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Unions protest anti-poor policies in Nigeria

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By Abraham Adekunle

Labour federations have since met with the president for resolution.

On August 2, 2023, thousands of workers took to the streets in the major cities of Nigeria’s 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. This was in a national strike to protest the increasing cost of living and the introduction of anti-poor policies in the country. Protesters swarmed major points in the federation, including the National Assembly complex. The mass action was called by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).

Protesters, who were led by the leaders of the union, had approached the legislative building in the FCT and asked security operatives stationed there to allow angry workers to express their displeasure. When the officials refused, angry protesters had pulled down the gate and swarmed the assembly complex to vent their anger. The protesters had convened at the Unity Fountain from where they marched to the National Assembly Complex. Later that day, Senate President Godswill Akpabio was expected to address them ahead of the screening session for ministerial nominees.

Government must be pressured to meet demands, says labour executive.

Nonetheless, the unions said that the current socio-economic conditions such as high inflation, unemployment, poverty, and the increasing national debt, are causing a cost-of-living crisis, which is worsened by the removal of the fuel subsidy. Also, taxes are increasing, school fees have been increased in schools, teaching hospitals and federal medical centers are being privatized while government spending is increasing, according to them. The unions said that these were anti-poor policies and they would push workers and the populace deeper into poverty.

Commenting on the development, the general secretary of Automobile, Boatyards, Transport, Equipment & Allied Senior Staff Association (AUTOBATE), Lai Brown, said, In the last two months, we have witnessed a series of socio-economic attacks on the workers including an astronomical hike in petrol, arbitrary increases in tuition fees at public institutions, and the devaluation of the naira.” He said that these events have caused members of the association untold hardships. Thus, the labour movement must keep putting pressure on the government until it meets the legitimate demands of the workers.” He said that these demands include a monthly living wage of N200,000 ($264).

NLC called for a stand-down as the presidency responded.

Hours after the labour leaders had led workers in protests across the country, the leadership of the NLC and the TUC held a meeting with President Tinubu. The meeting was attended by Joe Ajaero, president of the NLC, and Festus Osifo, president of the TUC. After that meeting, the labour unions said that the protest had been called off. Essentially, the NLC said that it will give the Federal Government the benefit of the doubt.

In a statement released after the meeting, the presidency said that the labour leaders agreed to suspend their strike after the president promised that the Port Harcourt refinery will commence operations in December 2023. Osifo stated that organized labour asked the president to delegate a representative to negotiate with the union on the promises made by the government. “The president has committed and he said we should work with his team to propose something that could be for the wages and that he is ready to offer it almost immediately,” he said.

IndustriALL calls on FG to engage with Nigerian workers.

Meanwhile, IndustriALL’s regional co-chair for Sub-Saharan Africa, John Adaji, noted that its affiliates in Nigeria participated in protests against anti-people policies of the new administration while also calling for meaningful negotiations with them. “We call upon the Federal Government of Nigeria to meaningfully engage with workers on their demands and to find sustainable solutions to the socio-economic crisis”. He said that to improve the livelihoods of the workers in Nigeria, effective pro-poor policymaking and social dialogue are needed.

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