Facing the Reality of Strike Actions

Nigeria changed forever on June 22, 1945, the day the nation’s first-ever strike action commenced. It was a 42-day-long industrial action embarked on by some members of the Joint Executive of Government Technical Workers, a version of today’s Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), as they fought to see that the minimum wage was increased following the economic turmoil and hardship that rocked the nation at the time. Fast forward to June 3, 2024, 78 years 11 months and 12 days later, the NLC announced a nationwide strike for the same reason. Though similar in motive, there is a stark contrast between the circumstances surrounding the two. A contrast that questions the validity and necessity of the more recently suspended strike action. 

Back in 1945, World War II  was still on and it took a toll on the economies of several countries, Nigeria’s not being an exception. The war saw an uncontrollable, but still outrageous, inflation in the prices of goods and services in the country. And all efforts put in by the government to curb it proved abortive. Sequel to this, workers in the country had to work twice as much as they did initially to make ends meet. It was not a system that they could put up with, so on March 22, 1945, they, through the Joint Executive of Government Technical Workers, requested for an increase in the minimum wage which was turned down by the government on May 2 of that year. Given the unresponsive nature of the government, the workers decided to embark on an indefinite strike until their demands were met. The railway transport workers in Lagos spearheaded the strike. It was supported by the then-reputable labour activist, Michael Imuodu, and also Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Adunni Oluwole and Sir Herbert Macaulay. The strike action proved very definitive as it was one in a series of blows that led to the eventual fall of the British empire in the country. 

In those times, and even in the more recent past, the mention of strike action, caused eyes to be lit, ears to itch, and minds to be alert as citizens were aware that something substantial would ensue afterwards. However, nowadays,  it’s a completely different story. Strike actions have become an annual festival of unproductivity that pretty much every Nigerian is used to. A larger majority have also lost confidence in the outcome of these strikes, compared to the past where even with considerable non-participation, the majority believed in positive outcomes from strikes. Everyone from the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to the NLC has come under the microscope, negatively. 

That’s not to say they are without supporters, like Femi*,  a 400-level student of Political Science, who has given the NLC his full support as he believes “they work like horses and earn very little”. To him, “there’s absolutely nothing wrong if they requested a minimum wage of ₦1million” strongly maintaining that “workers are well within their rights”. Speaking with this writer, he claims to be unflinching as regards the continuous nature of strike actions in recent years, stating that “it would soon be over“. 

What the Analysis Reveals

Is the economy in a bad state? Yes. Is there a need for reform? Yes. But is the NLC’s request the solution? To be clear, the NLC moved, ab initio, that the minimum wage be increased to ₦615, 000, which the Federal Government countered with a proposal of ₦57,000. The NLC returned with a lower proposal of ₦497,000 but the FG, again, refused to oblige. A final offer of ₦494,000 was presented to the FG and once it was turned down, a strike, whose mannerism deserves to be questioned, followed suit. A major talking point of the strike action was the nationwide blackout on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, at about 2:09 am, which was a function of the strike action. The power outage lasted for over 30 hours and came as a huge shock as it was a radical approach even in other parts of the world. For Esther*, a third-year Food Science and Technology student of the university, who “saw it (the strike) as a wake-up call to the Federal Government for having misplaced priorities”, the blackout was still a step too far. She confessed that she had severally wanted to leave the country due to the frequency of the strikes, terming her ambition a ‘prayer point’. 

Objectively, it must be said that, in the current state of the economy, the FG cannot afford to subscribe to a minimum wage of ₦494,000. According to calculations, if the FG for some reason decides to oblige, it would cost an enormous ₦9,000,000,000,000 to see through. Currently, the country is struggling to implement fiscal and monetary policies that would help strengthen the economy. Following CBN directives, banks have had to increase interest rates on loans, affecting the prices of goods and services. Also, we rank low globally for the exportation of goods and services. This has led to worsening figures for revenue.  Let’s also not forget the concept of ‘ghost workers’ in the Federal Government parastatals, Nigerians who do nothing, pocketing wages without giving anything in return. 

We must also consider that the current national budget tagged ‘Budget of Renewed Hope’ shows an expected expenditure of ₦27.5 trillion with an estimated revenue of ₦18.32 trillion. If an unprecedented ₦9 trillion is added to the budget, economic experts project a fall in annual revenue by 62.6%, which will be very bad for the economy. At this point, the inflation rate in the country is about 33% as against the standard 2%, making it one of the worst in the world. If the FG were to pay the workers their proposed wages, inflation would rise to about 34.2%. All of these make it clear that the proposed minimum wage increment by the Labour Congress would be unhealthy for the nation.

To the strike action in itself, it must be said that the last thing that the Nigerian economy needs at this point is a nationwide shutdown. Even though it lasted for about 1½ days, the economic implications were quite significant, About 25% of the power used within the country comes from the National Grid. Minimal as that might seem, that 25% still determines production output for the most part. A nationwide shutdown was thus not in the best interest of Nigerians. It’s telling of the NLC that there was an exclusion of the reduction of cost of governance for government officials. Not only would that have endeared them to Nigerians, but it also shows a better understanding of the flow of resources within the country. Esther, in particular, argued that “the motives behind the strike are questionable” for this reason. “I’m really certain that if the Federal Government satisfies them (the federal workers), they’d go back and relax, not minding if their colleagues in the state are enjoying the same benefits they’re enjoying or not”. This sentiment is shared by Dolapo, a 500 level student of Agricultural Engineering, who maintained that “although both parties (NLC and FG) were to be blamed, she wonders why everyone is surprised about NLC’s demands given that the FG gave them the impression that they could easily afford such ridiculous wages”. To elaborate, she pointed to “the bulky amount the senators, ministers and those in the national assembly earn”, terming it as a ‘complete joke’. “When something is in a bad state,  you try to make it better and not worse. This strike is just a sign of selfishness”. Like Esther, Dolapo admitted that she had considered leaving the country on several occasions but paucity of funds didn’t allow her to do so. 

Other Considerations

A central complaint all respondents seem to have was the ineffectiveness of national student bodies in either siding with the labour unions, mitigating the effect of the strike actions on students, or even being a representative of students’ stance on such matters. Chika*, a final year Economics major, said “I have totally forgotten about the existence of these National Students associations“. He expressed deep sadness that students faced the harsh reality of “being on our own“. “We have no one to fight for our cause“. Esther, on the other hand, had no clue of their existence. 

The level of lethargy exhibited by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) on this subject is more than a cause for concern. In UI, where activities of the body have waned, it’s a sign of a systemic problem eating deep into the student populace. Many have considered leaving the country or even moving to private universities, to escape the possibility of yet another strike action, but for a lack of funds which hold them back. A student-representative body that sees this and fails to do more is as good as non-existent. 


The call for an increment in wages is completely justified and highly necessary, but only to a reasonable extent, and with consideration of the economic state of the country. Strikes, on the other hand, should be as far away from us as possible at this time because every single second counts. Nigeria is our country and we all have to fight together to ensure that we move forward in unity and one voice. 

Nmesomachi Okoronkwo

* – Identities have been changed to protect the respondents.

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