The wave of riots over fuel and naira scarcity that has swept across several states over the last two weeks has generated heated debates in several quarters. I had read opinions, comments and even long essays by several analysts and intellectuals, particularly those that have described the riots as unnecessary and even condemn the protesters who are mostly youths.
The most shocking criticisms I have read are on platforms of left-leaning tendencies where comrades described these protesters as “misguided element.” They clearly lose sight of the subjective factor that is missing at this critical point, undermining the turning of these scattered “misguided” riots into a major nationwide challenge of the ruling class. It is the weakness of the radical left on one hand and failure of organized labour to provide leadership to the working masses that has left the palpable resistance of the people in the ruts.
In particular, most on the left have long dozed off, whilst waiting for the “right moment” to seize control of an imaginary stainless mass movement and wage their fantasyland revolution! In a country where people could not transport themselves for months now, because of artificial fuel scarcity and have also now been denied access to their hard earned money in banks, it would be difficult to find “rightly guided” citizens.
Mass discontent arising from widespread poverty in the country (which has the highest level of multi-dimensional poverty in the world), is being aggravated with frustration.. Not having access to work and eke a living, not having access to withdraw their little earnings. – these are inflammable triggers of frustration. The ignition of this trigger is what we have been seeing across the country over the last week or two.
For the left, what we should do is to articulate the causes of this frustration and interpret same to these “misguided element” to inspire their directing the aggression they have brought to bear on fellow working people to the ruling class of politicians and the ruling class of super-rich people as a whole. What we need to do is not simply tell, but show them the underlying dynamics and people behind our hardship.
It is the task of the revolutionary left to provide perspectives and political direction to the protesters, not from the social media or with grammar in the press, but by identifying with them at the barricade. What is needed now is solidarising and providing a democratic leadership on the ground. And that is exactly what is missing.
On the workers’ Unions, it is rather unfortunate that the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have failed to correctly interpret the situation and/or act towards it. The working class remains the largest category of people adversely affected by the naira and fuel scarcity.
Since this fuel and naira scarcity began, workers have been subjected to worse working conditions than the precarious conditions of their working and social lives before now. Many of them have been walking long distances damaging to health to coverup skyrocketing expenses due to hiked costs of transport. They have reviewed how much they spend on feeding downwards, to meet up with the skyrocketing increment in costs of transport to work. And this is whilst they have been having to wake up earlier than usual to trek long distances to meet up resumption time and many.
The most fundamental issue the NLC and TUC have perhaps failed to read meanings to is the internal confusion and eventual physical battles this fuel and naira scarcity is now causing among their members. In the past week, workers in commercial banks and petrol stations across Nigeria has been subjected molestation, harassment and assault from customers who are, of course, also working people from other sectors.
At a time that we should be uniting our forces to fight against the ruling class, the Labour Centers leadership have failed to identify how the plot of the ruling class is dividing rank-and-file workers and toying with their sentiments as part of the strategies of different sections of the ruling class aimed at their winning the general elections. The president, governors, legislators and even local government chairmen do not go to bank and queue for money. It is the working people who do that.
In the words of Spinoza, “ours is not to lament, but to understand” and I add that “not just to understand but to provide practicable ideas to fight”. The left and the Labour centres must key into the mood of the working people. It is not about our seizing or taking control. It is about providing leadership in the field for the working-class people who are already fighting.
In the last few days, workers have been subjected to subtle victimization such as threats and queries for resuming to work late, occasioned by this needless scarcity of naira and fuel. We cannot overemphasize the need for socialist left and the trade unions to Unite and Fight now. Declaring a warning strike for these attacks on working people to be brought to an end by addressing the shortages of fuel and new currency notes, will be the be a right step in the right direction as the NLC gets a new leadership. It is expedient that it does not simply lament, but understands and organise. We have nothing to lose but the chains of oppression.
by Lekan Abdul-Azeez SONEYE