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Labour Strike, What Strike?

May 18, 2016

It was a very fine Monday morning on January 17, 2012. Nigerians had for once become used to watching Channels TV and AIT to hear opinion after opinion –  different interest groups coming on air to provide reasons why they were for and against the ongoing protests and strike actions that had literally crippled all activities in the country. Back then I was in Lagos and although I never went out to join the strike, I enjoyed the comedy that followed with the #OccupyNigeria movement making the headlines.

This was after the country’s labour unions joined the populist movement as it was, a few days later. The prolonged nationwide strike organised by Civil Society groups was effective and widespread. Whether it was sponsored partly by the then opposition to the PDP is another discussion altogether. Then as people were preparing for another week of continued strike actions, the Union leaders, who did not start the protests came out of a meeting with the then PDP-led Federal Government representatives, unilaterally called off the week-long nationwide strike that had paralysed the country’s economy, following a decision by then President Goodluck Jonathan to roll back fuel-price increases. Under then President Goodluck’s new plan, the Nigerian government would reduce fuel prices by 30 per cent.

The strike cancellation came after an announcement by the unions, early on that Monday morning that they would halt street protests. People felt deflated; the reasons why so many had died had not been justified; productivity had suffered countrywide; the corruption in the oil and gas industry had not been addressed; the briefcase-carrying oil and gas contractors were still living large, at our expense; the list goes on and on. According to the unions back then, they feared that “people outside organised labour may try to hijack” the demonstrations. This was the only explanation offered by Abdulwahed Omar, the head of Nigeria Labour Congress back then.

From the government side, then President Jonathan had announced on that fatefulMonday morning that he would reduce fuel prices in response to protests and strikes that sprang up after his government withdrew fuel subsidies at the beginning of January 2012. But his announcement failed to quell all of the protests, and soldiers reportedly used force to shut down demonstrations in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital.

If memory serves me right, the same will happen if NLC goes ahead to strike but this time around a lot of things are different – NOBODY supports NLC/TUC and this may be the beginning of the end of relevance of the organisation. It doesn’t mean everyone loves President Buhari but the people are now wiser and know when they are being taken for a ride!

You see the Nigeria Labour Congress has lost its integrity and vision. They seem to be a bunch of self-centred people who look out for opportunities to make themselves relevant; where have they been while the industry has been pillaged by a few? What have they done to those who were allocated oil blocks like wedding presents and parting gifts? What have they done to the thousands of workers who have been victimised? What have they done to protect whistle-blowers in companies? How has their efforts helped to improve the wellbeing of ordinary Nigerians in general?

Rather than embark on a strike action, I would have expected them to engage the government and seek ways of ameliorating the sufferings of the majority of our people. This change we are going through is a very painful one and the process is going to be long and hard and in reality less than 5% of the population can go through it unscathed. The rest are the worst hit so that’s where their focus should be. Even if the price is reduced today by President Buhari, does it reduce the sufferings of the masses? We need to have a national discussion around providing adequate safety nets for the very vulnerable in our society instead of incessant and indiscriminate strike actions by all manners of groups which does not serve the good of the nation.

The reality is that the market woman who has to sell something in the morning for her kids to eat in the evening are going to be worst hit; the vulcanizer who will not have any tyres to patch and therefore starve until whenever the strike is called off is going to be troubled; the young boy who hawks all manners of goods at traffic lights to enable them earn a living and keep off crime will resort to something else and the circles goes on and on. Strike actions are not a first recourse in negotiations – they are the LAST resort!

The Labour unions in Nigeria, particularly the NLC and TUC should know that on that Monday, January 17, 2012, they lost the confidence of most Nigerians and it has now come back to haunt them. Nigerians know better today and even though they may not agree with the actions of the new APC-led administration, they would rather pay the new pump price than go on strike with a fantastically deceitful labour organisation.

From → General, Politics

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