03 June 2024

Nigeria loses electricity and major airports close as unions begin strikes

03 June 2024

Africa’s most populous country ground to a halt on Monday with electricity cut and major airports closed, as Nigeria’s largest labour unions began striking to demand a salary increase amid the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades.

President Bola Tinubu’s economic reforms — including ending fuel subsidies — have resulted in surging inflation that is at a 28-year record high.

In this latest strike, the fourth since Mr Tinubu came to power a year ago, workers shut down the national electricity grid and drove away operators at a key transmission station, the Transmission Company of Nigeria said, adding that other workers sent to restore power were blocked.

Elsewhere, government workers either failed to show up or shut down entrances to offices, including at airports in the capital of Abuja and the economic hub of Lagos.

Hundreds of passengers were stranded after local airlines suspended flight operations.

All aviation workers should stay away “until further notice”, their association said.

“We demand a living wage,” the Nigerian Labour Congress said on X, formerly Twitter, describing what they currently earn as “starvation wage”.

It and the Trade Union Congress represent hundreds of thousands of government workers across key sectors.

The unions want the current minimum monthly wage of 30,000 naira (£15) to be increased to nearly 500,000 naira (£259). The government offers 60,000 naira (£31).

The unions’ demand would increase the government wage bill by 9.5 trillion (£4.9 billion), which is capable of “destabilising the economy,” information minister Mohammed Idris has said.

Analysts have warned that a minimum monthly wage of nearly £259 is not sustainable for Nigeria’s states, most of which struggle to pay salaries.

“It is one thing to sign it (the new wage bill) but it is another thing for you to be able to sustain it,” said Muda Yusuf, head of the Nigeria Centre for Promotion of Private Enterprise.

The labour unions defend their demands by pointing to the expensive lifestyle of Nigeria’s public officials.

After Nigeria’s president ended the decades-long but costly fuel subsidies on his first day in office, the price of gas more than doubled in one of Africa’s biggest oil producers. Prices for public transport and commodities soared.

Mr Tinubu’s government also devalued the naira currency to encourage foreign investment, which further increased the prices of basic commodities in the import-dependent country of more than 210 million people.

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