Nigeria: The state versus the people -- 10 million join general strike, protests; Unions condemn state killings
By Baba Aye
January 13, 2012 -- Socialist Workers Bulletin -- Nigeria's federal government declared war on Nigerians on new year's day, with its 120% hike in the petrol price. With heads held high, the people gallantly rose across the country in stiff resistance, immediately. The resistance snowballed into a general strike and series of escalating mass protests of historic proportions, with more than 10 million Nigerians demonstrating in more than 50 cities and towns within the country and no less than a dozen cities across Africa, Europe and the Americas.
After nine days of this earth-shaking manifestation of the people’s power, in which more than 20 citizens were brutally murdered by the police, particularly on the heels of four days of an indefinite general strike, it seemed the state wanted peace and normalcy returned to the land as it summoned a meeting with organised labour and representatives of civil society. Alas, it only feigned concern for the people and the country. The meeting ended in a deadlock as the state refused to heed the legitimate demand of the masses that the petrol pump price be reverted to N65, as it was on December 31, 2011. It rather “offered” a mere pittance of reducing the criminal N141 to N120.
This position of the federal government takes the struggle to another level. The ruling class with the federal government at its head now faces the people, with the working class as its vanguard, in a mortal battle of epic proportions. Popular resistance, which has birthed a revolutionary situation, now takes a tentative step towards leaping into revolution, where decisively we, the people, will rise to win our self-emancipation and overthrow the system which the state and ruling class “cabals” represent.
We are indeed at a precipitous juncture in the annals of our country’s history. It is not accidental that this is happening at a time of turbulence and change in the world. Regimes once thought to be unshakeable in North Africa have been brought down by people’s power on the streets and mass strikes that have shut down their economies. In each of these, the state had confronted the people as a power beyond their might, which could treat the people’s demands with disdain, and sought to crush their uprisings in blood. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the people triumphed with arrogant governments humiliated and overthrown by united and determined people.
It is instructive to note that in none of these countries did the initial demands of the people include bringing down the governments they defeated. Their grievances were against economic hardships, such as unemployment and poor minimum wages and on political/legal issues such as police brutality and for free speech. As the momentum built up, mass anger burst across the banks of resistance into the seas of revolution. We are at such a juncture.
The primary demand of the working people and youths was the reversal to 65 naira per litre (40 cents; N164 = US$1). There is no justifiable reason for the fuel hike, as Nigerians have shown with facts and figures. In the course of the last 10 days, the demands of the people have come to include: no to corruption in high places and for drastically pruning the high cost of governance.
This is not surprising as Nigerians know just how genuine the federal government is in raising money for national development from the contents of the 2012 budget proposal before the National Assembly! With N1 billion for the feeding of the president’s family; N530 million for new cars and SUVs in the presidency; N512.4 million to overhaul power generating sets and N101.67 million to rehabilitate the transformer substation in the president's villa; N512.4 million to refurbish the family wing of the main residence in Aso Rock; N357.7 million to renovate the administrative building in the villa (N302.3 million had been spent on refurbishing it last year) and so on and so forth.
We are definitely being only reasonable when we consider President Goodluck Jonathan’s tales about using monies from removal of the petrol “subsidy” for the betterment of our lives as just simply bedtime stories that can only result in ghoulish nightmares.
We equally know that less than 17,000 political public servants are to gulp N1.125 trillion, while security (plus defence and the office of then national security adviser) would corner some N1.8 trillion of our national wealth, out of a budget of N4.749 trillion. This is while N400.15 billion, N282.77 billion and N31 billion only are allocated to education, health and science & technology respectively.
It is obvious enough that the federal government does not have its priorities right and would not require the N1.3 trillion it claims is necessary to raise by making us groan under the burden of the dire consequences of its fuel price hike. Democracy is meant to be the rule of the people, by the people, for the people. But what we see here is the rule of and over Nigerians by Jonathan (and his ruling class cabals), for Jonathan (and his ruling class cabals).
Nigerians from all walks of life spoke with one voice against this nonsense and what did we get? Rather than heed the voice of the people and the call of reason, Jonathan ordered the killing of youths in the land. Muyideen Mustafa killed at Ilorin last Wednesday was the first martyr of this struggle, in the war waged by the state in Nigeria against the Nigerian people. That was barely nine days ago. Since then, Ademola Aderinto in Lagos; Raheem Mojeed in Osun; Olurin Olateju in Ibadan; Abdulgafar Mohammed Hadis in Kaduna; Yahaya Abubakar Adamu in Lambata; Rabiu Abubakar in Suleja and at least 15 other citizens in Lokoja, Jalingo, Kano, Maiduguri, Ibafo have been made to pay the supreme sacrifice by a degenerate state that gives citizens bullets instead of bread.
These killings have been roundly condemned at home and abroad. Amnesty International has demanded that police stop “firing indiscriminately at protesters”. The state has however not tired of violence against the people. Apart from its use of the police, it has recruited no less than 5000 armed thugs, which it intended to use in dispersing the rallies called by National Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in Abuja, just as it had mobilised similar paid thugs who had marched on Labour House on January 6. The sheer mass of the rallies, which kept rising from 20,000 on the first day to about 100,000 by day four, was much more than the thugs and their paymaster in Aso rock had envisaged.
The situation in Abuja is replicated across the country. In virtually every city where the people reclaimed the streets, our numbers kept swelling! In cities such as Kano, Ibadan and Benin, the state declared curfews, ostensibly to curb “hooliganism” but really with the hope of curtailing the spread of people’s power. These have been futile. The draconian step by governor Sullivan Chime in Enugu state to ban protests has equally not quelled the revolutionary fervour of working people and youth. As if we were in the military rule era, this governor, who is a lawyer, constituted a special mobile tribunal with its base at the state CID office, with which he tried and summarily jailed Comrade Festus Ozoeze for mobilising the people for a mass protest. The state, however, remains grounded by a mass strike.
We will win!
The general strike has been total, with businesses and offices shut down, even in those few states where mass protests could not continue due to the antics of the state or based on the decisions of organised labour to avoid playing into the state’s hands and witnessing more loss of lives. In the past four days, the federal government estimates that N1.28 trillion has been lost. Is this not being penny wise and pound foolish when this war it unleashed is to cut-off a “subsidy” worth N1.3 trillion for the whole year?
This is however in acting true to character for the class of the 1% across the world. We the masses, the 99% whose labour creates the wealth they appropriate, are not meant to benefit from the sweat of our brows, in their view. They have led the world to an economic crisis from which we are still reeling. But we must pay the price for their greed, corruption and the inefficiency of the capitalist system.
We have however chosen to seize our destiny in our hands and fight unto victory. We are more than them and with our unity and determination, we will win. The belligerence of the state and its continued contempt and war against we the people can only spur us to even more determined strides of struggle and solidarity.
Indeed, the cry across the country as labour leaders and representatives of civil society met with the state was that even N65 would not be accepted. That organised labour held the fort for the people has sent adrenaline shooting through our blood, as men, women and youths cry out boldly: to the barricades tomorrow!
We are very aware that our struggle is part of the broader struggle of working people and youths across the world. The 99% of toilers in every land equally realise the singularity of our different struggles as being for the self-emancipation of we who have been exploited, alienated, marginalised and oppressed for just too long and now rise to break the chains. As Nigerians in the diaspora “occupied” spaces in several cities across the world, our brothers and sisters, comrades and colleagues from other climes have marched with us. The World Federation of Trade Unions, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the Communist Party of Swaziland (see below), among others, have equally expressed their solidarity with us as we fight.
We call for more of such support, even as the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress prepare to take President Jonathan and Hafiz Ringim, the inspector general of police, to the International Criminal Court for prosecution, in the light of their continued murders of unarmed protesters. As our struggle gathers momentum, moving from resistance to revolution, such solidarity could greatly help us to minimise the loss of lives, as each martyr that falls fills our hearts with pain.
Making the leap from resistance to revolution involves broadening our demands. It also entails moving from fighting against power, to fighting for power. It is the moment of occupying what we have been alienated from, the freedom to be the masters of our own destiny. Our movement is popular because it is a movement of people’s power. Our movement is one of revolution from below! The power we shall win cannot be from the top down. This is the power oppressors covet, for such power being over and above the heads of the 99%, can only be the power of the 1%.
We have to build mass power now and in earnest, from below. We must expand the social and political spaces we occupy as much as the physical space of the streets where we manifest this. In our different “Tahrir Squares”, from Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Square at Ojota, to Liberation Square at Kano and Freedom Square in Abuja, as well as in our different neighbourhoods, we must create structures of popular power NOW. Form general assemblies of people’s power, constitute action committees in defence of the unfolding Nigerian Revolution. Occupy power from the Local Governments and the states and together we will bring the federal state to naught and build on it one which is ours, for the construction of a new society based on cooperation and solidarity.
Together with the 99% seeking to realise the possibility of another, better world, we shall overcome and establish an order in which the fullest development of each and every one is the essence of the development of society as a whole.
A luta Continua! Victoria Ascerta! FORWARD TO VICTORY!
[Baba Aye is national chairperson of Socialist Workers League. The SWL is the result of a fusion between two socialist parties -- the Socialist League and the Socialist Workers' Movement -- in January 2011 and is associated with the International Socialist Tendency. Baba Aye also blogs at http://solidarityandstruggle.blogspot.com/.]
Trade unions: 'We will hold the presidency accountable for the actions of its thugs'
January 10, 2012 -- The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) congratulate the Nigerian masses for a second successful day of strikes, rallies and mass protests. The reports from across the country show that Nigerians remain resolute in their resolve that the increase in the price of PMS (petrol) of between N141 and N220 must be reversed to N65.
The presidency should take a cue from this mass anger of Nigerians by reversing its anti-people policy on fuel. By their actions in the past few days, Nigerians have left the presidency and the world in no doubt that sovereignty belongs to them and that they intend to reclaim their country.
Presidency’s armed thugs
The labour movement alerts the country and the world at large that the government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has imported armed thugs into Abuja to attack the anti-fuel price hike protesters.
In a Mubarak-style response to the peoples’ protests, the Jonathan administration brought into Abuja thugs armed with various weapons, including guns. Those who made an appearance on Abuja streets yesterday afternoon were former militants and students from Nasarawa Polytechnic who operated under the banner of “PDP Transformation Movement”.
Clearly, the presidency had intended to use the police and army to carry out planned attacks on peaceful protesters but due to the outcry over previous murders, it has opted to use armed thugs. The labour movement warns the presidency that it will be held responsible for whatever atrocities these thugs commit. If the thugs attack the anti-fuel price hike protesters, the labour movement will be compelled to ask all citizens to march on Abuja and take the city.
The Jonathan presidency must wake up to the reality that Nigerians in their tens of millions have spoken out across the country against the fuel price hike and it will do well to listen to the voice of the people.
The nation will recall that the presidency, using a former militant as front, had on January 6, 2012, employed thugs to invade the NLC headquarters.
With the turmoil in the country created by the presidency’s insensitive hike in fuel prices, the Jonathan administration has become the greatest danger to democracy in Nigeria and the country’s wellbeing.
Anti-fuel price hike murders
The country tragically has witnessed the murder of at least eight unarmed civilians in the course of the protests against fuel price hikes. The labour movement has decided to lodge a formal complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against President Jonathan and inspector general Affiz Ringim for the murder of the protesters in the country.
We want to thank specifically workers and artisans, market men and women, professional organisations, especially the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), civil society organisations, the unemployed, the physically challenged, students and youth, and religion leaders who have played fundamental roles in the strikes and mass protests.
We are also appreciative of the presence of serving and former members of the House of Representatives at the rallies.
The labour movement is confident that a united people cannot be divided. We call on Nigerians to continue the strikes, rallies and protests tomorrow Wednesday January 11, 2012, and subsequent days until the Jonathan government listens to the voice of the Nigerian People.
Owei Lakemfa, acting general secretary, NLC.
John Kolawole, secretary general, TUC.
Democratic Socialist Movement: Struggle until victory
Form action committees in workplaces, communities and campuses
Demand public ownership of the oil sector under democratic control and management of workers and consumers
End the rule of the thieving elite
For a workers' and poor peoples' government
January 8, 2012 -- The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) welcomes the decision of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to call an indefinite general strike and mass action against government's criminal policy of fuel subsidy removal/fuel price hike. We salute the courage and resilience displayed by the poor masses and youth who have been hitting the streets daily and in several states across the country since this latest anti-poor policy was announced.
This strike represents a crucial step forward in the struggle to defeat fuel subsidy removal and all other anti-poor policies. This is because it brings out in struggle the mighty working class – the producers of goods and services and the only class that can offer a way out for society. The implication of even a one day general strike in terms of shutdown of the whole economy and loss of profits by the capitalists is huge. So also is the strength and organisation that this strike will add to the general movement by providing a bold national leadership for all Nigerians deeply embittered by this neoliberal attack and wanting to fight back.
The DSM therefore urges all Nigerian workers to down tools in line with the directives of the labour centres and join the oppressed masses and youth on the streets in protests and demonstrations. We equally urge the working masses, youth and poor to brace for a protracted struggle until all the demands are won. To ensure the strike is successful, we urge the trade unions to form enforcement committees composed of union leaders and rank and file activists to move round workplaces to enforce the strike as well as to openly picket private companies some of which are renowned for breaking strikes.
Build the strike from below
However, the only guarantee for a popular and fully successful strike and mass protest is to build the momentum from below. This will require forming democratic action committees in every community, street and neighbourhood as well as on campuses that are not affected by the ongoing ASUU strike. This should be in addition to strike committee comprised of trade union and pro-labour activities that must be formed nationally and in every state by the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO). Such committees will organise and mobilise for mass activities like rallies, symposia and protest marches during the strike.
The democratic action committees composed of youths and community people will be the organ of communication, mobilisation and enforcement in communities. The committees will also act as a platform through which more and more people can take active part in the debates over the tactics and directions of the struggle as well as when to call or call off the struggle unlike the experience in the recent past of labour leaders calling off strikes without consulting workers and protesting masses.
For instance, it will be almost impossible to effect the shutting down of filling stations selling fuel above N65 per litre without organising such action committees that can take initiative and mobilise to enforce every directives of the movement.
Fight to win
By declaring strike action, the NLC and TUC are responding to the huge mood of explosive anger of thousands of youth and working masses who have been coming out on protests (some spontaneous), in about 10 states across the country since fuel prices was hiked.
In its joint communiqué, the NLC and TUC declared that "From Monday January 9th, 2012 date, all offices, oil production centres, air and sea ports, fuel stations, markets, banks, amongst others will be shut down. We advise Nigerians to stockpile basic needs especially food and water ...The primary objective of this patriotic call and movement is to revert PMS Price to N65, restore normalcy and reclaim Nigeria for Nigerians".
This immediately raises questions about strategies and tactics to achieve a fully successful indefinite/protracted strike. To ensure that fatigue does not set in among the masses during the course of the strike, the DSM urges labour and its civil society allies in LASCO to pursue a strategy that will ensure the control of flow of essentials like food, water, transportation, hospitals and other basic essentials. The action committees should be mandated to organise in communities, neighbourhoods and streets so that these basic essentials can get to the people and also to control prices and prevent hoarding and black marketeering of essential goods by profit-hunting traders.
A time can be fixed in the evening for shops selling basic essentials and wares to be opened for the public. This tactic is very important given the fact that it will be extremely difficult for many working-class people who have not yet received salaries and the poor masses "to stockpile basic needs especially food and water" adequate for the entire period of the strike.
However, there is a great doubt in the minds of many of the sincerity of labour. Many before now, especially during so-called consultations between labour and the federal government, have been questioning the ability of the labour leadership to give a bold fight. Even more are still questioning the sincerity of the labour leadership in leading this strike. We have seen many well supported general strikes and protests since 1980 but they have been called off by the labour leaders without any significant calls being made and today the question on most people's lips is: "will this not also be like other strikes in the past?"
This is why the DSM is urging the leadership of the NLC and TUC in collaboration with JAF organised under LASCO to pursue this strike vigorously in order to achieve full and satisfactory victory. The past few days of mass actions across the country have shown how the masses of workers, poor and youth inflamed by government's neoliberal attacks can mobilise themselves out to the streets to take their destiny into their own hands. However without a clear leadership, program and organisation, such spontaneous mass actions can also degenerate into violence and riots.
It is this bold, clear and focused leadership that the masses of angry youth and workers need from the leadership of the NLC and TUC now. Unlike the past indefinite strikes against fuel price hikes when labour leaders call off actions after a measly reduction in hiked prices and without recourse to the rank and file workers and its civil society allies, the NLC and TUC leaders must recognise the full significance of government policy of removal of fuel subsidy and the need to struggle to permanently defeat this and all other capitalist neo-liberal attacks on the working and toiling people.
This attack is not just about fuel price increase. The significance of the policy of fuel subsidy removal is to hand over collective oil wealth to oil cartels and multinational oil companies under the guise of deregulation. The government has been claiming that cabals are the ones benefitting from the oil subsidy, therefore to deny them this opportunity, the oil subsidy, which helps most Nigerians to buy fuel at prices lower than international rates must be removed. To start with, who are these cabals? It is remarkable that while government spokespersons paint lucidly the criminal activities of this cabal, it has not taken steps to arrest and prosecute them.
This confirms what socialists have often argued. Capitalism is fundamentally a nest of profit-hunting cabals whose primary agenda is to corner society's resources for their own self-serving motives. This explains why the government rather than investing society's resources to rehabilitate the PHCN as well as other public enterprises like NITEL etc., so that they can work efficiently prefers to sell them off to elements who are mostly fronts for political officeholders, their friends and cronies. The ruling elite, in order to sell the bogey that selling off public enterprises is the best way to make them work, ran all the public enterprises into the ground through corruption of the government appointees in charge of them.
The whole question of subsidy removal revolves around this same self-seeking character of the capitalist system. The real reason why money spent on subsidy has reached such monstrous proportions as N1.3 trillion annually (claimed by federal government spokespeople) is because the capitalist ruling elite equally refused to invest resources in making the oil refineries work and building more. The huge amount is also as a result of the well-entrenched corrupt practices in the supervision and disbursement of the fuel subsidy to the importers, most of whom are friends and fronts of top functionaries of the government. The ability to refine locally, even in strict economics, is the best way to maximise the full value of Nigeria's oil resources.
But capitalism and capitalists only care for profit and not what is best for society. It is more profitable for the Nigerian ruling elite and their friends from multinational oil cartels to export crude oil and import refined products. Hence, Nigerians are forced into a pathetic situation where even as a sixth largest crude oil exporting country, the domestic prices of fuel is astronomical. Perhaps what sharply captures the Nigerian tragedy is that we pay more for fuel, even at N65, than most of the OPEC countries!
In this struggle, rather than making demands on a deeply corrupt capitalist ruling elite to make refineries work and rehabilitate roads, railways etc. before it removes fuel subsidy, labour must maintain total and unconditional opposition to the policy as well as other neoliberal policies of deregulation and privatisation.
The labour movement must equally demand the public ownership of the oil sector and its placement under the control and management of democratic committees of workers and consumers. This is the best way to rid the oil sector of the profit-hunting cabals who make huge profits from lifting and exporting crude oil and importing refined fuel products at the expense of society.
The first days of January have shown again the immense potential power of working people. Workers could either not afford to or were spontaneously protesting at President Goodluck Jonathan's cynical new year's "gift" brought many cities to a virtual standstill. The indefinite general strike, like the previous ones, will bring the country to a halt. This begs the key question: if labour can stop the country why can't it take control of the country out of the hands of the thieving ruling class and begin to run it in the interests of working people? In this way an indefinite general strike poses the question of who runs the country?
The NLC and TUC statement listed "reclaim Nigeria for Nigerians" as one of the strike's objectives. But how can this really be done? We in the DSM argue that this can only be achieved by breaking the power of the ruling class and for the working people to begin to run the country.
An indefinite general strike poses the question of whether working people can act to rid the whole society of the capitalist parasites holding society to ransom. The 2012 budget proposal reveals how the ruling class parasitic elites suck society dry. The total allocation for feeding in the presidential villa is about N1 billion while fuelling of official cars will cost N1.7 billion. Equally N200 million was budgeted to water the gardens of the presidential villa in 2011 alone. The Senate president David Mark earns about N600 million annually apart from other perks and privileges of his office.
These are just bits of the extravagance, opulent life-style and official corruption of the capitalist ruling elites. Placed side by side with the extreme poverty and destitution of over 80% of the population and the over 25 million (42%) unemployed youth, this represents a colossal income inequality in society.
There is the urgent need for labour to lead the process of providing a political alternative to all capitalists' anti-poor policies of privatisation, deregulation, education commercialisation etc. Without fighting to defeat all these neoliberal policies, it will never be possible to liberate the working and toiling masses from excruciating poverty in the midst of stupendous oil wealth.
The developing mass struggle against fuel subsidy removal shows the potential for a political party that offers clear pro-poor alternative policies to the neoliberal and anti-poor nostrums of the Peoples Democratic Party (PPP), All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) or the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Despite attempts by some to distance themselves because of the mass struggle taking place, all the political parties support the policy of fuel subsidy removal. Indeed through the Governors Forum, state governors like Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State openly canvassed for the removal as a precondition for payment of N18, 000 minimum wage! This is why the DSM is again calling on the NLC and TUC to build a genuine mass workers' political party that can be a vehicle to take political power.
Such a political party, if built side by side with the ongoing mass movements, can easily acquire a mass character and offer a way forward for angry workers, poor and youths seeking complete liberation. This can also pave the way for the takeover of political power by the working and toiling masses and the enthronement of a working and poor people's government that can democratically plan society's resources for the purpose of meeting the needs of millions and not the interest of millionaires.
Against the above background, labour's statements that, "The primary objective of this patriotic call and movement is to revert PMS Price to N65" falls short of the mood and expectations of angry workers, poor masses and youth who want a determined struggle against all anti-poor policies.
It is not just fuel subsidy removal that is responsible for this massive explosion of anger, equally responsible are the government policies of education commercialization best epitomised by the astronomical hike of Lagos State University (LASU) school fees, privatisation, mass unemployment especially among young graduates, tremendous loss of jobs as private companies fold up due to harsh business environment, massive corruption and the outrageous cost of subsidising super-rich political office holders, lack of electricity, shelter, poor and dilapidating public infrastructures like roads etc.
Uptill now, the N18, 000 national minimum wage has not yet been paid by many state governments across the country! Therefore labour cannot just limit the struggle to reversal of pump price of petrol to N65. Labour must lead a fight back against all neoliberal and anti-poor policies with the aim of winning the best concession for working class and impoverished masses while, at the same time, striving to carry through a socialist revolution in working peoples' interests.
Message of solidarity from the Communist Party of Swaziland to the workers of Nigeria
January 13, 2012 -- The Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) extends its solidarity and militant greetings to the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress and through them to the workers of Nigeria on their important mass actions.
The workers involved in strike action, and supportive measures for it, cover a broad spectrum of the working population. Their actions come at a time of heightened tension and struggle in Nigeria in which the main victims of violent sectarianism and worsening instability are the workers and the poor.
The hike in petrol prices represents an anti-working class and anti-poor imposition, the context of which is pressure from the anti-people International Monetary Fund and World Bank to remove the fuel subsidy that had kept petrol prices affordable for ordinary people.
This struggle of the Nigerian labour movement must necessarily draw the solidarity of progressive organisations and individuals from across the African continent and beyond. The success of the workers in Nigeria is of crucial importance to the success of parallel anti-capitalist struggles in Africa, which is increasingly a terrain nowadays for intensified imperialist intervention, exploitation and manipulation.
The CPS calls on communist and workers' parties in other countries, particularly in Africa, and on all solidarity organisations to add their voice to the struggle of the Nigerian labour movement at this critical time.
Love live the Nigerian labour movement!
Long live African unity for socialism!
Long live working-class internationalism!
[The DSM is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI).]
Amid Strikes, Nigeria Rolls Back Gasoline Price
By ADAM NOSSITER
LAGOS, Nigeria — After a week of strikes, protests and national paralysis over a sharp rise in the government-controlled price of fuel, President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday announced a partial rollback of gasoline prices.
After the announcement, Nigerian unions said they would suspend their walkout and street protests. A statement from the Nigeria Labour Congress said that union leaders had decided “that in order to save lives and in the interest of national survival, these mass actions be suspended.”
In a speech on the state-run Nigerian Television Authority, he said that the price will drop to about $2.75 a gallon but still higher than $1.70, which Nigerians had been paying before the government eliminated subsidies on Jan. 1 in a highly unpopular decision.
Citing a desire to put public finances on a sounder footing, the government revoked fuel subsidies on Jan. 1, a step that filled the streets of Nigerian cities with tens of thousands of protesters. The police used live ammunition to disperse protests in Kano and other places; at least three people were killed, and Amnesty International denounced what it said was excessive use of force by the authorities.
Nigerians emerged from their homes this weekend to find the fragile calculus underpinning most people’s lives in the country further threatened.
The price of onions has more than doubled because of the cost of getting them to market. Dried crawfish, hot peppers and watermelon seed are twice as expensive. Lines of cars stretched far down dingy blocks in the gray winter haze, waiting to pay about $3.50 a gallon for gasoline that cost just $1.70 on New Year’s Eve.
The standoff among the Nigerian government, the labor unions and the street continued Sunday, with vows of more strikes unless the government backed down.
At the grimy Iddo Market in Lagos, a long line of rickety open stalls under a highway overpass, the mood over the weekend was wary. Housewives bustled about the piles of yams and tomatoes for the first time in a week.
“Everything is just double, triple the price,” said Segun Nisi, shaking her head over the cost of watermelon seeds, whose oil is used in cooking here. Similar reactions boded ill for the government’s policy course.
Nigeria produces immense oil wealth, but analysts say that for decades, billions of dollars from the country’s oil earnings have been stolen by a corrupt elite while three-quarters of the country’s citizens live on about a dollar a day. Government-subsidized gasoline has been almost the only benefit from oil production to reach the wider population.
Some local commentators saw the widespread protests over fuel as the beginning of a “Nigerian Spring.” But they were another headache for a country that is already faced with an insurrection by armed Islamic militants in the north, sectarian tensions in the middle and perpetual restiveness in the oil-producing south. At Iddo, Mrs. Nisi was dressed up for shopping — a shiny white blouse, embroidered black cap — after a week of closed stores and markets. But the experience was not making her sympathetic to the government’s plan. And the seed vendor was not budging from his new price. “We are just suffering here, and the people at the top are enjoying their life,” Mrs. Nisi said. “They are just making people too crazy.”
Even the country’s oil workers threatened to strike, which could affect world energy markets if the country’s exports are crimped. One analyst said a strike lasting several weeks could push up oil prices by $10 to $20 a barrel.
At the root of the trouble is a paradox that some see as emblematic of the country’s 50 years of independence: Nigeria is one of the world’s leading crude oil exporters, but it must import nearly all of its gasoline from foreign refineries because years of neglect, mismanagement and corruption have left the country’s own refineries unable to function. The government subsidies, which approached $8 billion, made up the difference between the world market price and the lower price that Nigerians had been paying at the pump, while the middlemen who imported the gasoline made huge profits.
In a 2009 report, the International Monetary Fund called the removal of the fuel subsidy “an important first step.” But in a place where experts estimate that $50 billion to $100 billion in oil revenue has been lost through fraud and that 80 percent of the economic benefit from oil production has flowed to 1 percent of the population, the monetary fund’s approval of a step that hits ordinary people so hard looks provocative.
At Iddo, Mabel Ekewke eyed five small baskets of onions. Before, they would have cost about 1,000 nairas (about $6.25), she said; now the vendor was asking 2,500 nairas ($15.50).
“People don’t have money, and people are very hungry,” Ms. Ekewke said. “The salaries they are paying are just too small. I personally am ready to continue the strike.” That vow was echoed by Nigerian labor leaders, who held talks with the government on Sunday in Abuja, the capital. No agreement had been reached by the evening.
“They’ve come into power and said they would improve infrastructure, and at the end of the day, nobody sees anything,” said Peter Esele, president general of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria. “People have just lost trust in the Nigerian government. It’s an issue of confidence. We’re not ready to give our trust. It must be earned.”
Even so, for the country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, any retreat now on the subsidy could be interpreted as a sign of weakness, which would be harmful for a leader dealing with internal unrest on many fronts. The government’s spokesman sought over the weekend to cast Mr. Jonathan’s position in the opposite light. “It’s a sign of strength for a leader to see what’s in the best interest of Nigerians,” said the spokesman, Reuben Abati. “He’s made it clear that it’s absolutely in the best interest of Nigerians to deregulate the downstream sector,” meaning the retail sale of gasoline.
That logic was lost on shoppers at Iddo, though. “If he doesn’t go back, we’ll go on strike again,” Vivian Kezie said as she eyed the onions. She said she was not persuaded by government claims that the $8 billion it is saving by scrapping the subsidy would go to shoring up the country’s rickety infrastructure. “I don’t trust them,” Ms. Kezie said. “They will use it on their families. All their children are in school abroad.”
The strike shut down much of the country’s economy it seemed unlikely that the people in the street would relent without a gesture from the government. “When the equation is still Hobbesian, people are not going to participate,” said Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, a lecturer at Oxford University and an expert on Nigerian oil politics, referring to the grimness of daily life in Nigeria. “People perceive this as a raid on their resources.”
Richard Berry contributed reporting from Paris.