By Izielen Agbon
The Federal government has decided to defer a petrol price hike until July 2023. It has also decided to shift the implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act to July 2023. Thus, the confrontation between the Federal government, on one hand, and the Nigerian grassroots, on the other hand, was averted and pushed onto the plate of the new government in 2023.
According to the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, the government’s planned PMS price hike or subsidy removal was suspended because the timing was problematic given rising inflation.
Months earlier, on November 23, 2021, Zainab Ahmed had announced that petrol subsidies were costing Nigeria N7 billion a year and the subsidies would be removed within the next 3 – 6 months and replaced with a monthly payment of N5000 to about 40 million poor Nigerians. The petrol price increase is a policy of the IMF irrespective of timing, rising inflation, and the pandemic. For instance, the IMF Staff concluding statement of the 2021 Article IV mission to Nigeria on November 19, 2021, stated, “The complete removal of regressive fuel and electricity subsidies is a near-term priority, combined with adequate compensatory measures for the poor. The mission stressed the need to fully remove fuel subsidies and move to a market-based pricing mechanism in early 2022 as stipulated in the 2021 Petroleum Industry Act.” Therefore, the deferment of the petrol price increase was not due to timing and rising inflation. Rather, it was due to the mounting resistance from the Nigerian grassroots.
The Nigerian grassroots is made up of waged workers, unwaged workers, farmers, women, youths, students, unemployed, and the self-employed in the informal sector. The announcement of the impending petrol price hike generated reactions from labor unions, civil society organizations, and the Nigerian grassroots. The labor unions rejected the Federal government’s planned hike in pump prices on the grounds the policy would increase the cost of all goods and services for workers and peasants. The prices for fuels consumed by the grassroots for cooking, heating, lighting, and personal transport will increase drastically. The price of all other goods and services would also increase because production costs, transportation costs, and consumer prices will increase as energy/fuel costs increase. The NLC urged the Federal Government to speed up work on upgrading the country’s four refineries and consult with labor before increasing petrol prices. The union threatened a nationwide protest for January 27, 2022, as well as a protest in Abuja on February 1, 2022. The grassroots organized itself across numerous social media platforms. The mobilization and opposition of the grassroots to the petrol price hike divided the Nigerian ruling class. Some elements within the ruling party feared they would lose the 2023 election if petrol prices were increased in 2022. Others thought that the lessons of grassroots resistance against a petrol price increase in Kazakhstan and other nations were ominous. The ruling class decided to defer the implementation of the IMF petrol price hike policy in response to the mobilization of the grassroots for the impending protests. Similar grassroots protests in many other nations had led to the reversal of the increase in petrol prices.
We will examine the grassroots protests in some of these nations to learn how to resist successfully when the Federal Government finally decides to impose the IMF petrol price hike policy on Nigeria.
In January 2022, the government of Kazakhstan increase liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) prices from $0.11/liter to $0.27/liter. Grassroots resistance began on Sunday, January 2, 2022, in the oil city of Zhanazen where police had killed 11 striking oil workers in 2011. People took to the streets in peaceful protest. The resistance soon spread to Almaty and other big cities and towns. Long queues formed at gas stations. Shops and banks were closed. The streets were blocked. The protesters sang the national anthem, waved the national flag of Kazakhstan, danced in the streets, and chanted their demands. They demanded the reversal of the price hike and the resignation of the government.
The Kazakhstan government followed the classic neocolonial state strategy for suppressing grassroots struggles. First, it blocked the internet. Next, President Tokayev fired former President Nazarbayev, his political godfather, from his national security role. When these actions did not stop the protesters, the government unleashed the police. The police threw stun grenades and fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrations, leading to clashes between police and protesters. Next, the government sent armed thugs and its agents on false flag operations. The thugs, armed with knives and hunting rifles, showed up at the demonstration. They set the Almaty city hall on fire. Using this as an excuse, the Kazakhstan government called in the Army to clear the streets. Peaceful flag-waving anthem singing protesters were declared to be terrorists and a shoot-on-sight order was given. The soldiers arrived in armored vehicles and blocked the protesters from both sides. The sounds of gunfire and stun grenades rocked the squares of many cities where peaceful protestors were gathered. Officially, 225 people were killed and 4500 were injured. More than 12,000 people were detained. Russian troops were invited into the country to maintain order. The Kazakhstan government reversed the LPG price hike and returned the price to $0.11/liter. It promised to maintain this LPG price for the next 6 months.
In October 2019, the government of Ecuador increased the price of petrol from $0.64/liter to $0.80/liter under presidential decree 883. This phased withdrawal of petrol subsidies was part of the precondition of getting a $4.2 billion loan from the IMF. The grassroots protests began on October 3, 2019. The protesters, led by indigenous people, occupied the streets, government buildings, and the oil fields. The unrest damaged 101 wells across 20 oil fields and forced 24 rigs to stop work leading to a loss of more than $130 million. The protests lasted for 11 days. Faced with a direct threat to the next round of Ecuador’s oil bids, Lenin Moreno, the president of Ecuador, backed down and reversed the ill-fated IMF-inspired policy.
Two years later, in October 2021, President Lasso announced a 12% increase in the price of petrol as part of the IMF-phased subsidy removal policy. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities led massive grassroots demonstrations in the major provinces. Roads and highways were blocked. 37 protesters were arrested and 8 police officers injured. The size of the protests forced President Lasso to reverse the petrol price increase. Grassroots struggles against phased petrol price hikes have been relatively successful in Ecuador.
In May 2021, the Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria increased petrol prices by 95%, from $0.16/liter to $0.31/liter. Widespread grassroots protests and strikes broke out in numerous towns including Qamishlo, Heseke, Amude, Deir-ez-Zor and Shehdaddi. Protests spread to the villages like Hariri, al-Hana, al-Awad, Sarab, Adela, al-Atalah, Ajajah, Rashidiya, Haddadiah, Qana, Umm Rakibah, Jermez, Marka, Arishah, Karama and al-Khamael. The protesters demanded the immediate reversal of the petrol price hike. The grassroots protests were so massive that the Kurdish authorities canceled the petrol price increases.
On Sunday, June 27, 2021, the Lebanese Ministry of Energy announced a 25% hike in petrol prices. Protests broke out the next day in Beirut, Nabatiyeh, Tripoli, Sidon, Baalbek, and many other cities and towns in Lebanon. The Lebanese grassroots did not wait for the policy to be implemented before embarking on massive protests. Protesters blocked major roads and burned tires and garbage bins in Beirut. In Nabatiyeh, the protesters parked their cars on major expressways thereby blocking all traffic and bringing the city to a halt. The government sent the police to suppress the peaceful protests. Next, the government sent in false flag operators into Tripoli. The false flag operators fired gunshots into the air and tried to force shops to close down. They also tried to storm two banks. They set fire to the front of a government agency and tried to forcefully enter the homes of two politicians. The government then declared the protest to be a threat to national security and sent in the Army to clear the streets of protesters. More than 20 protesters were injured in the ensuing conflict.
In March 2018, Venezuela ended its Petro Caribe program, which enabled Caribbean nations to buy petroleum products at a reduced rate. The Haitian government obtained an IMF loan that came with conditionalities. These conditionalities included the removal of fuel subsidies. The price of petrol was increased by 50 percent in July 2018. The reaction of the Haitian grassroots to the petrol price hike was immediate. Demonstrators blocked the streets, fought the police, attacked government officials, and set fire to businesses and government buildings. They demanded an end to corruption and the reversal of the petrol price hike. Hundreds were arrested and 17 citizens killed. The government reversed the petrol price increase after months of protests. In December 2021, the government of Haiti increased petrol prices by 20% to $0.647/liter. Diesel and kerosene prices were increased by 100%. Massive protests broke out in Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti. Transport operators threatened to paralyze the country with a strike. A week later, the transport unions signed a memorandum of agreement with the government that included an increase in wages and other benefits to their members. The Haitian grassroots were left to fight alone.
In Zimbabwe, protests broke out after the government increased petrol prices by 150 percent in January 2019. All the petroleum products consumed in Zimbabwe are imported. The petrol price increase led to massive demonstrations. Protesters blocked major roads and burnt tires. The government called out its false flag operators who looted shops. The government then called out the Army to restore order and protect properties by stopping the protests. Clashes between protesters and soldiers led to five people being killed. The soldiers patrolled the streets of the nation and crushed the mass revolts. In May 2019, another fresh round of fuel price hikes was introduced. This time, the price of petrol per liter was increased by 46 percent to $1.42/liter. Protests and demonstrations broke out again, leading to more crackdowns.
In Iran, the government raised petrol prices in September 2018. The price of petrol was increased by 300 percent from $0.08/liter to $0.24/liter in response to the government’s desire to raise additional revenue, tackle fuel smuggling, and give cash payments to the poorest members of Iran’s 85 million population. Drivers were allowed to purchase up to 250 liters a month at $0.24/liter. Iran’s poverty rate was 18.7 percent. It produced 96.5 percent of its daily petroleum products demand of 1.8 million barrels per day domestically and based its petroleum product prices on a production pricing model. Therefore, petrol was sold at $0.08/liter before the price hike. The Iranian grassroots protested the fuel price increase by blocking highways and streets. Iranian truck drivers went on strike in 240 towns and abandoned their trucks on the highways. The government unleashed its agent provocateurs and false flag operatives who burnt some banks and stores. The Iranian government shut down the internet and called upon the Army to restore law and order by stopping the protests. Thousands of protesters were arrested and many killed.
On November 14, 2019, the Iranian government raised petrol prices again by another 50 percent. Drivers were now allowed to purchase up to 60 liters a month at $0.36/liter. Any additional liter was priced at $0.72/liter. The Iranian masses reacted immediately. People abandoned their cars and buses on highways and blocked the streets in Tehran, Sirjan, Tabriz, and 100 other cities. Protests took place in more than 70% of the provinces. The government unleashed its false flag operatives who set gas stations on fire, attacked banks and looted stores. The government then shut down the internet. The internet blackout was the government’s attempt to stop the protesters from organizing online. Next, the government ordered the Army to use maximum force to stop the protests. The street battles between the protesters and government forces (the police, army, security forces, intelligence forces, and the Basij militia) continued for three weeks. Fifty military bases were attacked by the protesters. Nine Islamic religious centers and 731 banks, including the Iranian central bank, were destroyed. Two hundred and thirty (230) protesters were killed, 7000 wounded, and thousands more arrested. The grassroots resistance was crushed.
In December 2018, the French government announced a 25 cents per gallon tax increase on petrol. The petrol tax increase was to become effective in January 2019. The reaction of the grassroots was immediate. Thousands of protesters, organized with the help of social media, went into the streets of Paris and other French cities. They called themselves the Yellow Vest movement and demanded the reversal of the petrol tax increase. The French government capitulated and deferred the petrol tax increase for 6 months. The Yellow Vest movement protests continued for many more months.
On January 1, 2017, the Mexican government imposed a 20 percent increase in petrol price. The price of petrol increased to $0.75/liter. The grassroots and workers’ unions mobilized over social media. The grassroots demonstrated in the streets; looted food stores; and shut down petrol stations across the whole country. The labor unions blocked major highways. The attempt of the government to crack down was met with rioting and looting. Dozens were killed and hundreds were arrested. The protesters demanded lower petrol prices, an increase in domestic refining of crude oil, and the resignation of President Enrique Pena Nieto. Although Mexico is an oil-producing nation, it imported 44 percent of its refined products from the United States because of its limited refining capacity.
In his famous message to the grassroots, Malcolm X stated, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research. And when you see that you’ve got problems, all you have to do is examine the historic method used all over the world by others who have problems similar to yours. And once you see how they got theirs straight, then you know how you can get yours straight.” Therefore, if the Nigerian grassroots want to stop petrol price hikes or subsidy removal in the future, it needs to examine the historical methods used all over the world by others to stop petrol price hikes or reverse them.
It is in this spirit, that we have examined grassroots struggles against petrol price hikes all over the world. We find out that the grassroots mobilize over social media and protest in the streets. They block roads, burn tires, and embark on strikes. The government sends the police, with tear gas and batons, against the peaceful demonstrators. This is followed by a ban on the internet and social media platforms. Next, the government sends false flag operatives to loot stores and attack government buildings and properties. Then, the government sends the army to clear the streets and restore law and order. Protesters may be shot, wounded, or arrested. The grassroots leaders may be hunted and arrested by security officers. If the grassroots protests continue unabated, the government then capitulates and reverses the petrol price hikes. We hope the Nigerian grassroots will not forget these lessons when the government introduces a petrol price hike or subsidy removal in the near future.