Strike: The Language Govt Understands


It is disheartening that the only language federal and state governments understand in Nigeria is that of strike. It is when the country is almost grounded by industrial action that the authorities scurry to do the right thing. This is unreasonable.

Yesterday,  for instance, it was only after the economy was grounded and activities paralysed in most parts of Nigeria by an industrial action that the National Council of States gave assurances that the presidency will send a new national minimum wage bill to the National Assembly for approval.

The three-day warning strike was organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, to protest the non-implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage for Nigerian workers. The NLC and the TUC have been agitating for a new national minimum wage for many years. The current minimum wage is N7,500.

The successful strike almost shut down the country yesterday.

In Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, like most major cities across the country, normal businesses were virtually grounded, particularly in commercial centres and business districts.

Most air travellers were stranded, as airlines were forced to cancel their flight bookings, while most government offices, particularly in the Federal Secretariat were deserted. Major roads in the city were virtually empty.

Normalcy only returned when the unions announced that the strike had been suspended following an agreement reached with government representatives. Promise Adewusi, NLC Acting President said in a communique  suspending the strike, that having lost precious time on the issue of a new national minimum wage, the presidency, in keeping with the commitment by the president, should immediately, after the meeting of the National Council of State on November 25, 2010, present a bill to the National Assembly, which will fast-track the process before the joint NEC meeting of NLC/TUC in the first week of December, 2010.

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In Lagos State, it was only after doctors in public hospitals embarked on an indefinite strike which has taken a toll on patients who continue to die by the day, that government is now doing the right thing. Lecturers in the state’s tertiary institutions are still on strike. The story is the same in Ogun State where doctors have also been on strike. State owned universities in the eastern states have  been shut for several months now following the strike by lecturers. All this is not necessary if  our government was sensitive to the reasonable demands of Nigerian workers.

The N18,000 minimum wage (about $120) the workers are agitating for is not a lot of money for a monthly pay. It amounts to N600 per day and this is not even enough as transport for workers to go to their offices and return home with the right frame of mind.

N600 is not enough to feed a worker in a day and can certainly not be enough to feed a family. In Lagos State, for instance, N600 may not even be enough for daily transportation.  In contrast, lawmakers earn millions of naira monthly in the same country with the same economy. This is callous and it is condemnable. The richest 1 percent gobbles up 80 percent of the national pie and leaves the majority to wallow in abject poverty.

A public servant who earns N600 a day can only engage in other activities while his job is allowed to suffer. Most civil servants request for gratifications or bribes to render services that should be free just to make up and survive.

No wonder the quality of services rendered have greatly declined in the public service. The rapacious inequality between the millionaires at the top and the poor at the bottom is sickening and is unacceptable. Government must immediately implement the minimum wage and begin to look for other avenues to improve the lives of Nigerian workers as N18,000 is certainly not enough for the upkeep of a family of four.

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