A Nation in the Grip of Strikes

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Abdulwaheed Omar, president, NLC

Nigeria and Nigerians suffer huge financial and other costs every year as workers in various socio-economic sectors abuse their right to strike as the first option

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Nov. 25, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

WHEN the Nigerian Constitution was penned in 1999, the drafters enshrined in it the inalienable right of the citizens to form or belong to trade union for the protection of their interests.  They could not have imagined that a time would come when the nation would be weighed down by incessant strikes embarked upon by unions in all sectors of the economy. Since the advent of civilian rule in 1999, strikes have taken place almost in all the sectors in the country including the education, aviation, health, oil and gas and other economic sectors in general. These strikes have cost the nation billions of naira.

Iyayi
Iyayi

In January 2012, the more than one week strike by Nigerian workers as a result of fuel subsidy removal cost the nation about N500 billion, according to statistics given by Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, finance minister and co-ordinating minister of the economy. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, governor of the Central Bank Nigeria, CBN, said the nation lost N100 million per day of the strike. In 2013, many sectors are embroiled in one form of protests or the other with their attendant negative impacts on the economy. Although economists have not quantified the exact cost of the strikes, there is no doubt that they have caused severe human and material losses to the sectors involved in particular and to the nation in general.

For instance, one of the high profile losses of the ongoing strike by public university teachers, is the death of Festus Iyaji, a university don and former president of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, on November 12. He lost his life while on his way to Kano to participate in the national executive committee, NEC, meeting of the union which was to deliberate on whether or not to continue the strike.

Apart from the ASSU strike which has been on for four months, so many trade unions have gone on strike this year for a variety of reasons basically to better working conditions and welfare of their members. The list of unions include the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, which recently called off a three- month strike, workers’ union in the National Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, as well as the workers’ union in the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC. Indeed, the list is really long.

Although the unions are different, their agitations are basically similar. The strikes are caused by unfair treatment of workers, non-implementation of agreements earlier reached, victimisation, violation of legislation or rule, poor application of provisions of collective bargaining, non-observance of conditions of work and situation not governed by rules. In the case of ASUU, since 1999 when the country returned to civilian rule, it has gone on strike for a total of “30 months out of 156 months, or 20 per cent of the total time in the past 13 years,” according to The Scoop, an online database company, “This is an equivalent of six semesters or three academic sessions”, it said.

The implication of this is that thousands of students who could have graduated within this period are still in school. It is not only students who bear the brunt of any industrial action by ASUU, parents and business owners and other stakeholders in in the university communities are also made to suffer.

Achese
Achese

For instance, Sulaimon Mohammed, a campus shuttle driver, at the University of Abuja, Gwagwalada, has been temporarily unemployed since the recent strike began because students are at home ever since. This means that there are no passengers for him to convey. Mohammed’s case is pathetic because he cannot use the bus which was registered strictly for use in the campus anywhere else. “It has been very tough for me and my family. I cannot work because students are not around. There are just a few people on campus and what I take home in a week is not even up to half of what I used to make in one day when there was no strike,” he said. For shop owners around various campuses across the nation, it is the same tale of woes. They are practically struggling to survive since the ASUU strike began.

In May 2013, the staff of the National Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, withdrew their services at the airports to protest the failure of negotiations between their union and the NAMA management over the implementation of the new salary scale approved by the national salaries, incomes and wages commission for them. The industrial action interrupted services at the airports for almost two weeks before it was suspended.

In the health sector, resident doctors in various government hospitals embarked on a strike to press for the implementation of the integrated payroll and personnel information system, IPPIS. Matters relating to emolument of doctors in public service have been consistently contentious in the past few years with doctors being on long drawn strikes to press home their demands.

Similarly, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, had in recent times, threatened to stop distribution of petroleum products across the country over some contentious issues with the government. NUPENG sent shivers down the spine of everyone on the third month of the ASUU strike when it threatened to shut down distribution in solidarity with the ASUU.

Igwe Achese, NUPENG’s president, said the body was not happy with the crisis facing the public university system in the country. He blamed the crisis on government’s failure to honour agreements, lamenting that this had led to the proliferation of strikes in nearly all sectors of the economy since the beginning of the year.

It was not only NUPENG that threatened a solidarity strike in support of ASUU. The Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, also threatened to call out workers across the country to protest if the government did not meet ASUU’s demand. It will be recalled that the NLC began the year 2012 with an industrial action to protest the federal government’s withdrawal of subsidy on petroleum products. The strike which lasted for about one week crippled the Nigerian economy and unleashed unprecedented hardship on the citizens.

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