Strike: Nigerians react to national grid shutdown

As organised labour and workers anxiously await an update on the minimum wage struggle, reactions have continued to trail the shutdown of the national grid by the unions during the two-day nationwide strike.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) initiated an indefinite strike on Monday, demanding an increase in the national minimum wage and a reduction in electricity tariffs.

As part of their actions, the unions disrupted the national grid, flights and businesses across the country for two days before suspending the strike for five days to allow for negotiation with the federal government.

Nigerians have expressed different opinions on the legality of the unions’ actions, with the Secretary of the Government of the Federation(SGF), Mr George Akume, describing the shutdown of the national grid as a treasonable felony.

Akume said this in Abuja on Thursday during a meeting with the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

“Nowhere in the world has labour ever tampered with the national grid. It is treason! A treasonable felony is economic sabotage; you don’t do that.

“We are trying to rebuild the economy. The president is picking it up, and they want to destroy it. Of what use is that to all of us? That is not the way,” he said.

Mr Bayo Akinlade, Convener of Fight Against Corruption in the Judiciary (FIACIJ), argued that the shutdown was not a matter of legality but an action by employees of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), a Federal Government-owned utility.

He stated that the employees, as members of the NLC, were exercising their rights to strike.

“The TCN is a government agency, and its employees are part of the NLC; shutting down the grid was their action as government employees.

“This is not about legality but about the exercise of labour rights,” Akinlade said.

Mr Dania Abdullahi, Convener of the Citizens Advocacy Initiative For Accountable Leadership (CAIFAL), agreed that while the action was not illegal, it was improper.

He emphasised that essential services, such as those provided by the TCN, should be exempted from strikes.

“It was improper to throw the whole country into darkness. There are better ways to press home demands without causing a complete blackout,” Abdullahi noted.

In a contrary view, Mr Chris Ayiyi, Principal Partner of Ayiyi Chambers, described the action as illegal and unconstitutional, arguing that labour unions are required by law to give a 15-day notice before a strike.

“The unions should have given a 15-day notice. The shutdown was illegal and unconstitutional. The government, however, should also deliberate on policies that impact the populace,” Ayiyi said.

Ayiyi urged the government to prevent future occurrences by ensuring critical facilities are well-protected and called for proper negotiations with labour unions.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by NAN in the Ajah area of Lagos revealed a significant downturn in commercial activities, contrasting with the usual bustling atmosphere, following the NLC directive.

NAN recalls that economic reforms implemented by the administration of President Bola Tinubu, such as fuel subsidy removal and floating of the exchange rate, had led to inflationary pressures in the past year.

The situation prompted the NLC to advocate for a living wage for Nigerian workers to mitigate the impact of hyperinflation and provide relief for the citizens.

However, attempts to reach a compromise between the government and the NLC proved futile, leading to the latter’s call for an indefinite strike action, which started on Monday and was suspended on Tuesday.

A visit to Alesh market, Ajah, revealed that commercial activities dropped by more than 50 per cent on Monday and gradually picked up on Tuesday, following the suspension of the strike.

Mrs Jane Umoibe, a cosmetics seller, attributed the decline to fear among sellers and buyers of engaging in transactions during a nationwide industrial action.

Umoibe expressed the continued erosion of purchasing power among Nigerians as a concerning development while emphasising the importance of addressing economic reforms to improve disposable income.

Similarly, Mrs Aina Oladimeji, a trader in household gift items, recounted a sharp decrease in foot traffic to her shop on Monday, resulting in no sales for the day.

She emphasised the adverse effects of the strike on daily contributions and urged government and labour unions to find common ground for the welfare of Nigerians.

Mrs Florence Ebuka, a second-hand cloth dealer, lamented the impact of the strike on her business, particularly for those taking turns to sell at the market.

She expressed hope that the negotiations between the labour unions and the government would lead to improvements in economic conditions.

NAN also observed slow business activities at major supermarkets such as Prince Ebeano stores at Agungi and Compramart, although staff declined to comment on the situation.

Dr Livinus Abonyi, a Medical Imaging Scientist, appealed to the federal government to address the unions’ demands promptly to prevent further damage to the economy and health sector.

Mr Abioye Omoyemi, Chairman of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN) Lagos State Branch, highlighted the strike’s potential impact on hospitals and emphasised the need for prompt government action to alleviate economic hardship.

Dr Akinrolabu Olukayode, Chairman of the Customer Consultative Forum of Festac/Satellite Town, underscored the adverse effects of the strike on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) due to power outages and called for swift resolution of labour disputes.

Mr Simon Francis, an energy expert, urged the government to address labour grievances to prevent future strikes and compensate affected businesses.

He highlighted the negative economic consequences of the recent strike and called for proactive government action.

Similarly, artisans within Lagos lamented significant losses due to the shutdown of the national power grid during the strike, emphasising the challenges posed by persistent power outages in the state.

Mr Akeem Lukmon, a welder in Somolu, said that the sudden grid shutdown had adverse effect on his business and urged the government and labour to resolve their differences promptly.

Mrs Grace Kolawole, a hairdresser in Ketu, highlighted increased costs due to reliance on generators and erratic power supply, impacting her business operations negatively.

A barber, identified simply as Shina, expressed concern over lost customers and noted that artisans were resorting to alternative means of livelihood due to power challenges.

However, they all believe that the strike significantly disrupted commercial activities, noting the urgent need for dialogue and resolution to prevent further economic losses.

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