Political elites and industrial action: Hit them where it hurts the most

NLC strike in Lagos NLC strike in Lagos

Since I have been witnessing industrial actions in Nigeria, none has been as short but impactful as the recent one, jointly embarked upon by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), and the Trade Union Congress (TUC). It lasted for less than 48 hours; started from midnight on Monday, June 3, and ended in the evening of Tuesday, June 4 2024.

The bone of contention? The organised labour was asking for a pay rise to reflect the current economic reality, brought about by the total removal of subsidy on petrol, and the floating of the local currency — the Naira, against major international currencies like the US dollar, the Euro and the British Pound. It has brought about an almost unprecedented rate of inflation in the country. This is so because the country’s economy is import-dependent. Prices of some, if not all of, essential commodities have skyrocketed by at least 200%. The organised labour, therefore, demands a raise over the existing ₦30,000 per month. Before now, the rumour mill had it that, the organised labour demand for about ₦1,000,000, but it was later confirmed to have been put at about ₦615,000 and later down to ₦494,000 as the national minimum wage per month. Unrealistic, some people would say.

Even though the existing ₦30,000 minimum wage that had become law remains largely unimplemented by some state governments, under the pretext that there is a paucity of funds to sustain it, the organised labour was not deterred in their push for a higher minimum wage. While all these were ongoing, the federal government then came up with an offer of ₦60,000 per month. But expectedly, the organised labour rejected the offer. So, they then had to embark on the strike, to push for “God-knows-how-much,” as the new national minimum wage. But the latest at the time of putting this piece together, after the strike was called off last week was that the federal government had reportedly upped its offer to ₦62,000. Which the labour expectedly rejected. And in the midst of all that, some governors are reportedly saying they can’t pay up to ₦60,000. The confusion right now is three-pronged.

Be that as it may, the theme of this piece is not about who is being reasonable or unreasonable among the organised labour and the two tiers of government. This is because, each of the camps knows where they’re being clever by half, and therefore, need nobody to tell them. So, neither of those is the focus here today. The focus is on the speed with which the federal government responded to agitation by the striking workers, unlike in the past when they would allow strike by the Labour Union to drag on for days. Why the rapidity with which they responded in this instance? Was it that they were hit where it hurts the elite the most? Please come with me.


I’ve witnessed some purported nationwide strikes in this country that lasted for days, as I said earlier, without the government shifting ground. This is simply because the sectors that were shut down were not critical to the sustenance of the privileges of the country’s elite. But this time around, the organised labour targeted the aviation sector, and the national electricity grid, for shutdown — workers in those establishments simply withdrew their services. Having rendered road travel a suicidal venture in the country through the willful negligence of the major roads in the country coupled with insecurity, they’ve resorted to flying. And because they have the wherewithal to procure flight tickets at any amount, they take refuge in air travel, leaving the common man to his fate.

Lately, too, access to public power supply has become a matter of segmentation – from Bands A, B, and D, to E. It is now a matter of who you are, and whom you know. In “Band A” are those at the top of the hierarchy — the high-net-worth individuals living in some selected neighbourhoods in major cities across the country. They’re designated to get at least, 20 hours daily supply, while Band B enjoy less, but better than band C, and it continues in that descending order. The organised labour also targeted and shut down, the aviation sector by withdrawing their services, ensuring that both local and international flights were either cancelled or distrusted. So, they reduced every public power consumer in the country to unbanded lots and ensured that none of those who think they are immune from any sort of hardship, by the size of their bank account balances could fly. So, the strike turned out to be a leveller, as it blurred the purported segmentation of electricity consumers into bands. Everybody became “Unbanded.” Everybody received zero hours of power supply. Our big men could not go into or come out of Abuja or any city for that matter by flight.

In every human society, the elite has the eternal responsibility of providing leadership for the masses. In some (societies) they’ve lived up to the responsibility, while in others, they have failed miserably. The failure in some of those societies where their elite do not live up to the responsibility is chronic. Unfortunately, Nigeria falls into the latter category. In Nigeria, the elite sees the opportunity of being leaders as an avenue to enjoy undue privileges at the expense of the masses.


May I, however, clarify that, I am not insinuating that it is not a crime for those in the position of leadership to enjoy, provided they put in place, a system that enables the masses to enjoy the minimum comforts of life. Those comforts are the necessities of life, as arranged in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. To guarantee the satisfaction of these basic needs, there must be a reduction in the level of poverty (defined as a lack of access to basic needs like feeding, clothing, shelter and affordable medical care); a reduction in social inequality, and a significant reduction in the rate of unemployment.

But in a country like Nigeria, poverty walks on all four; inequality between the masses and the elite becomes more pronounced by the day; and where underemployment is as rife as unemployment, those who find themselves in positions of leadership draw as salaries and allowances, bogus amounts that are inconsistent with the realities of the over 99% of the rest of the populace. In that type of situation, nothing can be said to be reflective of responsible and responsive leadership. In such a situation, those who call themselves leaders cannot reasonably lay claim to being empathetic because they will never be able to walk in the shoes of the masses to be able to know whether it pinches (if at all), to start with, or where it pinches. That, exactly, is the story of the elite in Nigeria. A story of selfishness, self-preservation.

Let me cite some instances, to buttress my point. Kerosene, a major source of energy (for cooking) in most homes in Nigeria, has been off the list of government-subsidised commodities for almost two decades now but the political leadership is not bothered about how the poor masses cope with the exorbitant rate at which it is being sold. They do not bother to provide a cheaper alternative either. At some point, it would not even be available, leaving the pauperised masses to their own devices. Immediately something similar happened to aviation fuel (something that affects the elite) sometime in 2022 — around March, the House of Representatives swung into action. They convened an emergency session to, not only make funds available but to also grant the airline operators the permit to be able to import it by themselves to cut off profiteering by middlemen and rent seekers in the value chain, thus making it a tad cheaper.

They summoned the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited, Mele Kyari, They also invited Musa Nuhu, Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Jet A1 marketers and Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), to fashion out how such a situation would not be allowed to repeat itself. Why? Because it touches on something that affects their lifestyles. They described the motion as that of “urgent public importance,” moved by a member of the House from Enugu state who would not risk his life like you and me, travelling to and from his constituency by road because of the state of the roads leading to his place of origin from Abuja the seat of power. Needless to say, the motion received overwhelming support from the rest of his colleagues on the floor of the house.


It is, therefore, not surprising, the speed with which the executive and the legislature, responded by summoning the labour leaders to the negotiation table. The unions shut down the aviation, and power sectors by withdrawing their services from these critical sectors that irrigate their contrasting lifestyle to that of an average Nigerian.

Those who try to blackmail the labour union with the fraudulent narrative of national security, or sabotage, need to go, look up the meaning of “strike” as a strategy for organised labour anywhere in the world, for pressing home their demands, rather than trying to embezzle common sense. Are those workers who withdrew their services from the power and aviation sectors being paid wages that reflect the new-found strategic importance being attributed to the sector where they operate? The answer is no.

If that is the case, what makes them think that those workers would not join their colleagues in other sectors to push for what they think they deserve as wages? What this recent strike has taught us is that when it comes to industrial action and going on strike, make sure it is enforced in sectors where it hurts the most –where it hits them the hardest. If you hit them where it hurts the most, you’ll get the desired results quicker than expected.

Abubakar writes from Ilorin, Kwara State. He can be reached via 08051388285 or [email protected]




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