Millions out in Mass Actions across the Country
Jonathan's Government isolated – time for a workers' and poor people's government
On Wednesday, January 11, the day three of the indefinite strike and mass protest declared by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), all over the country millions were effectively out in protests and other mass actions on Wednesday.
Just like the previous two days, all cities across the country were shut down. The roads, not just the express roads but equally the inner community roads, were completely deserted. Bonfires, the main features of Monday and Tuesday protests in Lagos, have largely disappeared allowing a clear glimpse of the self-compliance and self-mobilization by the vast majority of the masses in support of the strike.
In virtually all places, community people needed no serious efforts by activists before they came out in hundreds to the barricade. On our way round some parts of Lagos today, a group of people who had gathered at a junction upon seeing our labour banner approached us to discuss what they could do organize actions in their community. There is a deep sense that every hand must be on deck.
In Yaba on Tuesday, about 20, 000 marched from the NLC Secretariat to Lagos Island where a mass rally was held at Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS). The protest march later moved to the Lekki-Epe toll gate where the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Lagos State government through its fraudulent Public Private Partnership (PPP) with the Lekki Construction Company (LCC) has for months now imposed a monstrous toll regime on the residents of the communities. Not surprisingly the toll gates were deserted. Only a few policemen held guard. The usual LCC toll officials were conspicuously absent.
While this was happening on Tuesday, over a hundred thousand gathered at the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park in. This park has since Monday become some sort of Tahir Square and some protesters have started spending the night there. Musicians came one after the other to entertain protesters while human right activists equally gave fiery speeches.
But on Wednesday, about 500,000 were effectively gathered at the Gani Freedom Park. This is a huge increase over the turnout on Monday and Tuesday. The park itself is so filled that it is bursting at the seams. Everywhere and in and out of the park, sea of heads and a jumble of colours can be seen. All roads leading to the Park is filled with protesters walking miles from their homes to be at the park. Occasionally, groups of tens and hundreds could be seen marching agilely along the road leading to the park apparently as the terminus of a movement that started from a distant community.
Meanwhile small actions of hundreds and thousands continue to take place at communities and neighborhoods levels. It is now a normal sight to round a bend on the road and come upon a new detachment of protesters with homemade banners and placards heading for God-knows-where. It is like society is awakened from its depth.
While the Gani Freedom Park has become the 'freedom square' of the movement in Lagos, it is shocking that the leadership of the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) continue to abandon the park. The leadership of the NLC and TUC had declared Gani Park as the terminus of the Lagos protest on Monday. However by the time the huge crowd of protesters got to the park, the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) – a civil society organization composed of bourgeois, pro-capitalist opposition parties, clergymen and middle class elements – had set up position in the park complete with sound systems and a platform. Angered by this, the LASCO leadership did not enter the park and instead shunned it. This allowed a free run to the SNG leaders, who did not play a major part in calling the strike, to try to seize leadership of the protest.
The DSM believes while moving round different parts of Lagos to hold mass protest marches/and rallies is absolutely correct as the experience in Lagos Island and Ojo showed, ignoring Gani Park is a wrong decision. The Gani Park has become a main centre of the struggle. Mass of people can be seen every day from as early as 6am making their way to the park. On Wednesday over 200, 000 were effectively in the Park aside many more outside of it. The Gani Park equally provides a basis for a people's assembly through which a more comprehensive demand (something which must go beyond reversal of fuel pump price to N65 per litre) of the struggle can be drawn up and political power taken from the ruling elite by the working class and the poor. This is why we urge the leadership of LASCO to intervene in the park with the demands and programs of the working class, and let pro-capitalist elements seize the stage.
Except the leaders who occasionally address protesters, the park has not yet been fully turned to a platform where serious political debates can take place on the issues that mobilized the struggle. While speakers regularly allude to the fact that the issues that mobilized the struggle is beyond fuel price increase, no steps are being taken to put forward a comprehensive list of social, economic and political demands that covers the grievances of the oppressed masses.
Daily the main program at the park is entertainment and music. This is itself a danger as the attraction of musicians and celebrities could soon wear off, especially as the strike progresses, thus leading to mass defection from the park. The daily mass mobilization to the park can only be effectively utilized only if the park is transformed into a democratic people's assembly where free debates on the issues, demands and strategies of the struggle can take place. A comprehensive list of demands that covers all issues like unemployment, education, corruption, social program to build roads and shelter, etc need to be democratically debated at the park and drawn up with a view to putting this forward to the government as the minimum concession (not just reversal to N65per litre) the movement can accept from the government.
The DSM intervened at the park on Wednesday. We set up a stall which was enthusiastically visited by protesters. We sold several copies of SD and distributed hundreds of leaflets. We equally got some contacts, mostly former student members who had grown inactive after graduating.
The anger of the masses, mostly of young people, is unmistakable. We had discussions with a few protesters some of whom agreed with the slogan of kicking out Jonathan's anti-poor government. However consciousness continues to lag behind reality. Many protesters are unclear about the alternatives to the anti-poor ruling elite government. We intend to organize small debating groups within the park through which the socialist alternative can be put forward.
While Gani Park at Ojota is the main center of activities in Lagos, actions took place on smaller scales in the local communities. In Agege over 3, 500 protesters, led by DSM and JAF members, turned out. In solidarity with the death of a protester, Aderinola Ademola, shot by police in Ogba yesterday, the mass marched to the home of the victim's aged parents. So also on Wednesday in Agege, DSM comrades and JAF collaborators led protesters on a march to Iyana Ipaja bus stop to receive a leadership delegation of the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) who came to visit protesters at barricades.
The same thing was emulated by DSM comrades collaborating with other groups under the platform of JAF at Ojodu Berger who organized rallies yesterday. Thousands of DSM leaflets were distributed at all these events with DSM members Dagga Tolar, Chinedu Bosah and Soweto speaking. They stressed the importance of strengthening and organizing the struggle in communities and neighborhoods. While stressing that the reversal of pump price of fuel to N65 will be a victory, they believed the struggle could win more.
In other places like Kano, everywhere was shut down. In Kano hundreds of thousands came out in protest. It was the same situation in Abuja, Osun, Oyo, Ogun and other cities across the country. In Ife and Osogbo, mammoth protests have been reported. In Abuja over hundred thousand reportedly marched. However in Niger and Oyo State, a dawn to dusk curfew has been declared by the state governments allegedly in response to protesters 'violence'. However the only real violence is the unprovoked attacks by the police on unharmed protesters just like the shooting by CSP Segun Fabunmi at Ogba in Lagos which left two protesters dead and two others injured.
For instance today (January 11) as LASCO leaders addressed at Iyana Ipaja, a police helicopter circled provocatively overhead apparently to rile people into violence. When the protesters headed on their homeward journey they discovered that tear gas had been shot by the police at Iyana Ipaja junction apparently to terrorize communities that showed support. All this confirms the allegations of secret arrest by the police of protesters lagging behind the main body of the protests.
We continue to argue that Labour must adopt a strategy that can win. As most protesters have continued to express, the struggle is not just about fuel price hike. A youth who spoke at Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) called for armed struggle to take over political power to rousing applause from the crowd. While at this stage it has not got to the question of armed struggle, the speech is reflective of the growing appreciation among the masses of the need for a political power. Indeed, calling an indefinite strike raises the question of political power. It is unfortunate that Labour has not appreciated this. In fact one of the deputy presidents of NLC, Promise Adewusi while responding to the call for political power stated that Labour is non-partisan. This is indicative of the mindset of the Labour leaders.
There is also huge dissatisfaction with the corruption of the capitalist ruling elite as well as the collapse of public education, health, roads, electricity etc. to massive applause, Femi Kuti (son of the late afro beat maestro Fela Anikulapo) called on political office holders to accept the minimum wage of ordinary workers. According to him "if we must suffer for our oil, all of us must suffer together…the matter is not just about fuel subsidy removal, it is about corruption and mass suffering".
There is also much questioning of the credibility of political parties including opposition parties like the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) striving to benefit from this struggle. Many are asking what difference there is between the anti-poor policy of fuel subsidy removal by the Federal Government and the policy of over 725% fee hike at the Lagos State University (LASU) or the Lekki toll gate by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). For instance the main political leader of the ACN, Bola Tinubu, is calling for 'phased withdrawal of fuel subsidy'.
This is why Socialists call for a mass revolution to replace both the Jonathan's corrupt regime and the unjust system of capitalism with a workers and poor people's government committed to socialist policies to use society's resources primarily in the interest of all.
The 3rd day of the indefinite strike has again shown the power of the organized working class. Socialists insist that if Labour can shut down the country, then it can also run it. This will require the building of both workplace and community based assemblies and a mass workers' party which armed socialist ideas and programs can quickly become a mass force through which the working masses and poor can take political power and begin to run society in the interest of the majority.
(1) For a serious fight against Jonathan’s New Year "gift". No rotten compromise
(2) Reversal of the pump price of petrol to N65
(3) Immediate reversal of the neo-liberal and anti-poor policy of the fuel subsidy removal. No to the deregulation of the oil sector.
(4) Arrest and prosecution of members of the "cabals" responsible for the diversion of monies spent over the years on subsidizing fuel.
(5) A state program to make refineries functional and build new ones to ensure the local refining of crude oil.
(6) Public ownership of the oil sector under democratic control and management of committees of workers and consumers.
(7) Reversal of all privatizations and the public ownership of all state enterprises under democratic control of workers and consumers
(8) Cut in the outrageous salaries and allowances of political office-holders. For all political office holders to be paid the average wage of a skilled worker.
(9) A program to invest society’s resources in providing free education, health care, building decent public housing, rehabilitation roads and building of railways and other means of mass transportation
(10) A minimum wage of N52, 500 and the payment of unemployment benefits to all unemployed persons.
(11) Public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under public democratic management and control
(12) Build a mass workers party armed with socialist policies to take political power and form a workers’ and poor people’s government that can begin to run society in the interest of workers and poor masses.