ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Some employees in government offices in Nigeria walked off their jobs Tuesday in protest of the growing cost of living due to the removal of gas subsidies, threatening to “shut down” Africa’s largest economy if their demands for improved welfare are not met.
Made up of hundreds of thousands of members, the Nigeria Labor Congress workers association began a two-day "warning strike," their second in over a month. They met last week and complained that the decision of Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu to remove gas subsidies in May has "unleashed massive suffering on Nigerian workers and masses."
Local media reported that several labor unions' representatives stopped some of their members from going to work and even locked some government offices, to make sure people abided by the strike. However, across the country, compliance with the call to strike was minimal.
Last-minute efforts to avert the strike failed on Monday evening after labor unions' leaders shunned a meeting called by the Labor Ministry.
The president of the labor association, Joe Ajaero, said there would be a “total and indefinite shutdown of the nation” in two weeks unless the government fulfills the workers’ demands including an increase in wages.
Sworn in as president in May, Tinubu's bid to revamp Nigeria's economy has led him to introduce some bold measures, which he said would save more money, strengthen the naira currency and attract investors. But those steps also caused hardship for millions in the country with critics accusing Tinubu of not acting fast to cushion the effects of his policies.
After he ended the yearslong subsidies for gas on his first day in office, the price of petrol more than doubled, resulting in a similar hike in the price of other commodities. The government’s devaluation of the currency further increased the prices of various commodities, including food.
Many workers are no longer able to pay for transport to work, Ajaero said, speaking of the “excruciating mass suffering and the impoverishment experienced around the country.”
Tinubu's administration has taken several steps to alleviate the hardship, including a $5.5 million package comprising both loans and grants to states. But workers have said such steps are not enough with their wages still the same.
The government, meanwhile, said a strike would worsen the condition of Nigerians and requested more time to find ways to resolve the dispute. “We cannot do this in an atmosphere devoid of industrial peace,” Labor Minister Simon Lalong said.
The growth of Nigeria's economy has slowed down due to declining government revenues and oil theft.