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Nigeria labor unions suspend nationwide strike: What next?

October 3, 2023

Nigeria averted a government shutdown after the country's top labor unions, NLC and TUC, called off a nationwide strike for 30 days. How did the situation get to this point? And what does it mean for workers?

Protesters holds a placards as workers take part in a rally called by trade unions at Alausa, Ikeja, north of Lagos
Unions have agreed to suspend strike action for 30 days while talks continueImage: Adekunle Ajayi/NurPhoto/picture alliance

A national strike planned for Tuesday across Nigeria was suspended for 30 days after last-minute talks between labor unions and government officials.

When Nigerian President Bola Tinubu took office in May, he scrapped a fuel subsidy as part of his economic reforms. However, the measures sent fuel costs soaring, and inflation is now at 25%, prompting the West African country's biggest labor unions to call for an indefinite strike.

What was agreed?

As part of its package with unions, the government offered a monthly 35,000 naira ($45, €43) short-term wage hike for public sector workers, a temporary suspension of value-added tax on diesel, and social security cash transfers to the poorest Nigerians.

The government proposals also included the introduction of gas-powered buses for public transport to bring down transport costs, one of the main gripes for people living in Nigeria.

A new minimum wage for all Nigerian workers is also expected to be agreed during the coming days.

"After 30 days, if these issues are not implemented … it will show bad faith on the side of government," Joe Ajaero, leader of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the country's largest federation, told reporters.

Should Nigerians embrace fuel subsidy removal?

DW sources confirmed on Tuesday that workers from various public sector agencies returned to work as they acknowledged the strike's suspension.

"Nigerians are trooping to their offices," reported Ben Adam Shemang, DW's correspondent in Abuja, Nigeria. "They have resumed work, and of course, this has to do with the fact that labor and government have agreed." 

Shemang explained that there is a high expectation among labor union leaders for the government to fulfill its promises to workers.

Can workers justify industrial action?

Some analysts told DW that workers' concerns were justified since the cost of living has skyrocketed this year.

"Everybody is aware of the hardship imposed on Nigerians as a result of the removal of petroleum subsidy," Francis Kozah, a Nigerian lawyer and social analyst based in Kaduna state, told DW. "The agitation of labor unions on the federal government to alleviate the sufferings of Nigeria is apt."

Ezekiel Uzochukwu, a management analyst based in Abuja, told DW that the government had not anticipated having to handle the negative impact of its economic reforms.

"The simple fact is that the government needed to have done all their homework before now. They needed to have done all the calculations. They needed to have [checked] what the economy is, [and] what the citizens are passing through, what the civil servants are passing through, what the ordinary man is passing through before [rolling out the reforms]," Uzochukwu said.

But Kozah nonetheless praised the willingness of both the government and the unions to negotiate a way out of the crisis.

"The federal government's response to that attitude is also apt. It's also in context. So, both of them are doing the right thing. At least the federal government [has] offered some palliatives to Nigerians, and I think that is good," he said.

Nigeria: Nationwide protests over fuel subsidies

Nigerians endure harsh economic conditions

Africa's largest economy has been experiencing a worsening economic crisis for decades, dating back to well before the current administration came to power.

The United Nations estimated that more than 60% of Nigerian citizens live in "multidimensional poverty."

And a recent World Bank report showed that as many as four in 10 Nigerians live below the national poverty line — many of whom, especially in the country's north, lack education and access to basic infrastructure, such as electricity, safe drinking water and improved sanitation.

On Sunday, in a national broadcast marking 63 years of independence, Tinubu said he is on course to turn things around.

"I am attuned to the hardships that have come. I wish today's difficulties did not exist. But we must endure if we are to reach the good side of our future," said Tinubu.

But many ordinary Nigerians expect more from their government.

"This year has been really bad for a lot of people — business-wise, business is not growing, nothing is moving, everything is just going down. The economy is crushing," a female resident of Lagos told DW.

For some Nigerians, making enough money to feed their families is a struggle.

"The country is so hard. I am a bus driver, and I am being paid 45,000 [naira] a month. It is not even enough for me, [let alone] my children and my wife," the bus driver told DW.

Many Nigerians, especially unemployed young people, see no reason to be cheerful. 

"You can celebrate a country when you know your country has done something for you, when you look back and can be proud of what your country has done for you," a young Nigerian in Lagos told DW.

Ben Shemang and Flourish Ubanyi contributed to this article

Edited by: Keith Walker

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