general strike that lasted for about 6 days. The Jonathan regime was suspended in the air and power was lying on the street. Unfortunately, the strike was suspended and the regime recovered because the labour leadership had no programme for the working class to take political power.
Now as labour begins mobilization for another general strike on the same issue, it must draw useful lessons from all of its struggles over the years. A general strike poses the question of who runs society as mass action by working people that stops the economy shows that it is they who actually make society function. A successful general strike would show that the trade unions can mobilise more support than a president elected, according to INEC, by just 8,794,726 voters in a country of well over 220 million.
In that sense, a general strike can be a precursor to workers taking political power. Moreso, an indefinite general strike which can only end if one side blinks first, poses even far more urgently the question of workers taking political power. This is because given Nigeria’s neocolonial conditions, it will only take a matter of days of a strike before large sections of the oppressed masses like daily earners and labourers begins to feel the pinch due to hunger and thereby the pressure to break the strike. The government and the ruling class will try to exploit this as well using ethnicity in an attempt to split the movement.
In this sense, for an indefinite general strike to succeed, workers will have to begin to assume some elements of the power of local authority by democratically determining when shops and minimal economic activities crucial to the lasting support and loyalty of the lumpen elements are opened and also crucial questions of organizing provisions and help to the sick, the aged and infirm who may be at risk during a strike. Also given how the state will deploy vicious attack on strikers during such an indefinite strike, as we saw in #EndSARS three years ago, workers and youth will also have to democratically organize how to defend strikers and communities against state repression as well as threat of looting etc.
The formation of democratic strike committees in workplaces, communities and campuses can draw in wider layers of trade unionists and activists to build and sustain support for the strike with leaflets and activity. This should not be a ‘stay at home’ strike, public meetings and rallies must be organized to maintain the unity of the strike, draw in more support and discuss the struggle’s progress.
But these are just the important organizational questions; the political questions are even more vital which is that at the moment there is no alternative mass workers’ party existing with a clear programme for workers to seize power. So if in the course of an indefinite strike the Tinubu government falls, workers will be ill-prepared to take power thereby opening the way for another section of the rotten capitalist elite, including the military, to step into the vacuum. At worst, society could descend into an ethnic and religious war as a result of the vacuum created. It is for the above reasons that we of the DSM believed the declaration of an indefinite general strike is a tactical mistake by the labour leadership. What should have been declared is something like a 48-hour general strike as a starting point of a national resistance against the subsidy removal and other anti-poor policies. This approach would allow the labour leadership to make a bold statement as well as an adequate sensitization against the policy and to unite the working masses against ethnic and religious divisions, then review the situation and plan on next steps to escalate the movement. In fact, a series of 48-hour general strikes can lead up to an indefinite general strike, allowing the above-cited organizational and political questions to be worked out as the mood and consciousness builds.
FOR A SOCIALIST NIGERIA
The above notwithstanding, the DSM fully and unequivocally support the action called by labour. We once again urge all working people and change-seeking youth to join the strike and call for the setting up of democratic strike committees in communities, workplaces and campuses to mobilise mass support for the strike and organize a series of mass activities during the strike and also after. The objective of the committees must not only to demand the reversal of the criminal hike in fuel price but also to prepare for mass resistance against other planned anti-poor policies by Tinubu government. These include the plan to devalue naira and increase fees in public universities beyond the capacity of the poor masses.
However, it is not a surprise that President Tinubu started on the note of an anti-poor policy that himself and the two other main presidential candidates in the 2023 presidential election agree on. Now he is hinting about doing something about raising the pitiful minimum wage. No-one should be taken in by this. It should not be forgotten that while Lagos governor Tinubu in 2000 sacked thousands of Lagos state workers when their trade unions demanded that they were paid the N7,500 minimum wage approved by the then Federal Government. Tinubu is not a friend of working people.
Part of the propaganda of the regime’s apologists is that the labour movement has no moral right to oppose a policy that the Labour Party presidential candidate supports. Truly, Peter Obi, just like Atiku, promised to remove petrol subsidy if elected. A situation where a political party that is supposedly a workers’ party and that is officially supported by trade unions has a candidate whose programmes are antithetical to the class interest of the working people can no more be tolerated. It is in this wise that the DSM calls on the NLC and TUC to urgently convene a conference of trade unionists, party members and Socialists to discuss how to rebuild the Labour Party (LP) as a genuine democratic party truly representing the interest of the working people, youth and oppressed masses. At such a conference, Peter Obi and others in the party will have to decide which side they are on: the rich or the poor workers!
Ultimately, the unfolding struggle reflects the crisis of Nigeria’s neocolonial economy against the background of a global capitalist order in crisis. There is urgency for the building of an alternative mass workers party with socialist programmes including nationalization of the commanding heights of Nigeria’s economy under democratic workers’ control and management. If this party exists today, then the situation can be dramatically transformed with every industrial and economic struggle drawing closer the day when the workers and downtrodden will take power and begin to utilize the country’s resources in the interests of the majority. A successful overthrow of capitalism in Nigeria can open the floodgate for revolutions in Africa and the world setting off a process towards the democratic plan of the world resources to banish hunger, homelessness, unemployment from the face of the earth.
For the DSM