By Dagga Tolar (Spokesperson of the MSA)

The MSA calls on Nigerian workers under the auspices of the NLC and TUC to reject the dangerous agreement their official leadership signed with the federal government. The agreement was a clear endorsement of deregulation by the labour leaders and implies that the prices of petrol will now be determined by the greed of oil marketers. Workers must also insist that there is no going back on a 48 hours General Strike and Protest as the only viable step to force the Buhari-regime to immediately reverse the increase in the prices of fuel and electricity tariff.

The Labour leaders led by Ayuba Wabba and Olaleye Quadri had in an early morning parley with the federal government called off the General Strike and protest against the increase in the prices of fuel and electricity tariff, which was earlier slated to kick off on the 28th of September. The strike was called off under the guise that the labour leaders have fully bought into the “perverted logic” of deregulation and that increase in electricity tariff will be suspended for two weeks! Suspended for two weeks!

The government also promised that the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt refinery will “… achieve a 50% completion…” by 2021. This promise is vague and is not one that can be accomplished by the ruling elites, given the fact that the same promise has been made over and over, with the only achievement being the renewal of promises only as a means to awarding new contracts for the singular purpose of creating largesse for looting public funds for members of the billionaire club and their cronies. Bearing in mind that there was also no delivery date for the refineries in Warri and Kaduna, which indicates that the government created a path to further excuses for itself in the future. This makes nonsense of the agreement and in itself is a clear indication that the government cannot be taken seriously.

Nearly all the members of the ruling elites are direct or indirect beneficiaries, either in the form of the super-profits of millions in hard currencies or the racket of the fictitious subsidy regime flowing from the oil sector. These all explain why the capitalist elites will not be committed to ensuring that the refineries are functional or new ones are built.

 And interestingly Buhari himself had labelled it a “fraud”. This is the fraud that labour leaders are now endorsing by way of supporting the deregulation of the oil sector, which gives reign for the working masses to further be condemned into more penury to guarantee more and more super-profits for the oil barons. The GMD of the NNPC, Mallam Mele Kyari had in April pronounced to the whole world “there is no subsidy and it is zero forever…”, so who is fooling who?

If after over 5 years in power (and a total of 21 years of civil rule since 1999), the ruling elites have failed with about N1.2 trillion budgeted and spent on the “Turn Around Maintenance (TAM)” of the refineries, then it will be naïve to think that the Buhari regime will have the muscle to now achieve a half completion because of the aborted strike of labour. In reality, it completely endorses neoliberal capitalism and employs the importing of petroleum products as a means of improving the capital base of an indolent capitalist class that is averse to investing its looted wealth in the development of the means of production, given the fact that there is more profit to be made from merely engaging in importation of goods, which is even an obligation imposed on the ruling elites as one of the conditions from the IMF and World Bank to whom they go bowl in hand begging for more loans and rescheduling of existing loans.

Also, private, functional refineries, as with the expectation in a Dangote Refinery, will not mean that profit will cease to be the operating philosophy of such ventures. In clear terms, according to the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, the Dangote Refinery will not function as a charity outfit.  Its prices will be competitive and determined by “international market forces” to maximize profit. This strengthens the point also that the government is only aiming at the super-profits to be made in the oil sector as a means of attracting the private sector to invest in it.

For the labour leaders, who know that the meagre N30, 000 minimum wage has been overwhelmed by inflation and devaluation of the Naira, while some states till date refuse to even pay, it beats one’s imagination hollow the labour leaders would then have consented to the policy of deregulation. Despite the huge salaries, allowances and privileges that political office holders draw from Nigeria’s treasury!

 The regime has canvassed the pitiable argument that the subsidy regime costs trillions of naira in fraudulent and real values. However, the trillion of naira spent in the past five years on subsidy demonstrates the fact that the country is rich enough to build new functional refineries and even make existing ones functional. It is not true that the government has the interest of the working masses at heart. The APC-led Buhari regime like the PDP regime of 16 years that it replaced puts first and foremost the interest of members of the billionaire club as opposed to the wellbeing of the working masses.

It is now clear as daylight that the Disco will not respect this agreement and that if they do it will only be for a limited time, before reverting and insisting on an electricity tariff increase, applying the same logic employed to increase fuel price. In this case, the working masses will have no other option than to turn to themselves and all of the existing movements in the communities to organise and demand a reversal and the renationalisation of the electricity sector, which this time around must be placed under democratic control and management of the working masses, through elected representatives of the electricity workers, community consumers, who will manage the sector far better than the hordes of looting-ministers.

The oil sector also will demand nothing less as well. Demands must be put forward for the building of new refineries, outright opposition to deregulation and privatization, with the oil industry nationalised under the management of workers.

The surprise for a larger layer of the working masses would have been that the strike went ahead. The top labour bureaucrats are perceived as not any different from the ruling elites in their aspiration to maintain the same lifestyle as the members of the billionaire club and the ruling elites; like them, they are chauffeured in jeeps, move about with bodyguards, see themselves as CEOs of their union, whose words are commands and must go unchallenged by the rank file members of the union.

It is in the light of this that the anger that has been expressed by workers against the suspension of the general strike and the open show of disapproval by a significant number among the leaders of the state councils of the NLC and TUC with their national leadership over the call off must be applauded. In states like Edo and Oyo, the state leaderships of the NLC and the TUC defied the suspension and went ahead to lead a protest against the call off, this is one positive development that cannot entirely be ignored. In this act is the seed of potential for an alternative leadership of the unions around a programme of defending the interests of the working masses, as opposed to the interests of the ruling elites and their quest for super-profits. This may even be taken further to building a political platform with the structures and resources of the unions to challenge the ruling elites, defeat and wrestle power from its grip, overthrow capitalism and commence the process of the socialist transformation of society by putting in place a workers’ and poor farmers government.

By whatever magic that has been employed under the table to achieve this deal with the labour leaders either using a dangling of carrots for future political offices or appealing to their support for the APC to propel the labour leaders to make a retreat. It is clear to all that the Buhari regime cannot in reality claim a victory for long, there is, in reality, no escape from the fact that the regime and its capitalist system await a date of confrontation with the working masses. This call-off cannot annul this impending struggle of the working class with the regime. And if in the end labour leaders abdicate their responsibility to provide leadership for the working masses, it is clear that the working masses will not abandon their historical task and inevitably come into the arena of struggle to confront the ruling elites and their capitalist system. The working masses will as a consequence independently by its class dynamics produce a leadership for itself from within reliable sections of it.

This is why it is important to challenge JAF and other pro-labour and socialist organisations to up their game and produce a plan of action for mobilizing the working masses and providing education to the masses that will build up the consciousness of the masses to allow them to come into the struggle against the ruling elite, build an independent political platform or take up the task of building the SPN, by calling on workers to join and build the SPN as a party of the workers, farmers and the poor to take on the ruling elites.

The MSA calls on the NEC, and state councils of the NLC and TUC to follow in the footsteps of the majority of workers, who in their various workplaces have condemned the call-off by rejecting the agreement and communiqué signed by the labour leaders. This new support for deregulation must be rejected in its entirety. The history of all the past increases and the struggle and agitation against them over four decades will be rubbished by this endorsement of deregulation.

To conclude that the price hike can be removed from the question of deregulation is in itself laughable. Deregulation and indeed capitalism and the system of meeting the greed for profit by the oil barons are the very reason for the constant hike in prices. Is it that the labour leaders have now come full circle to make an open peace with deregulation and capitalism? If so, this will no doubt earn them the anger of the working masses. But the regime can no sooner claim a victory that the two weeks deadline will come and go. Indeed other microeconomic-indices like devaluation and inflation which is already at a double-digit will in time also come to bear and this current increase will also become too little to meet the greed for more profit by the billionaires whose greed for more profit is insatiable.