In just four years since the year 2000, the Nigerian Labour Congress has called mass strike action 7 times. It would not be an overstatement to say that bourgeois democracy in Nigeria is synonymous to mass strikes and popular protest. What else can we expect in a country where the minimum wage is $30 per month? Here is a country where in 1970 two percent of the populace was as wealthy as the bottom seventeen percent, whereas in 2000 the same percentage of wealthy Nigerians accounted for 55%, and by 2003 the same percentage accounted for 77% of the bottom poor. A World Bank report states that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per-capita in 2002 was not much higher than it was in 1965. Mass poverty, illiteracy, disease and a high mortality rate are on the order of the day. The expectations of the people were that democracy would alleviate their poverty. On the contrary it has exacerbated it with a worsening foreign exchange rate, high inflation and corruption at all levels.
On June 9, 2004, the NLC called Nigerian workers out for yet another general strike, over the same old reason of petrol pump price increase. Before the strike began the leader of the NLC was warning the population to prepare for at least 21 days of disruption, and yet three days after it had started he had already called off the strike. The government had backed down and the price was brought down, though not to the expected level. Has the last strike solved the fundamental problems of the Nigerian masses? Has the government finally backed down on the fuel issue and further attacks on the working class? These are the issues of concern in this article.
Did the last general strike achieve all that it could have achieved?
Obviously the Nigerian masses want the price of oil to correspond to their real wages. With the unbelievable level of poverty in Nigeria, the price of oil should not be more than 1 Naira per litre. This would have been achievable if the Labour leadership had wanted to fight. The NLC leadership fought so reluctantly that even the little success we have had was unexpected. The past strikes had come as a result of pressure from the rank and file Nigerian workers and poor.
The last strike would have been a complete success if the NLC leadership had not resorted to the sit-at-home formula. They resorted to it, because they themselves fear mass action even more than the government. The strike began to lose ground immediately some employers started forcing their employees to resume work or face severe sanctions, especially in private companies. The NLC leadership knew quite correctly that if the strike had entered the second week, people would have become more desperate to achieve their aims and might have taken to the streets out of desperation. That explained why the NLC hurriedly suspended the strike on Thursday, promising to resume it soon.
Whether the NLC leaders like it or not, another strike is approaching soon, because the government has not repented and the working class is not prepared to sit back. The fate of the next strike rests solely on the seriousness of the Labour leadership, who from experience cannot be trusted. Therefore whether we will win or lose, we have a role to play in changing the NLC Leadership to a more militant and clearer Leadership.
The Nigerian ruling class has no other alternative besides sucking the blood of the Nigerian workers tirelessly. With a huge debt dangling over their heads, with an uncontrollable appetite for corruption and their desperate effort to be as rich as white millionaires, nothing else can be expected. They will go to any extent to make life miserable for the masses because it is the only option for them. They want to become incredibly wealthy and still satisfy their foreign masters in the IMF and World Bank.
Therefore, the Nigerian ruling class will attempt to weaken the NLC, as they are already trying with the recent Bill sent to the Upper House. They will attempt to cripple the Nigerian workers and spit in their faces, because the Nigerian workers constitute the only genuine opposition to their misrule. None of the existing parties, present in the National Assembly, can be trusted to form a formidable opposition because they are part and parcel of the same class. The National Assembly will eventually pass the bill if we rely on the existing political parties and the present NLC leadership. Passing this bill will be a setback for the working class, but it will not be able to save the ruling class.
The Nigerian workers need to be united and stand strongly in opposition to whatever law or measures are used to attempt to divide them. It is not a law or a pronouncement that can unite the Nigerian workers, but a genuine struggle for the actualisation of their collective interests, under a sincere, clear and determined leadership that is prepared to fight to the end. Despite the reactionary separation of the TUC from the NLC, the last strike enjoyed the full support of the Nigerian masses (NLC & TUC members and even those that are not unionised). This is evidence to the fact that in the struggle workers are tightly united, against tribal and religious differences.
What is to be done?
A vacancy is already opened, begging to be filled and no one seems to care. A genuine political alternative that can form an invincible opposition to the present ruling party is obviously wanting. No existing political party can fit this, because they belong to the Nigerian employers and are being directly financed by the ruling class. The only class that has all what it takes to form an opposition party in Nigeria is the Nigerian Working Class. The Nigerian workers won independence for us, and they would be the direct beneficiaries of a better Nigeria, but they are also the major victims of ruling class misrule. From their history, they remain the only credible class that can end ethnic conflict in Nigeria, end injustice against the minorities and industrialise Nigeria. The working class is the only class that can guarantee free quality education and a free quality health system.
Towards this end, the NLC Leadership must break away from the influence of the Nigerian ruling class. A more militant and uncompromising leadership is necessary for the NLC to successfully carry out its historic responsibility, a leadership that will recognise the urgent need to have a genuine workers' party with a socialist programme.
To uproot the present cabal, to dislodge the present mafia, to free Nigeria from the whims and caprices of this heartless ruling class, the workers must build their own party now, they must oppose the compromising labour leadership and present a more determined alternative. The more we hesitate, the more time we give our enemy to prepare their attack against us. Obasanjo has not yet done his worst and we must be prepared, we must not wait any longer because it is dangerous.
Adams Oshiomole said in a BBC interview on March 1, 2004, that Labour will support an opposition party for the first time and named the newly formed Labour Party as that party. We must ask if that party is formed by labour? For what Labour needs is not a party formed for them, by unknown politicians, but their own party; a party built by labour, financed by labour, under the control of Labour and in the interest of Labour. No to the politicians' deceit, that uses the strength and popularity of Labour to further their own narrow careers.