Nigeria union strike shuts power grid, schools, disrupts flights

AFP , Monday 3 Jun 2024

Nigerian labour unions shut down the national power grid and disrupted flights Monday as they began an indefinite strike that closed schools and public offices after failing to strike a new minimum wage deal with the government.

Passengers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport
Passengers react while stranded at the gate of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport after the Nigerian unions began an indefinite strike in Abuja, on June 3, 2024. AFP


Africa's most populous country is facing its worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, with double-digit inflation leaving many Nigerians struggling to afford food.

The two main unions, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), said they urged workers to strike after the government refused to increase its minimum wage offer beyond 60,000 naira ($40) a month.

The current minimum monthly wage is 30,000 naira. The NLC said it had called for the minimum wage to rise to 494,000 naira.

According to AFP journalists, government buildings, petrol stations, and courts in the capital Abuja were closed, while the doors to the city's airport were also shut and long queues formed outside.

"Today we didn't do anything at the office, it was virtually empty. Everything is at a standstill, there's no light at my house and very few gas stations are selling fuel," said Charles, a 53-year-old government administration worker in Abuja.

A team spokesman said that eight members of Nigeria's Super Eagles football squad, including winger Ademola Lookman, were stranded by the airline disruptions and could not make a World Cup qualifier training session.

The strike also took effect in the economic capital of Lagos, with bands of schoolchildren walking home from empty schools and workers picketing outside a courthouse where the gates were padlocked.

"Nigeria workers stay at home. Yes! To a living wage. No! To a starvation wage!" the unions said in a joint statement.

An NLC spokesman confirmed they would meet with government negotiators on Tuesday for emergency talks.

The unions are also protesting an electricity tariff hike and there have been widespread blackouts after the Transmission Company of Nigeria said workers had shut down the national grid overnight.

The United Nigeria Airlines told customers that airports across the country had been closed due to the strike. In a statement on X, Nigerian carrier Air Peace also warned of "disruptions or possible cancellations" across its network.

Since coming to office a year ago, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has ended a fuel subsidy and currency controls, leading to a tripling of petrol prices and a spike in living costs as the naira has slid against the dollar.

Tinubu has called for patience to allow the reforms to work, saying they will help attract foreign investment, but the measures have hit Nigerians hard.

"Workers are finding it very stressful and demoralizing," said civil society activist Veteran Chi. "It's tough and people can't buy anything."

'No work now' 

A source close to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) said domestic flights had been canceled and the airport would be shut to all flights on Tuesday.

AFP has contacted FAAN for confirmation.

Airport workers' unions said in a joint statement they were withdrawing all services from Tuesday to allow international flights already airborne to land before their full action begins.

"All aviation workers should recognize the seriousness of this struggle and comply unfailingly. All branch officers of our unions shall ensure compliance at all airports."

Security was stepped up with an increased presence of soldiers on the streets of Abuja.

Outside the Federal Secretariat, which houses several ministries, picketing union members urged workers to return home.

"Stay at home and stay safe. We don't want to embarrass you. No work now," they called.

In the northern city of Kano, government offices and public schools were closed. Children in one neighborhood chanted: "No school, it's a free day!"

The unions had said in a statement on Friday: "Nigerian workers, who are the backbone of our nation's economy, deserve fair and decent wages that reflect the current economic realities."

Presidential spokesman Ajuri Ngelale agreed the minimum wage was "unsustainably low" but said a "pragmatic assessment" was needed.

Thousands of Nigerians rallied against soaring living costs in February, though previous union strikes have had limited impact and turnout.

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