When the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) announced, last week, that it would begin an indefinite strike from tomorrow Tuesday, October 3, 2023, many Nigerians saw it as an insult rather than any hope-raising declaration. The lack of a strategic and vigorously-pursued mobilisation of workers even for this much-talked-about strike exposes NLC as a union, which has been accused of selling-out. The union’s shunning of what it lately believed would, at best, be failed meetings being called by the federal government (FG) did not also, by any means, inspire the least optimism in Nigerians.
In November 2018, the organised labour shelved the planned nationwide strike meant to press home workers’ demand for an upward review of minimum wage. In September 2020, the labour unions suspended their planned nationwide protest and strike over an increase in electricity tariff and petrol price in the country. In March 2023, the NLC suspended its planned strike to protest the hardship brought by currency swap introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under Godwin Emefiele. After a meeting with the FG in June this year, the NLC suspended a nationwide strike it planned for June 7, 2023 over the removal of fuel subsidy. The chances for tomorrow’s strike to hold are also bleak.
While the NLC has all the good reasons to engage government in an intellectual fight, it failed in recent years to perform this statutory function as an institution with a legitimate mandate to struggle for the rights of citizens. Strike is not all about embarking on an industrial action. Beyond it is the need for union leaders to be sincere and committed to their words. So far, all the NLC timelines and agreements reached with the FG only reveal the obvious unseriousness in labour leaders as they individually and collectively claim to represent the overall interest of Nigerians.
The laxity with which both the federal government and the labour unions have continued to handle the onerous hardship, which oil subsidy removal brought on Nigerians is the height of insensitivity. Both have taken Nigerians for granted beyond tolerable points. Government’s inability to use the windows it sought and obtained from the NLC to avert the looming strike after a 2-day warning strike on September 5 and 6, 2023 and a 21-day ultimatum that expired on Friday September 22, 2023 simply signifies its lack of political will to address the concerns of citizens. No insensitivity could be greater than the failure of government to improve, even in its slightest form, upon the already pitiable living conditions of citizens. This is as 127 days in office is long enough for a government to do something.
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Since the present administration assumed office, the storyline has consistently been one; that of having record inflation rate, highest pump price of petrol, ever-growing unemployment rate and perpetually rising poverty rate.
While it was not rosy for Nigerians even when the previous administration was leaving office, it was not as critical as it has been in the past quarter of the year. The FG has used the past four months to mess up the goodwill Nigerians had for it at inauguration. Although the government may have made the pronouncement too early in its administration, its refusal to take advantage of all the well-intentioned benefits of doubt granted by Nigerians only made it worse.
More than two months after President Tinubu obtained approval from the National Assembly to spend N500 billion for the provision of palliatives, announced a N70 billion fund for funding of the SMEs, buses to ease public transportation, seedlings and fertilisers for farmers, the students’ loans scheme, and wage increase for workers, Nigerians are yet to see any form of implementation. Besides, the supposed disbursement of $800 million World Bank facility obtained by the FG as national social safety net for 12 million vulnerable homes has had no visible impact on Nigerians.
With what has happened in the past four months, Nigerians may be justified in their cynical insinuations that, like the previous promises, nothing from the new set of interventions offer announced yesterday by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu during his independence anniversary broadcast would, in the shortest possible time, change the tide of survival challenges generally faced by Nigerians. The government and labour unions must understand the urgency for which intervention is needed and take action. They cannot, must not play with this issue as it affects the survival of citizens.
Therefore, what Nigerians earnestly expect from the government is a fast relief package that would help them to quickly heave a sigh of relief, especially as it relates to affordable food prices and subsidised public transportation. They require a relief package that will impact the lives of all citizens, not a select few as the hardship is being felt by all. Nigerians are yearning for labour unions to give them credible and reliable representation. It’s time for the federal government and the NLC to stop taking Nigerians for granted. Enough is enough.