Written by César Neto
Nigerian protests are much more than being against police violence
The deep economic crisis gained momentum in 2019 and since then has woken up the bourgeoisie and its governments. The workers and masses took to the streets in Hong Kong, Ecuador and Chile, among other countries, to defend themselves from the attacks they were suffering. With the pandemic, a bad situation became worse. Thus, we saw new waves on the African continent of important mobilisations such as in Zimbabwe, Mali, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Angola, etc. In reality, it is easier to count the countries that are not going through processes of struggle and social upheaval in Africa than to list those that are.
The novelty in this process of mobilisations is the entry of Nigeria, the country with the highest concentration of workers from the oil industry, which had previously been gathering strength from various mobilisations.
Since March 2019, we have been able to identify the first demonstrations that took place after an oil pipeline caught fire, and at least 50 people died of charred oil. Health workers went on strike demanding better working conditions in the fight against the Covid-19, and because of the delayed wages from the end of 2019. In June there were massive demonstrations to confront violence against women, demanding measures by the national and states governments; at the beginning of August, the oil workers began a strike as a result of not receiving wages.
One of the most impressive struggles of Nigerians, still in the period before the pandemic, occurred in September 2019, after a wave of xenophobic attacks against foreigners, including Nigerians, in South Africa, when a mass movement against South African companies based in Nigeria exploded. South African companies suffered looting and fires such as in supermarkets, clothing shops and telephone companies and for a long time were unable to operate on Nigerian territory. This was a direct response to xenophobic attacks against Nigerians living in South Africa.
Muhammadu Buhari is the current president of the country. He is an army reserve military who staged a coup against Shehu Shagari and installed a dictatorship that ruled the country from December 1983 to August 1985. Buhari, who calls himself “renewed” in reference to his past as a dictator, was elected by direct vote in 2015. The term “renewed” used by Buhari is extremely relative since he never gave up his pro-imperialist stance and continues repressing the workers and poor youth of the country.
When Buhari was elected, a change was expected, but soon that was replaced by disappointment. And the years 2019 and 2020 were marked by huge mobilisations that posed the defeat of Buhari’s government as their immediate task.
Anger explosion led to the #ENDSARS demand
The first week of mobilisations in Nigeria was supported by demonstrations in the US, Canada, England, South Africa, Brazil, forcing the dictator Buhari to decree the end of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), but only formally. This, in turn, for many analysts, would allow the government to control the demonstrations that took to the streets of the country. However, things did not turn out as the government had hoped.
The mobilisations exposed all the contradictions of a backward capitalist country, over-exploited and dependent on world imperialism. However, Nigeria has the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in sub-Saharan Africa due to oil production, which is responsible for 95% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and covers 80% of the budget spending. Oil makes Nigeria the 26th largest economy in the world, but poverty is frightening because, when looking at the Human Development Index (HDI), measured by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Nigeria is ranked 158th out of the 189 countries assessed.
The multitudinous mobilisations have high participation of youth, and this is also an expression of the composition of the population where, according to the UN, 60% of the country’s resident population is under 24 years old. And also, the rallies and demonstrations have the participation of workers from different industrial branches, students, self-employed workers, craftsmen, and the membership of small unions. However, the involvement of the trade unions movement has been quite limited. And the only explicit support statement in recent days have been from the two oil workers’ unions, the NUPENG and PENGASSAN. The major NLC and TUC trade unions have given statements of support, but they have not been as involved as expected.
The tradition of repression in the country dates back to the 1970s with the history of successive massacres since the so-called Biafra War. Other massacres took place during the Buhari military dictatorship between 1983 and 1985; and also the massacre in 2015 against the Shiite Muslim population when the military killed hundreds of unarmed demonstrators.
The 1975 Anti-Sabotage Decree is still in force in the country, imposing the death penalty or imprisonment of up to 21 years for activities that obstruct the production and distribution of crude oil. Therefore, the massacres in the past weeks, with a death toll of around 100, is part of the common practice of violence against workers and poor people in Nigeria.
The government had to dismantle SARS, but the repression did not stop
The movement that took to the streets and gained international support, #EndSARS, achieved an important partial victory in the first weeks of protests because it forced the government to ‘disband’ the SARS. But it transferred the SARS staff to a special police unit, the SWAT (Special Weapon Tactical Team). The masses did not accept this manoeuvre and the struggle continued.
Curfews, paramilitary and military in the streets to repress
In the second week of mobilisations the prisons for correctional prisoners in Benin and Oko were invaded and prisoners released. These former prisoners were recruited by the Nigerian state, governed by Buhari, to attack the mobilisations as a paramilitary force.
Then, on Monday, another measure was decreed by the government, to remove the demonstrators from the streets, with the imposition of a curfew, which in turn was widely rejected by the demonstrators who continue to occupy public spaces and hold the demonstrations.
At the same time, the army announced military exercises throughout the country, in what is known as Operation Crocodile Smile, from 20 October to 31 December.
Thus, it is not difficult to understand the brutal repression that Nigerians suffer, due to the ostensible action of paramilitary forces, organizations such as SWAT, and various civil and military police organizations, in addition to the measures cited above. The successive massacres by SARS and these forces of repression have been widely denounced in this current cycle of fighting.
The Lekki Toll Gate massacre
Thousands of people were demonstrating at the Lekki Toll Gate, outside the airport. The government, to end the occupation of the place, carried out a combined operation between different state organs, in which they cut off the power supply so that the lights were completely turned off, the surveillance cameras located in the area were removed, and the demonstrators were shot. Dozens of demonstrators were shot dead and many injured in this coordinated action that exposes the role of the government.
Paramilitaries infiltrated the demonstrations
Several demonstrations were dissolved by paramilitary groups made of former correctional detainees released from prisons that attacked the demonstrators with knives and guns.
During a demonstration outside the Central Bank in the capital Abuja this week, the paramilitaries attacked the demonstrators under the complacent gaze of 30 to 40 police officers. The Buhari government’s goons set fire to the truck where the sound system was installed and to the camp. Some demonstrators were even beaten, among them a woman who needed to be hospitalised.
At night, the attacks on the demonstrators continued with coordinated actions by Buhari’s henchmen, who set fire to the demonstrators’ vehicles while the police dispersed them with tear gas and firearms. These same actions were repeated in other regions and were carried out in a coordinated manner by paramilitaries, militias and the state police apparatus.
The masses do not surrender and move forward
Despite the enormous repression against the youth and workers in struggle, the movement is becoming more radical and continues to add more activists. The television channel TVC News, always ready to present news favourable to the government and against the working class, was invaded and burned down, as well as the residence of the governor’s mother, the bus station in Oyingbo, the office of the Port Authority in Apapa, among others. Apapa is the country’s main seaport and has a container terminal that was sold in 2005 to the Danish company Moller-Maersk, generating huge unemployment in the region.
The occupation and blockade of the Lagos airport forced the airlines to cancel domestic and international flights that directly affected the commodities circulation of the oil company Chevron, which is located near the airport.
The South African supermarket chain Shoprite Group also had its facilities destroyed by the population during the looting that took place this week at many locations in the country.
Preserving lives and organising self defence
The Nigerian state, through its police forces and the army, is directly responsible for the massacre of the fighting workers and poor people. In this way, while asking the protesters to calm down, the dictator Buhari organises repression, massacres and slaughter against the people.
The workers, the youth and the poor people can only rely on their own strength. It is necessary to organise the self-defence and resistance to protect themselves from the paramilitaries, the police and the military.
The unions and communities organisations need to convene meetings and together discuss, approve and implement plans for self-defence.
Organising the 48-hour general strike
So far, the trade unions have given formal support to the revolutionary process of the Nigerian people. Much more is needed, a general strike must be organised to push the oil industry, mining, banks, transportation and commerce workers on the warpath against the government and the big business that support the government, against over-exploitation and repression.
A general strike to oust Buhari and for an economic plan to achieve employment, decent wages, and the basic needs of the population.
Encourage international campaigns of solidarity with the Nigerian people
We must build broad solidarity with the revolutionary process in Nigeria. It is more difficult to defeat a government in a country with a long tradition of total subservience of its rulers to imperialism and extremely repressive against its own people without international support.
We welcome the demonstrations that took place in different countries. It is necessary to expand the forms of solidarity and extend it elsewhere. The working class is international.
* Out with Buhari and his ministers!
* Investigation and punishment of all SARS and SWAT officers who perpetrated crimes!
* For a 48-hour general strike!
* Organise Self-Defence Committees!
* For a workers’ government!