Around 10,000 trade unionists marched through Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital on Wednesday of last week. The march grew in size as people joined it on route. It was protesting against government plans to deregulate the price of fuel, demanding a substantial increase in the minimum wage and calling for electoral reform to guarantee free and fair elections.
The demonstration spent the morning marching across the centre of the city from the national stadium to a rally outside the offices of the governor of Lagos, picking up supporters along the way. Despite the governor’s refusal to implement an agreed pay increase for teachers earlier this year he was given a polite hearing.
Just after the current national government came to power in mid 2007, the Nigerian Labour Congress (TUC) led a successful general strike against fuel price increases, a doubling of the rate of VAT and privatisation. As a result fuel prices have not been increased for the last 18 months, but recently there have been fuel shortages because of uncertainties over the proposed deregulation of prices.
The minimum wage for workers of state governments (county councils) is only around 70p a day and has not been increased for the last six years. In contrast the salaries and allowances for senior politicians and their advisors increased by 800 percent last year.
A recent enquiry into the running of elections made a series of recommendations. But the key one – over the appointment of the head of the electoral commission – has not been accepted.
Too often the electoral commission has accepted results which were clearly fraudulent in favour of the governing party. This has once again demonstrated the need for electoral reform.
The campaign with continue with demonstrations in all the other major Nigerian cities. If the government then fails to yield to the demands of the movement, more militant action including another general strike is expected to be organised.
Abiodun Olamosu will be speaking at Marxism 2009 » www.marxismfestival.org.uk