On 29th March 2023, the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) declared a nationwide strike to protest the cashless policy of the Federal Government due to untold hardship the policy inflicted on Nigerians. According to the body, the striking workers would not only down tools, they would picket all offices of the Central Bank of Nigeria across the country.
The decision of the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele, to redesign the N200, N500, and N1,000 denominations and its harrowing implication on Nigerians precipitated NLC’s action. Although, Emefiele said the apex bank’s move was to control cash in circulation, manage inflation and tackle currency counterfeiting, the poorly managed policy led to socio-economic crisis all over the country. General displeasure of Nigerians degenerated into violent protests in some parts of the country, especially Ogun, Oyo and Akwa Ibom states. Many banks were forced to shut down due to threat to lives of workers and vandalizing of banks.
Joe Ajaero, the President of the NLC, said the strike action was the last resort for the labour union after the expiration of the ultimatum the congress issued to the Federal Government over the naira crisis. However, the strike action was reconsidered after a meeting with the NLC leadership by the CBN governor and Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige. The labour movement in Nigeria was able to pressure the government to open the CBN vault for Nigerians in spite the strong-headedness of the FG to obey Supreme Court order and the advice of the Council of State on the cashless policy and redesigning of notes.
There is no doubt that the threat to down tool sent the signal to all concerned that the vibrancy of the union is ignited after a long comatose. For almost a decade the Nigeria Labour movement has been dormant and many would say, sell out to the government unlike when Comrade Adams Oshiomole was the President. But the vibrancy and unionism associated with the body was restored with the coming on board of Comrade Joe Ajaero.
The union under the leadership of Abdulrasheed Omar and his successor, Ayuba Wabba canvassed for better welfare of workers in passive manner, at variance with what the union was known for in the past. For instance, in 2011, the national minimum wage was increased from N5,500 to N18,000 and in 2019, it was increased to N30, 000 (although the labour union agitated for N50,000), however, poor management of the economy robbed the Nigerian workers of the benefits of the increment as inflation deprived many of the benefit.
While the Federal Government abide by the minimum wage, some states across the country denied their workers the minimum wage while others owe backlog of unpaid salaries and allowances. At a time Osun State during Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola’s administration owe workers and the same could be said about the governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello.
Aregbesola blamed his administration’s inability to pay workers salary in the state to dwindling federal allocation which he said was beyond his control. Yahaya Bello on his part, similarly claimed that limited resources resulted in the inability of his administration to pay salary, a claim countered by the labour movement in the state. Several other states in the country owe salaries while union leaders both in the state and at the national headquarter look the other way.
The labour union is expected to not only protect the interest of Nigerian workers alone, but the interest of all Nigerians. A vibrant workforce guaranteed better working condition would boast moral and increased productivity. The Nigerian labour movement should note that their struggle goes beyond improved salary structure or increment as it is common. The labour movement must ensure that it advocate and ensure that all-round welfare package is guaranteed for all workers in the country. The Nigerian worker should be able to afford quality education for his children, have access to basic healthcare, and must have a mortgage plan that is not just visible on paper but concretised in reality.