Less than a month after coming to power for a second term in a presidential election marked by voter rigging and fraud, Nigerian President Obasanjo increased the price of fuel by 54%. Most Nigerians have traditionally seen cheap fuel as the only real help they get in life. No one believed that the money the notoriously corrupt government “saved” by this increase would really be used to benefit the average Nigerian.
The price hike provoked such a huge tidal wave of anger among Nigerian workers and poor people that the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) leaders felt compelled to call a general strike. Public support for the strike was overwhelming, bringing the entire country to a halt. It was, in fact, the largest strike in Nigeria’s history.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) – the CWI section in Nigeria and Socialist Alternative’s sister organization – initiated a campaign called the Joint Action Council Against Hike In Fuel Price (JACAHFP). The DSM joined the forces of the National Conscience Party, the National Association of Nigerian Students, and human rights and pro-democracy groups, to build the general strike and organize wide-scale resistance to the increase. The JACAHFP held a press conference and distributed posters and leaflets to mobilize support for this important confrontation with the Obasanjo regime.
The strike lasted eight days until July 8 – the longest general strike since 1964 – which forced the government to back down. Unfortunately, the NLC leaders accepted a government offer of a 15% reduction in the price increase in exchange for calling off the strike, which still left prices 30% higher than before the government mandated the increase.
Many activists understood that more could have been won, and that the potential existed to wage future battles, especially to lower transportation fares (that are still higher even though the price of fuel has been reduced somewhat) and to force the Obasanjo government to implement the previously agreed upon minimum wage increase. Even though the strike was only a partial victory, the size and scope of the strike showed how ethnic and religious rivalries subside when the working class unites to place its mark on events.
DSM members were regularly interviewed in the media, as they played an important role in broadening the general strike, calling for the building of local, democratic “Action Committees” to deepen the strike’s support. The DSM argued that the strike’s success shows the potential power of the Nigerian labor movement to build an independent political party to stop capitalism from sucking the oil resources out of Nigeria and to break its domination over the lives of the impoverished and the working class.