SWL considers the Nigeria Labour Congress’ calling off national protests scheduled to commence on 27 January as a step in the wrong direction. We also find the perspective of NLC and many a civil society group that the Federal Government’s suspension of fuel price hike is a victory hollow. This is particularly so in the light of the cancelation of what should have been a clear demonstration of working people’s power on the streets, using this suspension as an excuse.
The large turnout of trade unionists and civil society activists for the 19 January NLC State Councils’ meetings to plan for the now aborted nationwide protests reflected rank-and-file workers’ readiness for mass action against any hike in fuel pump price, as well as the ever-increasing hardships we are burdened with under the current regime. This spirit of resistance was also reflected on social media.
It is thus correct to argue that the Federal Government postponed the hike of premium motor spirit (PMS) because it gauged the popular anger of working people as something it might not be able to contain. But this does not justify calling off the protests. On the contrary, it should have boosted the resolve of organized labor to press forward with action.
This would have been invaluable to seal the hastily made declaration of suspension of the fuel price increase and demand for concrete steps to be taken by the government to ease the worsening economic conditions of the people. We recall a similar situation in 2005. Despite the government’s putting off a definitive date for fuel pump price hike at the time, NLC, TUC, and their civil society allies still went ahead with a series of mass protests across the country. This sent a signal to the state that the labor movement was serious and ready to fight back.
The Buhari-APC regime is presently focused on the 2023 general elections. It is jittery because mobilization from below could undermine its chances at the polls. The #EndSARS revolt shook the rotten regime to its root when working-class youth occupied the streets in October 2020. It is worthy of note that the youth uprising came just a few days after organized labor’s bureaucracy called off a national strike at the dead of the night on 28 September 2020.
The role of the labor leadership has been more one of a brake on the revolutionary potentials of the working people’s movement. But it does not own the fate of our collective liberation. The #EndSARS protests demonstrated that our liberation is our collective task. Similarly, we will recall that the Occupy Nigeria uprising in January 2012, which was forced on the labor bureaucracy, largely contributed to the defeat of the regime of Jonathan in 2015.
Clearly the current regime cannot be taken for its words, it is a regime infamous for ignoring agreements reached. There are many examples to draw from. In the last seven years, the Maj. Gen. (Rtd) Buhari-led regime has repeatedly refused to comply with court orders. Deregulation and inadequate local refining capacity will still make PMS and other petrol products largely unavailable and unaffordable to large numbers of working-class people. This is already manifesting, as PMS is currently being sold in Abuja and its environs for N250. And artificial fuel scarcity is also sweeping through some parts of the country. This is usually a pretext for informally raising the pump price of petrol.
We also have to draw lessons from history. In 2011 the Jonathan-led regime said that fuel price would not be increased until March 2012 only for a fuel price hike to be presented as a horrible “New Year gift” to the people. It is a known fact that the Buhari-led regime and by extension the APC, has rescinded on virtually all its campaign promises.
There are many reasons for the organized labor to hold the mobilization and sensitization rally regardless of the regime’s reaction. At the 19 January meeting of NLC and its civil society allies, it was unanimously agreed that the 27 January and 1 February rallies must hold whatever the regime response.
The manner in which the nationwide protest scheduled for 27 January was canceled denied rank-and-file workers and workplace representatives in the local councils, especially those that participated in the 19 January meeting, the democratic right to make inputs in determining what is to be done. That is against the basic tenet of mandate seeking and reporting back which is essential for internal democracy in the trade union movement.
The meager New Minimum Wage is yet to be put into effect in many states. Meanwhile, living is fast becoming a luxury for many working people with rising inflation, rising electricity tariff, high unemployment rates, crumbling healthcare system, insecurity among many other systemic attacks on the poor masses. These are issues that a mass protest could draw attention to and make a statement with action that we are ready to fight over, even if its primary aim is to demand that government does not renege on its suspension of any fuel pump price hike
In the light of the foregoing, SWL considers the cancellation of the nationwide protests as an unprincipled action by the NLC bureaucracy. But while organized labor’s bureaucracy can postpone rallies, or totally avoid calling any as is the case with the Trade Union Congress (TUC), it cannot put a date to our liberation.
Just like the solidarity song aptly puts it, “… in our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold, greater than the might of army multiplied a thousand folds…”, it is us the poor and oppressed working people that can fight for our emancipation from this rotten system and the political buccaneers who benefit from it.
We thus urge rank-and-file workers and all exploited strata of the people not to be deterred by this sellout, once again. The struggle continues! Our day shall come!