Updated: March 4, 2021
Nigerian labor union on Monday suspended a planned strike action just hours before it was to begin, the labor minister said.
Anxiety mounted on Sunday that Africa’s most populous country could shut down on Monday, after more unions pledged to join a strike action amid an increase in power and petrol prices by the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
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The Buhari administration cut fuel subsidies in September to allow the petrol price to be determined by the market, with the President arguing that Nigeria could no longer afford the subsidies.
Many Nigerians are still feeling the devastating economic impacts from the shutdowns and lockdowns imposed early this year to curb the spread of the coronavirus, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) saying early this month that African countries would require continued financial support following the pandemic.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and Economic Counsellor Gita Gopinath argued in a joint column published on September 9 that even after the novel coronavirus pandemic had been successfully defeated, or at least brought under control, low-income countries, many in Sub-Saharan Africa, will require continued financial support from the international community to overcome the economic turmoil left by the deadly bug.
“Many countries will face daunting fiscal challenges in trying to reconcile the spending required to fight the crisis with the constraints imposed by higher debt and declining revenues. Low-income countries will require continued financial support from the international community,” they wrote.
The economists also argued that a full recovery from the pre-pandemic level would remain a mirage without a permanent medical solution.
Apart from the coronavirus and its economic implications, Nigeria faces two other crises – the fall in oil prices due to reduced economic activities and the increase in power and oil prices imposed by the Buhari administration.
The nationwide strike action is being organized by the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC). On Thursday, unions representing pilots, engineers and others in the Nigerian aviation industry said they would join the strike.
“All workers in the aviation sector are hereby directed to withdraw their services at all aerodromes nationwide as from 00hrs of 28th September,” the unions said in a statement.
They included National Union of Air Transport Employees, the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria and the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals.
The strike action could severely impact flights all over Nigeria, starting Monday.
On Sunday, the Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, implored the NLC and the TUC to give room for enough time for negotiations with the executive arm of government over the proposed industrial action for commencement on Monday.
The Speaker later met with the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, to deliberate on the outcome of his meeting with the labour leaders, according to a statement received by TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington DC.
The labor unions had threatened to embark on industrial action from Monday if their demands for the reversal of the increase in electricity tariff and Premium Motor Split (PMS) were not met. They have still yet been met.
“Gbajabiamila, while meeting with the President of the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, and the President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Quadri Olaleye, in his office on Sunday, expressed concern over the consequences of a shutdown of the nation’s socio-economic activities on Nigerians, while disclosing his intentions to interface with the executive for a possible amicable resolution of the demands of the Labour unions,” a statement said.
The statement quoted the Speaker as saying, “In good conscience, we are on the same page, or most of the time, we’re on the same page, and you know, that we, the leadership of the House of Representatives are on the same page with you.
“But what is the consequence, and that’s the bigger picture of going on strike. When we have a complete government shutdown, the people we seek to protect, invariably end up holding the short end of the stick.
“So it ends up defeating the purpose. You know, sometimes, no matter how long negotiations or talks last, sometimes at the end of the day, it may be the better route to take.
“The budget is coming to the National Assembly. Some policies that are being considered and that will make sure to cushion the effect of this includes the provision of food items, distribution of grains, reduction on taxes on minimum wage, payment of some special allowances from October to January 2021, involvement in the ownership of housing programs through household and mortgage outlets by the NLC and TUC members, and special policy of government vehicles autogas, which is an alternative to PMS for public establishments.
“I think these policies and more will go a long way and this can be provided in the budget but it is a couple of weeks away or less. So this is an appeal”.
“I think we can achieve a lot more by being patient because they say when two giants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. We don’t want that to happen here. We all have children, we have wards, we have people who work with us, we have family, and we have friends who suffer the consequences of this”.
After the meeting, Wabba was quoted as saying that the outcome of the interface with the executive as promised by the Speaker would determine the next line of action of the Labor unions.
He said: “We told the Speaker how the discussion with the Federal government went and how the meeting was adjourned, so, he has also promised to try and intervene at his own level to see to it that we don’t inflict more pains on Nigerians.
“In the course of the discussion, we had also realized that the House of Representatives has actually done a lot on these issues, including recommendations to the government which we have shared mutually
“But the bottom line is that we want this burden that has now been shifted to Nigerians as consumers is also lifted so that we can have a decent life”.
On the strike, he said, “If the issues are not addressed, we have given notice and that notice will certainly expire by tomorrow (Monday) and all the actions we have pronounced will take effect”.
The Speaker immediately left for the State House where he met with Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo over the issues.
Present at the meeting were Deputy House Leader, Rep. Peter Akpatason; Chairman, House Committee on Labour, Employment and Productivity, Rep. Mohammed Ali Wudil and the Chairman, House Committee on Power, Rep. Magaji Da’u Aliyu.
The Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) applauded the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) for “showing understanding with the President Muhammadu Buhari administration by calling off their planned strike action to protest increases in electricity tariffs by the electricity distribution companies and the removal of subsidy on petroleum products.”
The group noted that the two major labor unions had “appreciated the level of consultation deployed towards resolving the lingering issues as well as the palliatives proposed by the Federal Government to alleviate the pains of the hike in electricity tariffs and removal of fuel subsidy.”
In a statement, they added: “The NLC and TUC had called out their members to embark on an indefinite strike action beginning from Monday 28th September 2020. The threat necessitated a marathon negotiation between the Federal Government and representatives of the labour movement.
“In a statement signed by its Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary Cassidy Madueke, BMO noted that “the President had assured Nigerians that the increases in the pump price of petroleum motor spirit (PMS) and the electricity tariffs were not intended to inflict economic pains on the people, rather the depletion in Federal Government’s revenues following the fall in global oil prices caused the President to submit to the pressures mounted on him over the last five years”.
The group acknowledged that the President remains committed to his pro-people policies, urging the people to appreciate that the increases were as a result of the economic realities in the country.
“BMO noted that as part of the agreements which led to the suspension of the strike action, the labour movement emphasized the need for an expedited rehabilitation of the country’s four refineries, the building of modular refineries and improved metering of electricity consumers.
“The group also acknowledged that this was the first time the labour movement has agreed with government’s position in a negotiation, stating that this is as a result of the trust Labour reposed in the President who has kept his faith with the people by fulfilling his electioneering campaign promises by embarking on people-oriented projects and programmes.
“The labour movement in Nigeria also reposed trust in the President as he keeps enunciating policies towards improved quality of life for Nigerians, and only yielded to the realities of economic challenges facing the country by acceding to the increases”, the statement added.”