EXCEPT for a last-minute change of plan by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), President Muhammadu Buhari will face his first confrontation with Nigerian workers as a military Head of State and elected civilian President on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The NLC will troop nationwide to the streets in solidarity with the striking Academic Staff Union Universities (ASUU).
The action may ground the nation because workers in airports, banks and other institutions will participate in the protest.
ASUU has been on strike for over five months, suspending all academic activities in most of the nation’s public universities over unmet demands by the government.
The current action, which started on February 14, is one of the waves of a strike by the lecturers.
In 2020, ASUU shut the public universities for nine months over the government’s failure to meet its demands.
A December 2018 report by TheCable shows that ASUU had gone on strike 15 times since 1999, when Nigeria returned to democracy.
A yet-to-be-implemented 2009 agreement with the government is the reason for recent industrial actions by the union.
Three times Buhari has faced workers’ threats on strike, protest
During Buhari’s military junta, which spanned 31 December 1983 to 27 August 1985, workers, like other citizens, could not protest government policies, made usually by fiat.
Unlike his successor, General Ibrahim Babangida’s more liberal regime, Buhari ruled with an iron fist, jailed corrupt officials, and his soldiers instilled discipline with the butt of a gun.
In October 2018, the NLC threatened to down tools following the government’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 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 an increase in fuel prices. 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 planned fuel subsidy removal.
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 has always cancelled its planned confrontation with the government, many Nigerians have described the NLC as a “toothless bulldog,” and allegedly deviating from how firm it stood by its decisions during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure.
Banks, airports, others to shut down Tuesday, Wednesday
If the protest holds, banks, airports and other public institutions will shut down for two days.
In addition to the NLC, student union bodies in the country have vowed to join the protest.
The National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE) has directed its members to join the protest.
The Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP) vowed to shut down the nation’s airports in solidarity with ASUU.
Similarly, the Coalition of Northern Groups Students Wing (CNG-SW) ordered its chapters across the 19 Northern states to prepare for protests in support of the striking lecturers.
More groups, parents and aggrieved Nigerians are also planning to be part of the protest.
Protest illegal, government says
Reacting to the planned protest on July 20, the Federal Government declared the action illegal.
Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed faulted the planned protest while addressing State House correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Abuja.
He said the NLC had no issue with the government on which it could order a nationwide protest.
While alleging that partisan interest was behind the planned protests, the minister advised the union to insulate itself from politics.
We are covered by UN Charter – NLC
But the workers said their right to peaceful assembly and protest was a fundamental global right guaranteed by the UN Charter on Human and Peoples’ rights and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Stating why it is embarking on the protest in a statement on its website, the association said all the four trade unions involved in the strike in the nation’s public universities are its affiliates.
“Secondly, as citizens, our children have been out of school for five months. The majority are children of the working class and the less privileged; this alone should call for urgent action.
“All peaceful assemblies are lawful and do not require any permission under the law.
“In a democratic society, such a statement (by Lai Mohammed) is not consistent with the rule of law,” the statement, signed by Wabba, said.