Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

After the Expiration of NLC’s 21-Day Ultimatum, What Next?

We Call for 48-Hour General Strike and Nationwide Protest as the Next Step.

The latest 21-day ultimatum given to the government by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) over the current cost of living crisis has expired since Wednesday March 13. Unfortunately, as of Tuesday March 19, the NLC leadership has not issued any statement or disclosed anything to indicate its next course of action. In this time of grave social and economic crisis, we of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) hold that  the NLC leadership needs to show a serious approach by declaring and mobilizing for a 48-hour general strike and nationwide protest as the next step in the struggle.

We find the current silence of the NLC leadership disturbing especially against the backdrop of the two reasons they gave for the suspension of the nationwide protest on February 27 after one day of action.

First, according to its communique released on February 27, the NLC NEC-in-session resolved “to suspend street action for the second day of the Protest having achieved overwhelming success thus attained the key objectives of the 2-day protest on the first day”.

Yes, the communique also expected the government to “implement all the earlier agreements of October 2, 2023, and other demands presented in labour’s letter during first day of protest”. But we hope that the NLC has not truly come to the conclusion that February 26 protest has attained “the key objectives of the 2-day protest on the first day”, and therefore to them there is no need for any serious action.

In other words, we hope that the NLC leadership is not now in agreement with President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Festus Osifo who, while speaking to journalists in Abuja on February 26, appeared to suggest that there was no need again for further action because, “we gave ultimatum earlier because we didn’t see any level of demonstrations but as at today, they have started doing some work on the agreements.” (Nigerian Tribune, February 27)

It should be recalled that both the NLC and TUC originally issued a joint ultimatum to the government to demand the implementation of the “16-point agreements” of October 2, 2023. It was the same joint ultimatum that the NLC independently extended by seven days and which has elapsed since March 13. The TUC did not take part in the February protest.

As we stated in our last statement following the suspension of the protest, the crises of fuel price hike, the naira devaluation, hunger and inflation with devastating consequences on living standards, incomes and jobs for which the two-day nationwide protests were called are still very much unresolved. The current prevarication by the NLC leadership may not be unconnected to its having ab initio accepted the neo-liberal policies of the Tinubu government as fait accompli and thereby limiting themselves to only fighting for the so-called palliatives. The fact is that the October 2 agreements whose implementation is the official reason for the ultimatum are about palliatives and have no demands for the reversal of the criminal fuel price hike and other neo-liberal policies which are the immediate causes of the current excruciating economic hardship.

The second reason for the suspension of the February protest is also worrisome. And, it would set a bad precedent for the labour movement if for the same reason the NLC leadership retreat from marching on with the struggle over the cost-of-living crisis. It should be recalled that at a press conference on Wednesday 28 February, NLC President Joe Ajaero, said the government intimidated and harassed the Congress to suspend the February mass action. “We were threatened with all manners of consequences that would be meted on us if we went ahead” (Guardian, February 29, 2024).

As we held in our last statement, the issue of intimidation and threat is a serious one especially considering how Ajaero was brutally assaulted in Imo State last year during a strike action. Indeed, President Bola Tinubu in a bellicose speech openly attempted to intimidate the NLC leadership during his official visit to Lagos. Besides, the sack of Ayodele Akele and other labour activists by Tinubu when he was Lagos State Governor is a testimony to the anti-Labour character of Tinubu.

Yet, we do not agree that such a threat is enough reason to suspend action. Rather, the NLC leadership should make do its pledge of “unwavering commitment to championing the interests of Nigerian workers and the broader populace”, as contained in its official response to Tinubu’s Lagos speech.

It should be noted that pockets of protests of working people and youth have broken out in different parts of the country over the cost-of-living crisis and the February 27 NLC protest enjoyed impressive support from the masses. Indeed, February 28 protest could have been much bigger if it had not been suspended. All these are an indication of the readiness and resolve of the working people and youth to be part of mass resistance against the anti-poor, neo-liberal capitalist policies of Tinubu government. These also show that despite their skepticism for Labour leadership because of past betrayals, the masses are prepared to line behind Labour if it provides a bold leadership in the struggle against Tinubu government. However, to genuinely play this role, labour leadership has to review its capitulation to neo-liberal policies or its vacillation in the struggle against the pernicious policies.

Therefore, we reiterate our call on the NLC leadership to declare a 48-hour general strike and nationwide protest as the next step in the struggle over the current economic hardship. However, in addition to its call for the implementation of “16-point agreements”, the demands of the struggle must include the reversal of fuel price hike, criminal increases in fees of public tertiary institutions and other neo-liberal policies.

However, it is not impossible for the labour leadership to be prepared to surrender, if there is no consistent pressure from the below. We therefore reiterate our call on workers activists everywhere to begin to campaign for a 48-hour general strike following the expiration of the NLC ultimatum. This can take the form of organizing workers meetings at shop floor and communities to collect signatures in support of petitions mandating each industrial union to vote for a general strike as the next step. Workers must insist that the trade union leadership leads a determined struggle and those unwilling to fight because they are compromised with the ruling party and the state should step aside. There should also be a continuation of independent actions by the working masses, youth and pro-masses’ organizations something that actually contributed to the pressure that forced NLC to call the nationwide protest for February 26 and 27 in the first place.

By and large, our experience over the past two decades of civil rule shows that no section of the capitalist elite can be trusted to run the country in the interest of the working people and poor. We need a clean break from capitalism to pave way for a socialist transformation of the country. So, to this end, we need a fighting labour leadership, democratic combative trade unions and coherent programme of struggle that involves both fighting over anti-poor policies and the day to day issues with a view to win real concessions as well as making the necessary political and organizational preparations for the working people to seize political power from the capitalist vampires in order to establish a workers and poor people’s government that can run the country in the interest of all.

This is a time of grave crisis for working people across the country, there is increasing hardship and mounting signs of social disintegration. Rapid action is needed to begin to deal with the immediate crisis and to put the country on a new path. Now, more than ever, Labour needs a leadership willing and able to fight against the looters and profiteers and for the socialist policies necessary to end this descent into misery.

Peluola Adewale

National Organising Secretary

For the DSM