For a brief 4 days between, 20th and 23rd June, Nigerians from across the country joined in a nationwide strike which brought the country to a standstill. However, the opportunity to achieve the beginnings of fundamental change in the problems facing the country was once again abandoned by the labour unions capitulating after only 4 days. The lead up to the strike goes back to March when university lecturers went on strike. However it was the fraudulent elections, the increase in petroleum products, the sale of oil refineries and other companies 48 hours prior to the change of government, that catapulted various workers, professional organisations, civil society and activists group into a series of actions that ultimately led to the national strike:
The Nigerian Bar Association declaring an action to boycott the courts on May 18th; Civil society groups also called for two days stay at home on May 28th and 29th; on the 28th May, members of K-Bere in Ogoniland invaded Shell’s Bomu facility; MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra) declared a stay at home action in Awka, Anambra State, calling for the release of its leader, Ralph Uwazuruike (detained since 2005) and the leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, Mujaheed Asari Dokubo (later given conditional release by the government). During this period, workers from the NNPC had also been on strike protesting against the sale of the country’s oil refineries in Port Harcourt and Kaduna and Electricity workers and staff members were demanding the payment of Nbillions in arrears dating back to 2002.
Why the back down after only 4 days? Nigerian labour unions are weak and lack any real ideological underpinning. They lack the will to work towards fundamental transformational change rather than constantly reacting to government policies and focusing on specific demands. Femi Aborisade *, of the Polytechnic, Ibadan & Centre for Labour Studies (CLS) suggests a more pro-active approach
Challenging the policy of reliance on private importation of petroleum products. Insistence on investigation of corruption in the management of existing refineries – about US$550million committed to TAMs of the refineries – and advocating local refining through existing and new state-owned refineries.
Central to the fuel crisis in Nigeria is the government commitment to the neoliberal principle of disengaging from economic activity and promoting the private sector in the supply of critical goods. The idea of promoting the private sector, combined with stupendous financial corruption, results in crippling the state owned refineries, which are unable to process crude oil locally, with a view to justifying reliance on the private sector importation of petroleum products and rationalizing the need for sale of the refineries under the guise of inefficiency of state enterprises.
I would also add that the Nigerian trade unions do not challenge the top/bottom, governors/governed, elite people power structures. As Aborisade states, without an ideological base the idea of an indefinite strike is bound to fail therefore it would have been better to call a series of strikes limited to days at a time. In the context of Nigeria’s undemocratic history and lack of any significant and sustained civil society action the end result of the strike is hardly surprising. Nonetheless, coming in the immediate aftermath of the rigged elections last April and the installation of a President’s whose legitimacy is seriously under question one cannot be blamed for having some hope. Hope that for once Nigerian citizens would put aside complacency and a culture of resignation and engage in a series of joint massive actions to ensure their democratic rights are upheld.
**Facts about Nigeria
– Pervasive Poverty :Over 70%, i.e. about 98 million people, in 140m population, live in extreme poverty, with less than US$1/day
– Nigeria ranks 3rd in the world, in terms of the size of the poor it hosts, coming after China and India. [ActionAid (Nigeria)]
– Declining Capacity Utilization: ‘From over 70% in 2005 to about 40 per cent in 2006’. (Food Beverage & Tobacco Employers Association)
– Company Closure: In 2006, ‘over 50 manufacturing firms, mostly textile companies, closed down’
– Mass lay-offs in Public and Private Sectors
– Energy supply through the national grid is only about 40% of requirement. 60% balance generated through self-financed power generators with increasing cost of diesel.
* & **Source: Presentation by Fola Aborisade at the Towards an Africa Without Border conference in Durban last week.
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