Text of Press Conference given by the Joint Action Forum (JAF) on August 31, 2005 at the Centre for Constitutional Governance, Lagos.
(Members of the CDRWN are part of the Joint Action Forum which is mobilising against the latest rise in fuel prices and issued this statement in Lagos.)
The Joint Action Forum (JAF) was formed by a cross section of existing coalitions and individual organisations of civil society in October 2004 to, in the immediate, jointly mobilise the Nigerian people to resist inhuman and oppressive policies and, ultimately, to seek through democratic avenues the emergence of a people-oriented government that would utilize the resources of the country to improve the welfare of the people. In pursuing these immediate and long-term goals, JAF is committed to a structured alliance with organised labour and other democratic forces in Nigeria, hence our participation in past labour-led mass action to protest increases in the price of petroleum products. However, as an autonomous agency, JAF will always reserve the decision and capacity to tow an independent line of intervention whenever circumstances so dictate.
The immediate background to today’s meeting, as in the formation of JAF itself almost one year ago, is the petroleum-pricing crisis. A few days ago, the Obasanjo government jacked up, for the ninth time in six years, the prices of petrol, diesel, kerosene, cooking gas and other petroleum products by over 20%, despite the clearly and loudly expressed opposition by all segments of the Nigerian society, including the National Assembly, the organised private sector and of course the various organisations of the people throughout the country. Apart from the further dislocations and excruciating hardship, which it has inflicted on the economy and already impoverished citizenry, the measure, by its unilateral nature, bespeaks once more of the paradox of a dictatorial mode of government a supposedly democratising society.
Only the government and the oil marketers are convinced about the wisdom and justice in increasing the suffering of the people at a time when the country is earning unprecedented volumes of oil revenue from high international prices. This irony, more than anything else underlines the irrationality of the government’s policy of importing refined petroleum products rather than refining locally by repairing the country’s collapsed refineries. Nothing can justify the punishing of the people for the government’s inefficiency, planlessness and visionlessness. How could any responsible government possibly explain the decision to spend $12 billion within one year, out of the so-called foreign reserve, which now stands at $24 billion, to meet the terms of a non-existent debt relief while higher fuel prices are being imposed on the people and infrastructure and social services remain collapsed.
Much more fundamentally, such measures as this, which economically and socially disempower the people, can only add to their political subjugation already made real by the imposition of unwanted rulers on them at all levels through fraudulent elections. The economic, social and political disempowerment of the people in these ways, if permitted to stand, can only pave way for the perpetuation in power of a failed elite (currently symbolized by Obasanjo’s third term agenda) and their continued plundering of the Nigerian economy, on behalf of themselves and their foreign masters, through phony reform programmes and the bogey of debt relief.
We are therefore convinced, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the fuel price crisis cannot be resolved in isolation of the larger crisis of governance in which the country is currently mired. It is a crisis rooted in the continued imposition on the nation of a mercenary and unpatriotic elite driven only by the greed for power and ill-gotten wealth and seemingly bent on leading our country down the path of catastrophe by perpetuating social injustice and neglecting the people. Thus while we are committed in the immediate to joining forces with all other democratic forces, including organised labour and others, to mobilise the people to resist this and all future fuel price increases, we remain of the firm view that such harsh policies and the inhuman philosophies that underpin them will continue for as long as the current government, or any other made up of the same kind of elite, remains in power.
The challenges currently facing us as Nigerians is thus no longer just the reversal of fuel price increases, for as past experiences have shown, the isolated struggles over fuel price has turned into a farcical and predictable cycle of steep increases, protests, insignificant reductions, end of protests, quickly followed by another steep increase. This kind of circular motion cannot resolve the grave situation at hand; a more decisive, far-reaching and fundamental approach to the problem is required. The task that we all must confront now is therefore how to bring an end to the disastrous Obasanjo government as quickly as feasible (certainly before 2007) and replace it, not with a government of the same kind of elite, but with a different kind of government that will be focused on harnessing our collective resources to meet the needs of the people for food, shelter, medical care, housing, education, functional utilities and infrastructure and other ingredients of fulfilled existence.
JAF is thus committed to a line of social action to terminate the Obasanjo government in the same way that its military predecessors were shown the way out. To this end, we shall be adopting a phased and drawn out programme of public enlightenment, mass mobilisation and civil disobedience that will be sustained until this government is forced to quit. The public enlightenment phase will commence immediately and will employ seminars, symposia, neighbourhood for a, leaflets, posters and media outreach to sensitise the people on this imperative. The enlightenment phase will flow ultimately into the mass action phases that will include rallies, demonstrations, stay-home actions and other forms of lawful protest. The times and places of these activities will be determined in accordance with the level of mobilisation of the people at various times and places and will be communicated. We call on the Nigerian people to organised themselves by forming protest coordinating committees in their neighbourhoods and take part in the various forms of protests and other activities that will be organised by JAF and other democratic forces now and in the future.
Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti