Labour braces up for first major strike in 8 years

BARRING a last-minute agreement between the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Federal Government, Nigeria will witness the first major strike by the workers’ union in eight years on Wednesday, June 7.

The strike will follow the Federal Government’s refusal to reverse its decision to remove the subsidy it paid on petrol.

On Monday, May 29, The ICIR reported how President Bola Tinubu announced the end of the subsidy regime in his inaugural address.

Tinubu took over from former President Muhammadu Buhari, whose government made no budgetary provision for subsidy beyond June in the 2023 appropriation act.

Buhari’s government had announced that the government would no longer subsidise the product from June 2023.

Following the pains Nigerians face because of the removal of subsidy by Tinubu, NLC, through its President, Joe Ajaero, declared the planned strike on Friday, June 2, after its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Abuja.

The ICIR reports that the policy has resulted in about a 200 per cent hike in the price of a litre of petrol and corresponding increases in the cost of other products and transportation nationwide. It has also worsened the high inflation rate threatening the nation’s economy.

The ICIR further reports that if held, Wednesday’s strike will be the first full industrial action from the workers since Buhari took over office in May 2015 and the first for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to contend with at the national level.

Coincidentally, the APC and Tinubu, while in opposition to the then-ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), vehemently opposed subsidy removal announced by the PDP government, headed by former President Goodluck Jonathan on January 1, 2012.

They developed the slogan “Occupy Nigeria,” which attracted millions of citizens to oppose the decision through street protests across the nation’s cities. 

Wednesday’s strike may paralyse the economy, education, banking sector, health services, and other critical sectors of the economy.

The ICIR reports that Nigeria occupied the seventh position among oil-producing countries, globally.

The country subsidised petrol, otherwise known as premium motor spirit (PMS), for years for its citizens.

However, the government said it could no longer pay for the product because of piling debts and the need to meet its responsibilities.

In its June 2 notice to the government, the NLC issued the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) an ultimatum to reverse the new pump price by Wednesday, June 7, failing which the union would embark on a nationwide strike.

The union has mobilised its affiliate bodies, including the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Association Institutions, and the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria.

Other affiliate unions mobilised the strike are the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Senior Staff Union in Colleges of Education, Nigeria, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives, Nigeria Civil Service Union, National Union of Electricity Employees, and National Union of Civil Engineering Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers.

How threats by NLC to embark on strike failed under Buhari

In October 2018, the NLC threatened to down tools following the Buhari administration’s foot-dragging in implementing the new minimum wage.

But the union suspended the action after the November 6 date of the planned strike.

Justifying the suspension, the NLC’s immediate past President, Ayuba Wabba, said the union had received a commitment from the government to pay the new wage.

Similarly, in September 2020, the NLC and its sister workers’ union, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), planned a nationwide protest against fuel price increases. But the groups aborted the action hours before the protest after meeting with the government.

Then came the third time the workers threatened to confront the Buhari government over his administration’s plan to remove fuel subsidy.

Wabba’s NLC fixed January 27 and February 2, 2022, for a national protest against the decision.

Like previous threats, the union aborted the plan after the government backed down from implementing the decision.

Because it always cancelled its planned confrontation with the Buhari government, many Nigerians have described the NLC as a “toothless bulldog,” and accused it of deviating from its firmly stance during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure.






     

     

    While the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) was on in 2022, NLC held a solidarity protest with the teachers. The ICIR reported Buhari facing his first confrontation with workers as a military and civilian leader. Generally, Buhari’s government opposed protest, using state power and security forces.

    Adam Oshiomhole, now a senator-elect for Edo North, led NLC during Obasanjo’s days in office. During his time as labour leader, there were several confrontations between the government and the workers, leading to several strikes.

    Oshiomhole, who later became Edo State governor and national chairman of the APC, has said the demands presented by labour in response to the removal of fuel subsidy ‘are in order.”

    Generally, strikes are the last resort for workers to make government meet their demands, including calls for better welfare for their members, good governance, and accountability.

    Marcus bears the light, and he beams it everywhere. He's a good governance and decent society advocate. He's The ICIR Reporter of the Year 2022 and has been the organisation's News Editor since September 2022. Contact him via email @ [email protected].

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