Courtesy of BBC
The tumultuous 2023 election cycle in Nigeria spawned national protests in the country; these protests were largely centered around the new president’s legislative decisions. Primarily, the disapproval stems from the president’s economic policy, including his removal of a longstanding fuel subsidy. The new president was greeted by labor frustrations, as many Nigerians continue to struggle to pair their low wages with the rising inflation.
On May 29 2023 Bola Ahmed Tinubu assumed the presidency in Nigeria, coming in with past experience as the governor of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007. President Tinubu took action immediately upon gaining power, demonstrating his support for an economy run by market forces rather than one driven by the specific and evolving needs of the people through his radical decisions. On the day of his inauguration, May 29, President Tinubu declared the elimination of a fuel subsidy worth 4.39 trillion naira, equivalent to approximately 5.7 billion dollars. This decision was met with widespread disagreement, including from Joe Ajaero, President of the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) who described President Tinubu’s actions as “insensitive” and “bringing tears and sorrow to millions of Nigerians instead of hope.” Children are forced to walk hours to their schools, adults are unable to pay for transportation to work, and business owners are scarcely seeing profit.
The subsidy was a measure that protected Nigerians from the reality of high fuel prices, and a declaration of its imminent removal left many furious with President Tinubu. The subsidy had amassed approximately 15% of the government budget, with education at 8.2% and health a mere 5.3%, leading its removal to change the Nigerian economic environment and incur massive inflation. The Fuel subsidy was removed on May 29, and its effects are now unavoidably present in the lives of Nigerians.
The NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) are two major labor organizations in Nigeria that have been threatening to engage in a strike since early October. Further fueling tensions, NCL President Joe Ajaero was declared to have been abducted by the government of one of Nigeria’s 36 states, Imo, on November 1, and was severely beaten by the police. This situation has only “encouraged [the congress] to organize more so that [they] will engage him more creatively and effectively.” The NLC is a national labor organization that oversees various unions within the country and aims to represent and garner respect for the Nigerian working class on several fronts, including better working conditions, gender equality, and stronger relations with global labor movements.
One of the primary concerns for Nigeria’s working class, now, is that one third of the population of Nigeria is unemployed and around eighty million people, nearly 38% of the country’s population, live below the poverty line. Fuel stations have either stopped their fuel sales altogether or have raised prices by more than 200%; in a country where electricity is scarce, many depend on fuel to function and are now left struggling to find ways of running their businesses.
The fuel subsidy meant that Nigerians paid lower gas prices compared to those in other countries, and the subsidy’s sudden elimination has left previously dependent individuals with a major economic shift. Pleas for a higher minimum wage were met by little to no action from the president. Though the minimum wage was increased by 32 dollars a month, monthly salaries are still only 70 dollars, leaving Nigerians to struggle amidst the subsidy removal.
With the cost of transportation, gas, and food items more than doubling, people in several cities across Nigeria have no way of avoiding the recent inflation. In response, the President has begun the rollout of a new bus system to address the surge of fuel prices. However, unions stand firm in their assessment that the government has not taken sufficient action towards easing the Nigerian population in their transition from a period with the fuel subsidy to one without.
Nigeria is not alone in its present battle between employers and workers; Labor strikes were prevalent throughout the United States this past year. The U.S. has experienced close to 300 strikes this year alone because many workers are unhappy with their unfair wages, working conditions, and the lack of employee benefits. Many workers, watching the businesses for which they work expand and improve exponentially, aren't seeing fair compensation for themselves. Resultantly, they find themselves, in many cases, calling for better contracts from their employers.
The Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) comprising more than 11,000 people, along with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) including 160,000 actors, went on strike together over the summer of this year. The United Auto Workers went on strike, targeting the “big three” of the auto industry, Ford, GM, and Stellantis simultaneously, as President Biden of the United States (D) has shared his support for their cause.
Fueled by the unbalanced power and wealth dynamic between employers and employees, the fight for satisfactory working terms and conditions is widespread, ranging from college campus jobs to strikes against a country’s national minimum wage, and the struggle persists today. Locally, teaching assistants at BU are eager to receive higher pay for the meticulous, time consuming work they do. In some cases, the threat of a workers strike is enough to enact change, but in many instances, actualized strikes don't end in the desired outcome.
In Alabama, the strike led by the United Mine Workers was unable to reach a new contract agreement, and workers were forced back into the same labor conditions. Since the end of September, both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have reached new contracts and announced an end to their strikes.
Unlike workers in the United States who have garnered the support of government officials and face their specific company leaders, Nigerians are struggling against their nation's government and police force. The fight in Nigeria ensues as individuals strive for a reevaluation of the economic decisions made by President Tinubu, most specifically his removal of the nation’s fuel subsidy.