Labour leaders in Nigeria called off a general strike on Monday of this week after the government agreed to partly reintroduce petrol subsidies. The subsidies were removed on 1 January. The price of a litre of petrol rose from 65 naira to 141 naira. The new price is 97 naira a litre.
This is a stunted victory. It’s a major setback to government plans. But it’s still a 50 percent increase. That’s a terrible burden on the poor.
For more than a week, ten million workers brought the country to a standstill.
Many militants insist that they will stay out until the full subsidy is returned. Some action has continued in seven or eight states. But I don’t think it will last.
Calling off the strikes has given the state the upper hand. Rank and file workers feel a strong sense of betrayal.
The government has now been able to put soldiers on the streets in most major cities.
The strike only had one demand—to return the subsidy. The unions say they will keep arguing for that. But if they believed it they should have stayed out.
Nigeria’s government has responded to additional demands for an end to corruption. It will set up a new anti-graft agency.
This will bring out a lot of dirt. But that has happened before—and usually nothing happens. Will anything change this time? Not if we rely on the government.
But the genie is out of the bottle now. The mass of people have realised they can change things by taking action.
Some 20 people were killed during the strike. I only know of one incident where the state wasn’t responsible—a driver crashed while trying to avoid a workers’ barricade in Ogun.
The reality is that we have learned from last year’s revolutions in North Africa. Nigerians have never before taken over an area in their hundreds and thousands and stayed there from dawn to dusk. We have seen mass discussions, mass chanting and mass dancing.
Activists who only knew each other through Facebook or BlackBerry groups finally met in person. All kinds of new alliances have been formed.
Nigeria’s biggest city Lagos has been the centre of the struggle. Strikers set up action committees and neighbourhood committees. They organised barricades to defend the strike.
In the capital Abuja where I live these included mobilisation, medical and security committees. They keep the peace on protests.
People hear about how Nigeria is divided by religious violence. Several states in the north have been living under a state of emergency.
The ruling class has encouraged this ethnic strife to split the opposition.
But the strike showed another way for people relate to each other. In Abuja strikers showed solidarity by linking arms around Muslims on the protest as they prayed.
There was solidarity on a bigger scale in Funtua in the more Muslim north last week. The armed Islamic group Boko Haram had issued an ultimatum against Christians.
But local Muslims surrounded churches across town to protect them.