Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Millions protest as indefinite strike shakes Nigeria

by Baba Aye, national chairperson of the Socialist Workers League in Abuja.

Nigeria arose on Monday as its workers began an indefinite general strike. The first day was a stunning success. Up to ten million people were out on the streets.

On 1 January Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan abolished fuel subsidies. Most of Nigeria’s 160 million population live on less than 320 naira ($2) a day. But overnight petrol prices increased from 65 naira to 141 per litre. The country’s two main union federations called the strike. Their simple demand is the return of the subsidy. Only seven million people are in affiliated unions, but already the strike shows their strategic power. Nigeria’s economy ground to a halt. Factories, banks and offices were shut down. Shops and the plethora of informal services outlets across the country were closed.

In virtually every major city, except those in the north east which have been militarised under a state of emergency, millions of Nigerians took charge of the streets and neighbourhoods. But even in the militarised states, strike monitoring committees went around in buses to ensure that the strike was solid.

The trade union movement is the only countrywide democratic social force cutting across creed and ethnic identity. This working class action shows the possibility of another Nigeria where the 99 percent are no longer marginalised and dominated by capitalism.

Of course the ruling class did not just fold its hands. More than 20 demonstrators were wounded when state forces opened fire on strikers in Lagos, Kano, Gusau and Asaba. At least three were killed. The perpetrators in Lagos were identified by vigilant citizens who took the vehicle number of their police van, and broadcast this widely, using social networking media. To quell their anger the Lagos state governor has now ordered the arrest of the policemen involved.

Tensions were already obvious before the strike started. Spontaneous demonstrations swept through a dozen cities last week. In Kano protesters occupied the city centre—calling it Liberation Square—in their tens of thousands. There was no concern over creed or faith. Police brutally dispersed the protesters. But many among the junior ranks sympathise with the unfolding revolt. Around 300 police joined the protest march in Lagos on Tuesday of last week. The inspector general of police described them as “mutineers”.

Airspace, ports and borders are closed. Citizens have tried to stockpile food and water. Monday was a glorious day of rage, but it is just the beginning.

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