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Nigeria: National Strike Underway; President Tinubu Meets With Labor

Above photo: Members of the Nigerian Labour Congress march in Abuja, Nigeria, on August 2, 2023, during a protest against fuel price hikes and the rising cost of living. Abraham Achirga/Reuters.

Protesters march through major cities at the start of the weeklong action.

Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu met union leaders on the first day of a nationwide strike called by unions to protest against a fuel subsidy removal that has led to higher pump price of petrol, the head of the main labour federation has said.

Since being sworn into office on May 29, President Tinubu has embarked on a series of economic reforms, scrapping the popular but expensive subsidy, which cost $10bn last year, and relaxing the foreign exchange regime.

While the reforms have been welcomed by investors, unions say they have led to soaring costs at a time when Nigerians are already grappling with the highest inflation in nearly two decades.

The meeting took place on Wednesday as hundreds of placard-carrying protesters led by union leaders marched in the capital, Abuja, and in the oil-producing state of Bayelsa, where union officials handed a petition to the state government detailing some of their grievances.

Protesters also marched in the northern cities of Kano and Kaduna.

Elsewhere in the country, most businesses remained open.

The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) said ending the fuel subsidy was “hasty with no thought-out plan to cushion the effects on workers and Nigerians”.

“Every family feels the fang of the harsh policies of government which has resulted in the astronomical increase in transportation, food, goods and services, tuition fees, rising costs of accessing quality healthcare, just to name but a few,” the NLC said in a statement.

In Lagos, businesses were open, including the branches of supermarket chains Pick n Pay and Shoprite. At a market in the Obalende neighbourhood, vegetable sellers went about their business, haggling with customers over prices.

Ahead of the demonstrations, authorities announced various measures to ease the impact of the fuel subsidies cut, including a 500 billion naira ($652 million) package.

It included funding for mass transit buses and cheap loans to farmers and small businesses to boost employment.

But unions were unimpressed, with members of parliament stepping in to offer mediation.

“We are going to work to find an outcome that would be amicable to the problem we are facing,” said Ali Ndume, Senate Chief Whip.

The NLC and the Trade Union Congress, Nigeria’s two main labour federations, represent millions of workers across most sectors of Africa’s biggest economy, including parts of the oil industry. But millions are employed in largely informal sectors of the economy that have no union representation.

The unions have said the strike will last one week.


Statement from the National Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress:

You have spoken loudly Nigerians; It has resonated and resounded.

We want to appreciate the massive solidarity and support of the Nigerian people who thronged the various venues around the country in their numbers despite intimidations and blackmails by agents of government and forces of retrogression to discourage them from joining the nationwide protest, which was called to ventilate citizens’ outrage at the anti-poor and anti-peoples’ policies of the government. Our hats are doffed at your determination and commitment to saving ourselves and indeed the nation from those whose only interest is to foist continuous deprivation and suffering in Nigerians.

The message you have sent today is a strong demonstration of our collective resolve as patriots and owners of the sovereign will to demand that those who occupy the corridors of power must listen to us. You have sent a very strong, loud and clear signal to those occupying the various government houses, be it at the federal or state, that the people remain the sovereign and the barometer for measuring that resides with the trade union movement who have continued to be the bastion of that collective will.

The NLC and TUC also appreciate the timely intervention of the leadership of the National Assembly for their pledge to resolving the issues raised by the Nigerian people and for their deep understanding of the need for government to provide quick wins as succor with short timelines to ameliorate the consequences of the hike in teh price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) on the citizenry.

It is also important that we inform Nigerians that we have just received a court summons purporting to charge us with contempt of court. We urge all Nigerians to be vigilant because it appears that the days of long knives are here with us again. The leadership remains resolute in its commitments to the protection of the interests and welfare of the Nigerian people and nothing whatsoever can take our eyes away from this focus nor shake this belief.

Having demonstrated our collective resolve through the strong signal we sent today across Nigeria, we urge vigilance on the part of all workers and masses to protect our nation and our decisions while we await the response of the government through the National Assembly as was assured by their representatives during the protest.

To further show our collective resolve, all Nigerian workers will resume at the courts wherever they may be across the nation on the days of the court sittings to hear the contempt proceedings against the leaders of trade unions. The airports, the seaports, the hospitals, schools; all public and private sector workers will all appear in court across the nation in response to the contempt charges.

Once again, we look forward to the continuing support of all Nigerians and workers around the country as we continue in this struggle for freedom from the clutches of oppression and impoverishment. We must remain unwavering and together refuse to allow them to divide us so that collectively we will build a nation where no one will be considered too small to be left behind.

It is pertinent to inform Nigerians that the extent of the success of the protest is underlined by the request of the President of the federal republic of Nigeria; Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu, to meet with the leadership of the NLC and TUC in a closed-door session. The engagement was fruitful that immense mileage was gotten with regards to the issues that bogged down the work of the Presidential Committee on Subsidy Removal and necessitated the protest viz:

  1. He committed to an immediate restructuring of the framework for engagement in line with the input of the labor leaders.
  2. He let out a certainty that the Portharcourt Refinery will commence production by December this year.
  3. He pledged to ensure that agreement is reached on the wage award for Nigerian workers immediately.
  4. He promised to unveil a workable roadmap to the CNG alternative next week.

On the strength of the President’s pledge and commitment, we have decided for a return to a new and reinvigorated dialogue process to allow for full implementation. Once again, we thank Nigerians while we wait for the government to fulfill its own part of the understanding as agreed with His Excellency, The President.

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