Thursday, November 16, 2023

Workers in Nigeria Strike Over Attack on Union Leader, Unpopular Economic Reforms

Nigeria's labor unions have begun an indefinite strike to protest the beating of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) president Joe Ajaero on November 1. The labor leader was to lead workers in protest over unpaid salaries in Imo state when he was picked up by security agents, who allegedly beat him.

For a second day Wednesday, the nationwide strike called by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) held firm.

Compliance is stricter in the capital, Abuja, the operational nerve center of the workers' unions.

Police have denied beating the NLC president, saying agents only took Ajaero into protective custody to save him from an angry mob.

Benson Upah, spokesperson of the Nigerian Labour Congress, said the NLC president is still recovering from the incident.

"He was in a bad shape, he lost his bearing, his right eye was popped and recognition was poor," Upah said. "Up till this moment, there has been no condemnation for what happened. No one has been arrested let alone prosecuted for this heinous act. It is about the right of every citizen to freedom and justice. The issues that led to the movement of NLC and TUC people to Imo, those issues have not been addressed.”

But Ajaero's beating is not the only reason for the strike. The unions also blame authorities for failing to honor agreements made to cushion the cost-of-living crisis triggered by the government's economic reforms, introduced in May.

Earlier this year, President Bola Tinubu scrapped expensive fuel subsidies and floated the Nigerian currency in a bid to unify a multiple exchange rate system. However, the decision has hurt the economy and millions of citizens.

In August, workers staged nationwide street protests against the reforms and in September embarked on a two-day warning strike.

Authorities promised to respond.

Last Friday, the National Industrial Court of Nigeria ordered the workers' unions to not go on another strike.

Eze Onyekpere, executive director of the Center for Social Justice, a pro-union NGO, said, "The regime came on board and removed fuel subsidy and floated the naira, which has led to a situation where the minimum wage virtually less than $30. Things the government was supposed to do to reduce the hardship in the land, they didn't do, so for people like me, this strike is long overdue."

On Monday, the presidency criticized the strike, calling it unwarranted, and said authorities have launched a probe into the attack of the union leader.

Onyekpere said the government must not make empty promises or there will be consequences.

"We're going to degenerate to a state where any riffraff simply because he's in power will simply be beating up everybody," he said. "The day Nigeria descends to that level and workers don't speak out or workers don't show their strength, then Nigeria is gone to the dogs."

The unions say authorities must prosecute those who beat Ajaero, offer an apology, and take steps to improve the welfare of workers and citizens. Without those measures, they say, the strike will continue

By Timothy Obiezu, VOA

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