Nigeria workers suspend strike to continue claim for fair deal

President Goodluck Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan

Nigerian workers on Wednesday called off a strike begun earlier in the day that had shut down government offices and public services, but vowed to keep pushing for a new minimum wage.

Two main labour unions after emergency talks said they had “resolved to suspend the three-day warning strike given the desired attention the issue has drawn from various organs of government.”

The unions had launched the strike earlier in the day to push for a newnational minimum wage in Africa’s most populous country and leading oil exporter despite President Goodluck Jonathan’s last ditch bid to avert it.

The strike came just months ahead of a presidential election.

The unions’ action was aimed at ramping up pressure on Jonathan, who they want to submit to parliament a bill that will set the new minimum wage at 18,000 naira (120 dollars).

They want the law speedily passed in Nigeria, where some of Africa’s richest people live in luxury on a scale unimaginable to the impoverished masses, and will meet in December to check on progress.
In several cities, banks, government offices and public schools were shut while public bus services in Nigeria’s biggest city, Lagos, were suspended.

A labour activist trying to block passengers from boarding a plane at an airport in Benin City, in southern Nigeria, was shot and wounded by a policeman, in what unions said was “unprovoked shooting”.

Peter Ogboi, police spokesman in the city, could only confirm “an incident of injury on a labour activist …by a person wearing a police uniform”.

Filling stations remained open as tens of thousands of commuters ignored the strike call.

Long lines had formed at filling stations on Tuesday evening out of fears they would not open.

Traffic around Lagos was only slightly less dense than usual, and privately-run minibuses and motorcycles used as taxis were operating normally. Food markets also opened.

Denja Yaqub, assistant secretary general of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), told AFP by phone that the strike had been “very effective” in the administrative capital Abuja.
“The essence of the strike was to draw attention. In that, we have succeeded,” said Trade Union Congress leader Peter Esele.
Jonathan on Tuesday cut short a business visit to Lagos to fly back to the capital Abuja to personally take part in emergency late night talks with the country’s main unions.

Those talks ended with the unions saying the strike, set to last three days, would proceed as planned untillabour leaders met again on Wednesday.
The unions had initially demanded an almost 700 percent rise in the national minimum wage, which has stood at 7,500 naira (50 dollars) for the past decade despite double-digit inflation.

In July, after months of negotiations, they settled for a 240 percent pay hike to 18,000 naira, but some three months on the government was yet to take on the recommended figure.
Yaqub accused senior government officials of not acting on workers’ demands because they were already comfortable.

“We have so much money being wasted on a few people,” said Yaqub.
Despite its oil wealth, Nigeria lacks basic amenities such as adequate electricity and potable water. The majority of the 150 million people in Nigeria lives on less than two dollars a day.

The NLC warned that the labour movement, which claims to have 42 affiliate unions with a membership of around five million workers, could call an open-ended work stoppage if political leaders do not act quickly.