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9 February 2017

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February 6 #IStandWithNigeria protests shows growing anger at the Buhari/APC government

But What Next?

H.T Soweto,
 February 6 march in Lagos - photo DSM

February 6 march in Lagos - photo DSM   (Click to enlarge)

On Monday February 6, 2017, thousands poured into the streets across some cities in the country to protest the unending hardship and failure of the Buhari/APC government. Over 3,000 marched in Lagos. The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) produced placards and a leaflet listing 18 key demands which were enthusiastically taken up by the crowds. Many thousands marched in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Benin, Akure, Ibadan and Osogbo. On Monday, 6th February, a group of protesters comprising of some NANS elements protested in Osogbo.

In Osogbo, DSM comrades joined other protesters at Freedom Park where the media interviewed DSM state secretary comrade Raheem while DSM state coordinator comrade Alfred addressed the mass of people. In Oyo state, our comrades played central role in forming a broad platform called "Oyo Voice", which is not aligned to the "One Voice" the platform under which the national protest was organized.

These protests show the enormous anger among the working people, middle class, youth and the downtrodden. February 6 is a barometer of the enormous radicalization taking place as many continue to draw the conclusion that no member of the capitalist ruling elite can fix Nigeria. This radicalization is happening against the background of the toughest economic crisis in 25 years and the failure of the Buhari capitalist government to fulfill its electoral promise to make life better for ordinary people. Food prices are at their highest level while transport and housing costs are shooting through the roof. Inflation, combined with currency devaluation, means workers' wages have lost nearly half of their real value. 3 million jobs were lost in the last 2 years with many more set to go as collapse of power sector means companies prefer to produce in neighboring countries.

End Jumbo Salaries for Political Office Holders! - photo DSM

End Jumbo Salaries for Political Office Holders! - photo DSM   (Click to enlarge)

Although no way near as big or as widespread as the January 2012 protest against fuel subsidy removal, these protests nevertheless represent an important beginning in the process of the building of a nationwide mass movement against anti-poor policies. This protest had reportedly been announced on Instagram by Innocent Idibia a.k.a Tuface, a leading musical artiste in Nigeria. Immediately he announced it, the social media was agog as talks about the protest became the most trending issue online. So deep is the anger in society that when eventually the musician pulled out of the planned protest and announced its cancelation two days before the day itself, this did not deter many from coming out. Indeed those who came out, no doubt smaller than it would have been if the musician had not pulled out, came with a determination to defy the government and demonstrate that it can be opposed with mass struggle.

However despite the unarguable success of the protest, one major drawback was the absence of clear demands and programme. This means that there is no hope that any of the socio-economic issues that propelled the protest will be resolved by this one day's action. At the moment, there is clearly nothing really to hold the government to in the coming weeks except the Vice President Osinbajo's vague response of "We hear you loud and clear" which is no concrete assurance to the working masses and unemployed who are suffering untold hardship as a result of the pro-rich capitalist policies of the Buhari/APC regime.

No struggle can succeed without a programme and plan of action. The programme is not only important as a basis to mobilize mass of people to fight back against the hardship and place demands before the government, the programme is also essential as an important marker for the movement itself. Without a programme, a struggle is rudderless and left to chance and luck. But with a programme we can know what we are fighting for and measure the success or otherwise of our actions and agree on what next steps to take to achieve our objectives. The absence of a programme is one of the reasons why the protests ended without any understanding and clear agreement of what the next steps should be. Of course another top entertainer, Charly Boy (Area Father), while addressing protesters in Lagos reportedly called for bigger mobilization for an action in Abuja in about 2 months' time. Also some leading activists also mentioned May 29 being the 2nd anniversary of the Buhari administration as possibly another day for action. But these are just suggestions of individuals, there is as yet no discussion and agreement as to the way forward and this is unhealthy for the movement.

At this stage, all organizations and groups involved in yesterday's successful protest across the country, as well as many others like the Joint Action Front (JAF) who may not have been involved for many reasons, need to meet to review the struggle, agree on a unifying programme and discuss what the way forward should be. With the success of February 6, the working masses and youth need to know when the next action is taking place and what the demands are. This movement may have been detonated by an individual (Tuface) and popularized by EnoughisEnough (EiE) through the social media, but we would be making a costly mistake to think that a mass struggle can be sustained by chance and spontaneity. To make February 6 the beginning of a truly strong nationwide movement that can fight relentlessly to better the lives of suffering people and lay the basis for transforming the country, we need urgent discussions on programme, method and the next steps.

One Voice Nigeria - photo DSM

One Voice Nigeria - photo DSM   (Click to enlarge)

Most importantly, the labour movement (NLC, TUC and ULC) needs to put itself at the leadership of the struggle by calling for a one-day general strike and mass protest. The enormous hunger and anger shows that the country is ripe for one. Otherwise this anger can easily dissipate or other forces (e.g. whose who just want to vent their anger, pro-regime groups etc.) can exploit the leadership vacuum by hijacking the movement.

But today an important factor in the consciousness of working people and youth is the perfidious character of the current bureaucratic leadership of the labour movement and the fact that they have repeatedly shown that cannot be trusted to lead struggle without compromise. The failure of labour's general strike in May last year against fuel price hike is still fresh in the minds of many. So also is the betrayal of January 2012 splendid general strike and mass protest that shook the Jonathan regime to its foundation but was ended with a rotten deal. This coupled with the failure of labour to be proactive on issues of delay in payment of salaries and pensions in 27 states and increase in the prices of food, kerosene and other basic items need by the masses for daily survival means many cannot trust these leaders. All too often these leaders' radical sounding words have delivered nothing. But unfortunately without the working class, especially those organized in the trade unions, taking the lead, there can be no successful struggle to transform society. This is because of the role and position of the working class in capitalist society.

Therefore any perspective of struggle anchored on ignoring the working class' importance or the trade unions will only end up in defeat and disappointment. Even where activists are forced by the docility of the trade union leaders to organize struggles outside of the trade unions, we must consciously use this struggles as basis to criticize the character of the labour leadership and call on rank and file workers to take actions within their unions to demand that their leadership fight or they are shown the door. Ultimately, the only way to combat the inaction of the labour movement and build a fighting labour movement is for activists to seek to clean the unions of bureaucrats, make the unions democratic and fight for a labour leadership that is clear ideologically about the role of the unions as platforms to fight for members' rights to improved wages and working conditions but also potential platforms that can lead the struggle to transform Nigeria along socialist lines.

HT Soweto, National Coordinator ERC & member DSM NEC, at the Lagos protest - photo DSM

HT Soweto, National Coordinator ERC & member DSM NEC, at the Lagos protest - photo DSM   (Click to enlarge)

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) is organizing a symposium on February 25 in Lagos where we hope the participants including some of the groups and individuals that played leading roles in February 6 demo as well as labour leaders would discuss the current socio-economic crisis and agree on what to be done.

We present below brief reports from Lagos, Abuja and Ibadan where our comrades participated in the protest

Report of Anti-Government protest in Abuja

Dimeji Macaulay

Around 8am, many working people and youth gathered at the Unity Fountain in Abuja to protest the worsening economic situation in the country. The protest was called by "One voice Nigeria/Enough is Enough".

We got there as early as possible to join the protest with leaflets and other solidarity materials and marched with protesters. Unfortunately, the organization that called the protest had set a rule not to allow any other materials from people outside their own to be displayed.

This is a limitation on the part of the organizers. After calling on Nigerians to come out, they only want people to march with them with their own inscriptions on placards and banners, they did not want protesters to take their own initiative. Attempts to circulate our leaflets were rebuffed by the leadership. The leaflet was produced by Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) to support the protest and outline a programme for the struggle. The leaflet also suggested ways to take the struggle beyond February 6, 2017.

 Capitalism Defends the Rich! Socialism Defends the Poor!- photo DSM

Capitalism Defends the Super Rich! Socialism Defends Workers & Poor! - photo DSM   (Click to enlarge)

However, we were not the only group that was not allowed to intervene with independent materials. Many other groups that came with different banners and placards were equally prevented from displaying them. This showed a serious effort by the organizers to keep protest within what they decided were "safe" channels and ensure that an anti-Buhari government mood does not develop.

Many of the speakers spoke about the worsening situation but none of them ever suggested a way forward. Neither did they outline any serious alternative to the present rotten Buhari capitalist regime. Our leaflets would have offered such opportunity to reach out to many people who are yearning for genuine change with a programme for serious struggle and socialist transformation of society.

Around 10am, the protests gathered momentum as more people came to join and the march started with hundreds of people who also defied the heavy water canon truck parked by the police and armed officers on horses moving around as if it was war zone. Just as we saw in the January 2012 nationwide protest against fuel subsidy removal, Fela came alive in the protest as his music was played with many dancing to it.

Interestingly, the venue of the anti-government protest was equally the venue chosen by a pro-government group for its own protest. Many of the pro-government protesters gathered at the other side of the venue, singing and dancing in Hausa. Meanwhile, when many of them were interviewed, they revealed that many of them did not know why they were there and what they came to do. Many of them were paid to come out to protest in support of the regime. In fact subsequently after the protests, videos are trending on facebook and twitter showing some of the rented protesters, in response to media interviews, shouting that they are hungry, they are suffering and Buhari should come and help them.

The anti-government protesters move from Unity Fountain and passed along major streets down to the Aso Rock Villa entrance where the protest ended and people dispersed.

The protest, despite its limitations, was successive and it showed readiness of working and poor people to fight back. Many of the people we spoke with told us that they came independently because the situation of the country is becoming unbearable.

Thousands troop out in Lagos against the Buhari government

Lexan Ali
February 6 protesters moving through Lagos - photo DSM

February 6 protesters moving through Lagos - photo DSM   (Click to enlarge)

Despite musical artiste, Innocent Idibia (a.k.a TuFace), under pressure from the state's repressive apparatus, the DSS and police, cancelling the February 6 nationwide protest which he had called to protest the unbearable hardship and suffering many Nigerians are undergoing under the Buhari's anti-poor government, the Lagos protest rally still went on. This underscored the popularity of such calls to mass action among Nigerians.

The decision to go ahead with the protest was due to the warm reception of the call by Tu Baba amongst Nigerians whose living conditions have become worse under the Buhari/ APC regime. Organised by the group "Enough is Enough", with participation of other groups including Democratic Socialist Movement, the protesters defied the presence of heavily armed police operatives to converge at the National Stadium which was the take-off point of the protest rally.

Dagga Tolar, Acting General Secretary DSM, speaking at the rally - photo DSM

Dagga Tolar, Acting General Secretary DSM, speaking at the rally - photo DSM   (Click to enlarge)

Before taking off, various speakers including AJ Dagga Tolar, Seyi Law, a popular comedian and Olu Matins among others gave speeches. Instructively Dagga Tolar, who is the acting general secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), used the occasion to call for a police union through which the rank and file of the police officers who are not well paid, trained and equipped can make legitimate demands on government for improved pay and better conditions of service, and pushed that the minimum wage be increased to N56,000 etc.

The procession took off from the national stadium and marched through Surulere road, made a U-turn at Ojuelegba and moved down to the National Theatre which was the final destination.

There speakers like Omoyele Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters, made a case for revolution as the only way out of this endless crisis and called for more mass action against the government. Charley Boy also made the case for the need to plan for a bigger movement possibly next month against the regime.

Members of DSM from the Agege, Ajegunle and Ikotun fully participated in the protest in Lagos and distributed thousands of leaflets specially produced for this intervention.

Oyo anti-government protesters call on trade union centres and civil society organisations to be united in determined struggle for system change!

By Abbey Trotsky

Scores of Nigerians including students, workers and traders came out in Ibadan, Oyo State, on Monday, 6 February, 2017 for a peaceful protest under the platform of OYO VOICE to express their dissatisfaction against all forms of government anti-people policies. The protesters also called on the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), the newly formed United Labour Congress (ULC) and civil society organizations to be united in a determined struggle to give a political expression to the growing mass anger among the Nigerian working people against the continued failure of Buhari/APC-led government to meet the needs and aspiration of the Nigeria working people.

Preceding this protest, which kicked off from the gate of University of Ibadan, UI, a press conference was organized by the group on preceding day, February 5. The press conference was specifically organized to clear the confusion created in the minds of the people as a result of a declaration made on Sunday morning by Innocent Idibia, a hip-pop musician popularly known as Tuface, who announced that his plan to organise a mass action earlier fixed for 5th February and later shifted to 6th February had been cancelled. The press conference was also meant to help build more public awareness and support for the mass action to be organized by OYO VOICE in the state.

Unfortunately, despite this press conference which was reported in many national electronic and print media, the protest failed to record a massive and impressive turn-out. Aside the Tuface volte-face which undoubtedly contributed to the poor turn-out, there are other factors that were equally responsible for the poor turn-out recorded by the protest. Notably among these is the fact that there were no mobilisation materials like leaflets and posters made available prior to the protest which could have greatly helped to mobilize more support and publicity for the protest.

DSM comrades at the Lagos protest - photo DSM

DSM comrades at the Lagos protest - photo DSM   (Click to enlarge)

In the absence of leaflet and banner of the group, it was the leaflet and banner of the Oyo State Chapter of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), that was distributed and displayed respectively in the course of the protest.

Owing to this poor turnout, the protest march which started from UI could not lead its procession to the NLC secretariat where it had originally scheduled to be terminated. Instead, the procession ended at the popular Bodija market where over two thousand copies of a SPN leaflet were massively circulated and speeches were made by leaders of the protest including leading members of SPN in the state.

From Bodija, the procession returned to UI where a meeting was held to review the protest. At the review meeting, the absence of mobilisation materials produced by the OYO VOICE was generally adjudged as one of the major flaw of the protest. Therefore, there was a consensus that all the necessary materials must be produced on or before Wednesday, 18th February, 2017 when the group agreed to continue its activities to deepen the call on the trade unions to be united in struggle to give political expression to the growing agitation and dissatisfaction of the working people against Buhari/APC-led government.