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Nigeria - fourth general strike in 10 months

Rising anger at the Obasanjo government

Tanja Niemeier (CDWRM, London)
06 Nov 2004

Faced with the Nigerian government’s refusal to reverse September’s 25% jump in fuel prices Nigeria’s trades unions and radical opposition have called for another general strike to begin on November 16.

October saw a four day General Strike that completely stopped the entire country and demonstrated how the vast majority of the population were united behind the labour movement in this struggle. Most Nigerians do not see why higher world prices mean they, an oil exporting country, have to pay more for fuel; indeed a popular demand is that the price windfall is used for the masses and not stolen by the elite. This time, unlike previous strikes, the unions will attempt to stop oil exports, especially those by Shell, a company described by the NLC, the main union federation, as an "enemy of Nigerians".

There is huge anger in the country both at the fuel price rise and the Obasanjo government itself. It is widely a seen as a corrupt government, in power because of rigged elections and in the service of corrupt elite and imperialism.

A particular hate figure is the finance minister, the former World Bank vice-president Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who is paid in US dollars, receiving $247,000 a year, one of the highest paid ministers in the world.

As NLC President Adams Oshiomhole explained "We refuse to accept that Nigerians should continue to make sacrifice, because those who push the policy have shielded themselves from sacrifice. The finance minister earns in dollars. By the time they finish dealing with us with this policy of deformation, Okonjo-Iweala will fly back to United States to stay with her husband and children." (ThisDay, 1st November 2004).

Talking about the new strike Oshiomhole added that "This struggle must now be deregulated. We must go beyond the issue of price to include all those problems associated the growing state of hopelessness and the growing level of destitution and above all, the political regime that has made dialogue completely impossible. Those issues will be articulated by the coalition and they would form the basket of our chatter of demands." (Vanguard, 1st November 2004)

The October 11 to 14 stoppage was called as a show of strength that would also mobilise the population for further struggles if the Obasanjo government did not back down. Originally the October strike was suspended for 14 days, the delay in its resumption was in response to Muslims asking for the strike to restart after Ramadan holy month had ended. Now the strike called to start on November 16th, effectively the seventh since June 2000, sharply poses the question of how can the government be defeated.

Obasanjo’s government, backed by imperialism, gives the impression of standing firm. While offering a few "palliative" measures to "cushion" the impact of the fuel price rises Obasanjo’s tactics are to try to ride the strikes out and hope that the labour leaders will not be prepared to openly challenge the government. Added to this the government was prepared during the last strike to begin to try to use the security forces to harass and intimidate activists.

At the end of the October strike the BBC reported that the bodies of 12 people killed by the police in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna have been exhumed to find out how they died. Allegations have been made by local residents that those bodies were the bodies of people who were arrested in the course of the last general strike. Earlier, on the first day of that general strike, a teenage protester was shot dead by police in Kaduna.

Obviously the police deny the involvement of those killed in the general strike. They want to portray them as armed robbers who tried to escape. They clearly fear that repression against protestors could lead to outrage amongst the local population and beyond. It is not surprising therefore that the "matter" has disappeared from the newspapers as if nothing had ever happened.

This one example underlines the continuing lack of full democratic and workers’ rights in Nigeria and the need for campaigns like the CDWRN to try and spread the news of violations of basic rights amongst the trade union and Human Rights movement internationally.

The new general strike was called by the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO - the joint body formed by the NLC with other trade unions, radical political, social and community organisations) at its October 31st meeting.

Current developments in Nigeria are a strong indication of the anger, determination and readiness of the Nigerian working class and poor masses to come into action against a government that is further undermining the living conditions of a country in which two thirds of the population live in poverty already.

The movements of the working class and the poor masses have got the potential to cut across the ethnic and religious tensions prevailing in Nigeria. The CDWRN and its supporters in Nigeria will be involved in building and mobilising for the next general strike. Its international supporters will engage in publicising the struggle of our fellow workers in Nigeria and will organise international solidarity and protest actions against violations of workers’ rights.