‘A dire situation’: ITUC-Africa asks Nigerian govt to engage workers protesting against hunger in constructive dialogue

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By Michael Oche

The African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) has said it stands in solidarity with the Nigerian workers and people rallying nationwide under the banner of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) to draw attention to the worsening socio economic situations in the country.

Our Correspondent reports that since the removal of subsidy on petrol by President Bola Tinubu last May, Nigerian workers and citizens have seen an increase in the cost of living, especially food, fuel and basic needs, a weakening of national currency (the Naira) as well as insecurity.

The NLC on Tuesday in reaction to the situation held a protest across the country to express their disenchantment with rising cost of living in the country.

ITUC-Africa in a statement by its General Secretary, Comrade Akhator Joel Odigie said challenges being faced by citizens underscore the necessity of highlighting the plight of Nigerians and the call for the Government to address these socio economic concerns.

“ITUC-Africa is aware that the worsening socio economic situation remained dire in the last decade but has become more catastrophic in the past months. At the moment, the monthly take home pay of an average Nigerian worker compared to the current national minimum wage in the face of volatile and spiking goods and services market prices, the cost of living cannot sustain a week’s living for a family of three people,” Odigie said in his statement issued from the Lomé headquarters of the regional organisation.

Nigeria’s headline inflation rate increased to 29.9 per cent in January 2024 from 28.92 per cent in December 2023, according to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

On food inflation, the NBS said: “The food inflation rate in January 2024 was 35.41 per cent on a year-on-year basis, which was 11.1 percentage points higher compared to the rate recorded in January 2023 (24.32%).

Comrade Odigie however, said the regional organisation welcomes Nigeria’s organised labour’s utilisation of peaceful and open means to communicate to the Government the biting hardship, misery and sufferings that the Nigerian workers and people face.

He said, “Lots of Nigerians are hungry and feeling hopeless. Sadly, this situation is an avoidable and diffusible recipe for chaos and lawlessness. We imagine that the NLC called national protests should be seen as helping to constructively manage people’s frustrations from boiling over and should not be criminalised.

“Nevertheless, we want to reiterate that under a democracy, freedom of association, expression, assembly, and protests are central to the consolidation of democracy, which hinges on advancing people’s participation, mobilisation for change, and accountability. It is imperative that the Nigerian Government uphold these rights and refrain from overt or covert actions to undermine these rights.”

Furthermore, he said the Government must provide adequate security to protect protesters from any elements seeking to disrupt the legal and peaceful protests across the country.

The ITUC-Africa scribe cautioned that threats and warnings should not impede the exercise of legitimate labour rights; saying instead, “we encourage open dialogue to address the root causes of the current challenges that the nation faces. Prepping and utilising amorphous groups for hire entities such as the Nigeria Civil Society Forum to undermine and disrupt legitimate protests not only fuels violence, it is also counter productive and archaic.”

He urged the Nigerian Government to embrace genuine and sustained dialogue with organised labour and other critical stakeholders in the Nigerian socio economic landscape.

He also expressed confidence in the ability of the Nigeria Labour Congress {NLC) to propose pragmatic alternatives to resolve the nagging socio economic issues.