History was made today, 9th January 2012, as Lagosians in their thousands harkened to the call of the Labour and Civil Society Organisation (LASCO) to embark on a nationwide strike/mass protest toexpress their dissatisfaction with the recent increment in the pump price of petrol as announced by the Goodluck Jonathan-led government on 1st of January. LASCO encompasses the two labour centers in Nigeria i.e. the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) as well as the Joint Action Front (JAF) which is the umbrella body of the pro-labour civil society organisations.
Report on the general strike and anti-fuel price hike mass protests in
Lagos – day 1
As early as 7.00 am in the morning, multitudes of workers and other working people had assembled at the NLC secretariat in Yaba, Lagos, a traditional starting point for such mass protests. The rally took off in full gear with all manner of slogans visible on banners and placards. Prominent among such slogans are ‘enough is enough’; ‘no to fuel subsidy removal’ and ‘Jonathan must go!’
The historic nature of the rally and demonstrations lies first and foremost in the size of the crowd. More than 300,000 people were on the streets to protest the fuel price hike and poor standard of living in the country. Never has the city witnessed such movement of people with such unanimity of purpose. The anger was palpable and the dissatisfaction was unprecedented. Apart from the heavy presence of ordinary workers and poor stratum, there was also a mammoth middle class professionals’ representation. Most visible among them were the medical doctors under the banner of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA); they came in their ward coats and brought ambulances with stock of medications to help protesters in case of emergency; the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), the umbrella body of lawyers in Nigeria also marched in the protest in their gowns and wigs, and members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) who came to the mass rally in their academic gowns. It was a sight to behold.
Compliance to organised labour’s directive for a total strike and mass action was total and paralyzing. All shops, offices and commercial centres remained closed and there was no sign of commercial vehicles. The ever busy boulevards and major roads were largely empty with very few vehicular activities noticed. The heads of protesters went as far as the eyes could see, stretching along many kilometres on Ikorodu Road, the major path of the demonstration, while the city of Lagos, renowned as the commercial capital of Nigeria, became nothing but a ghost of itself.
The historic nature of the protest was also expressed in the quality of the protesters. Unquestionably, large layers of the crowd are the advance guard of the working people as represented by the trade union activists in specific union attires and other groupings yearning for change, given the comments being passed and the conclusions being drawn. It was indeed a sight to behold!
The protesters trekked a distance of about 10km without showing signs of tiredness or weariness and chanting revolutionary songs, abuses and curses on Jonathan and his cohort. The long walk culminated into a mega rally at Gani Fawehinmi park at Ojota, where tens of thousands of people including the save Nigeria group led by pastor Tunde Bakare had already gathered. Needless to say, the demand for copies of our paper, Workers Alternative, was at an all time high, and the total sale was to the tune of 350 copies.
At the park, the masses were addressed by leaders of organized labour and civil society organizations, including representatives of the doctors’ union, lecturers, lawyers and the spokesperson for actors/actresses and filmmakers in Nollywood – the Nigerian Hollywood equivalent . It was thereafter unanimously agreed that the streets would continue to be occupied until the Jonathan-led government reverts the price of petrol back to N65 and all the other key demands of the protest are acceded to.
Spice and colour were added to the mix as popular Nigerian musicians also performed to keep protesters’ spirit up and in the same vein revolutionary music of the legendary Fela could be heard blaring in full blast.
Reports across the country also showed a similar pattern to the Lagos experience. Maximum strike compliance was recorded in almost all the major cities and towns both in the southern and northern parts of the country. Rallies and demonstrations occurred in Abuja, the federal capital city in central Nigeria, as well as in other cities like Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kaduna, Bauchi etc in the North. Public and financial institutions (Banks etc) were also closed in the hitherto sectarian clashes hotspot, Jos, in compliance with the LASCO general strike. The same experiences were witnessed in almost all the southern cities; the general strike cum demonstrations and rallies held in Ibadan, Osogbo, Abeokuta, Akure, Benin, Asaba, Owerri, Calabar, Port Harcourt, etc.
What is obvious from this report is that the working masses in Nigeria who are presently participating in the nationwide strike action and mass protests have seen the futility of the argument of the government and its apologists for the removal of the so called subsidy on petrol. Noteworthy is the fact that the revolutionary pace of this movement is gradually taking its own course starting with the demand to return the price of petrol (PMS) to the status quo price of N65 per litre and now with the growing demand that President Jonathan must resign and go!
It is however important at this point to deepen the present demand with appropriate political programmatic demands which will link the anti-fuel price increment demand with other pending demands of the workers and the toiling masses. These include, but are not limited to, a truly National minimum wage, Free universal healthcare services, free education at all levels, a social pension scheme, the building of publicly-owned oil refineries and nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy among other socialist programmatic demands. More importantly, this movement should signal the urgent need to create an independent mass political platform organized around the existing structure of LASCO nationwide.
Indeed this is the beginnings of the Nigerian Revolution!