Home » Nigeria suffers worst nationwide strike in 2 decades, FG helpless as labour shuts down economy

Nigeria suffers worst nationwide strike in 2 decades, FG helpless as labour shuts down economy

By Samson Echenim & Olu Jones

by The Economy

Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria is currently in total lockdown as the country’s labour unions embark on a nationwide strike that has shaken the country’ to her very foundation and crippled the economy, yet the Federal Government appears helpless in arresting the situation.

This is the second time the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Unions Congress of Nigeria (TUC), two umbrella labour bodies in the country have embarked on a nationwide strike in two months and since President Bola Tinubu took over the realms of power in the country. In October, the two unions directed their members to go on a warning strike to press home certain demands by workers after Tinubu removed subsidy on premiun motor spirit (PMS) otherwise known as fuel.

The sudden removal of fuel subsidy by Tinubu on his first day in office as President of Nigeria on May 29, 2023 has caused harsh economic problems for citizens, including high cost of transportation, high cost of goods and services, severe inflation and geometric dwindling of value of the naira. A poorly managed palliative regime initiated by the Tinubu government has also worsened economic realities in Nigeria.

Following the warning strike in October and the umcompromising stance of labour on their demands, the NUC President, Mr Joe Ajero and his members had been called for series of meetings with officials of the Nigerian government. During one of such meetings on November 1, 2023, Ajero was assaulted and brutalised by federal security agents in Owerri, Imo State capital.

The current strike was therefore, exacerbated by the assault on the labour leader and Federal Government’s failure to meet the demands of the workers in the country.

The Nigerian Economy gathered that no less than 19 unions under the NUC and TUC have so far joined the nationwide strike, with other unions in major sectors such as aviation likely to join the strike. Already, the country has been brought to her kneels as she suffers general electricity shutdown. Also, the seaports have been shut down, while banks have closed their many outlets.

This is the biggest strike Nigeria has suffered in the last two decades and the impacts could spell doom for Africa’s largest economy and black Africa’s most populous country.

The organised labour had accused the Tinubu administration, which is barely five months old, of failure to address insecurity, heightened corruption, poor governance and failure to address issues affecting workers, including a raise in minimum wage, which the government counter accuse labour leaders of being a tool in the hands of opposition.

Also, the labour unions had made some demands, which the government had allegedly failed to address following the recent crisis in Imo that resulted in the alleged brutalisation of the NLC President, Ajaero, and other members of the labour unions.

It was learnt that the 19 unions which have joined the strike are:

1. The Academic Staff Union of Universities.

2. The Senior Staff Associations of Nigerian Universities.

3. The College of Education Academic Staff Union.

4. The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics.

5. The National Union of Food Beverage and Tobacco Employees.

6. The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics.

7. The Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria.

8. National Association of Academic Technologists.

9. National Union of Postal and Telecommunication Employees.

10. Nigeria Union Of Local Government Employees.

11. Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria.

12. Nigeria Union of Public Service Reportorial, Secretarial, Data Processors and Allied Workers.

13. National Union of Textile Garments and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria.

14. National Associations of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives.

15. National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees.

16. Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria.

17. The National Union of Electricity Employees.

18. Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria.

19. Nigeria Union of Railway Workers.


Seaports shut down

In compliance with the directives of the leadership of the Maritime Workers Union (MWUN), all seaports in Lagos, the nation’s commercial nerve centre were shut on Monday. Also, seaports in Port Harcourt were without workers. MWUN had earlier in a statement by its spokesman, Kennedy Ikemefuna called on its members to join the strike and ensure that the seaports are totally shut down.

Customs brokers and freight forwarders who had arrived the port in readiness to commence clearance of their goods were asked to go back. Those who came to do business at the Apapa and Tin Can Island ports, the country’s busiest ports in Lagos were stranded as no activities were going on.

A member of MWUN who spoke with The Nigerian Economy on the development said “The seaports would remain idle as all MWUN members would stay away from the port indefinitely, or at least, until the matter is resolved between the Federal Government and the leadership of the labour unions.”

Banks join strike

Also, the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees directed its staff to join the strike, saying, “We hereby direct all our members in all Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions to stay off duty as from 14th November 2023 until otherwise directed by the Congress.”

Learning institutions closed

The Academic Staff Union of Universities also on Monday, directed all zonal coordinators and chairpersons of the union to instruct their members to embark on the nationwide strike in line with the directive from the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress.

This was contained in a letter which was signed by ASUU’s National President, Emmanuel Osodeke, was issued on Monday night.

The letter read, “The Nigeria Labour Congress at a Joint National Executive Council of NLC and TUC directed all affiliate unions to commence the withdrawal of services with effect from 12 midnight today November 13, 2023.

“As an affiliate of NLC, all members of our union are hereby directed to join this action of NLC to protect the interest of Nigerian workers and the leadership of the union.”


Hospitals, courts closed

Our Correspondents who went round to observe the compliance of workers to the strike, observed that some schools were shut down in Ondo state, while some banks, and hospitals suspended their operations in other states.

In the same development, the Federal Capital Territory High Court officials complied with the strike declared by the Nigerian Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress.

FG helpless, says strike is a blackmail

However, in a statement on Monday night, Bayo Onanuga, Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, described the decision as an attempt to blackmail the government.

He noted that the NLC and TUC should not “punish a whole country of over 200 million people over a personal matter involving the NLC President, Mr. Joe Ajaero, whose error of judgment led to assault on him in Owerri while he was planning to incite the workers in Imo State into a needless strike.”

Onanuga labeled the strike as an “ego-tripping move” aimed at “blackmailing the government.”


Labour declines meeting with FG

The Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Simon Lalong, had convened a meeting with labour leaders as the nationwide strike began on Tuesday morning, but labour declined the meeting.

The Federal Government had also on Monday asked the organised Labour to shelve its planned strike slated to commence on Tuesday (today).

The government reminded the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress of a restraining order issued by the National Industrial Court, Abuja, on Friday.


The strike continues…

However, the NLC’s Head of Information and Public Affairs, Benson Upah, issued a statement refuting Onanuga’s claims and accusing him of selective amnesia.

He asserted that the strike is not a personal matter related to the assault on NLC President Joe Ajaero, as alleged by Onanuga. The NLC urged Nigerians to disregard the Special Adviser, describing him as overzealous with a mistaken belief that it would earn him the confidence of his principal.

Also, the President of TUC, Festus Osifo, who addressed reporters at Labour House earlier today, said the strike would remain until “governments at all levels wake up to their responsibility.”

The NLC urged Nigerians to disregard the Special Adviser, describing him as overzealous with a mistaken belief that it would earn him the confidence of his principal.

They emphasized that organized labor had shown uncommon patience with a government unprepared for the consequences of its fundamentalist market policies, resulting in social upheaval and violence. They argued that the government should be grateful to labor for preventing further public rage against its policies.


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