[Documents menu] Documents menu

2000: Year Of A Costly Strike

By Victor Ahuma-Young, Vanguard Daily (Lagos), 5 January 2001

Lagos—The year 2000 was quite eventful. It brought hope for workers but not so much for the employers and the unemployed.

May Day produced cheering news of pay rise which was a result of the negotiation between Government, the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association. The national minimum wage was raised from N250 per month to N5,500 per month. While civil servants had their pay raised from a minimum take home pay of N3, 500 per month to N7, 500 for the same period.

But what seemed good news for union members turned out to be a bit of bad news for employers especially State Governments some of whom are yet to conclude negotiations with their workers.

The private sector too, had its own share of troubles. Workers in the banks, some sections of the petroleum industry, the food, beverage and tobacco industries to mention just a few, embarked on strike to press home their demands.

For state governments, workers in virtually every state, Lagos, Plateau, Borno, Kwara, Kogi, Osun, Oyo, Ondo, Enugu and several others embarked on strike.

But it was not sweet victory all the way for workers as some union leaders lost their jobs in the process. But the most significant event in year 2000 was the June 8-13 strike which paralysed economic activities in the country. That strike was against the federal government's unilateral plans to raise the price of petrol from N20 per litre to N30 on June 4, 2000.

With the strike, the government was forced to reduce the price of petrol to N22 per litre.

In this edition, we produce for our readers quotable quotes that were made during the period.

The struggle against fuel price hike:

NLC The decision to hike fuel price was most insensitive, inconsiderate and punitive to the citizens of this country especially the workers and the masses of Nigeria - NLC Deputy President, Comrade Precious Kiri- Kalio.

NNPC The decision to increase the price of fuel was very hard for the corporation to arrive at. With the present increase, much of the fuel being smuggled out of the country would be checked as the products will be officially sold to neighbouring countries at same prices as in Nigeria - Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, Mr. Jackson Gaius- Obaseki

Govt: The increase is necessary if the present administration is to meet its set social responsibility- Information Minister, Professor Jerry Gana.

All I want is half of the amount used in subsidizing NNPC, they would be able to provide employment in the country- President Olusegun Obasanjo

NLC We are trying to negotiate . He ( President Obasanjo) has to reverse the price and I think he should not underestimate the resolve of Nigerians. We would be willing to meet him but our message is clear NLC President, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole

The NLC and the students must tell Chief Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo that when Nigerians went to vote last year, they did not vote for perpetuation of dictatorship.

Most of the leaders thought that we voted to replace the Army Uniform - Oshiomhole

The Nation wide strike:

A couple of days before the strike, NLC embarked on a mobilization campaign in between it, its leadership was invited for negotiation in Abuja.

On June 7; the eve of the national strike, the Congress leadership made the following statements:

NLC : The strike will go on until the government reverts to N20. Time is not on Obasanjo's side. The strike must not fail. Everybody must be involved. The Civil Service, NITEL, NEPA will not operate tomorrow if no agreement is reached - Oshiomhole

June 8; day one of the strike: We have made our position very clear to President Obasanjo. We shall not accept any increase whatsoever. President Obasanjo has not listened to us. We shall continue the strike until he hears us. If it takes 20 years for him to hear us, we shall remain on strike - Oshiomhole

Govt: Being a listening government that believes in upholding the tenets of democracy and in response to the various opinions expressed by well-meaning Nigerians, the following concessionary price regime was offered: Premium motor spirit- reduced from N30 to N25 per litre, Diesel ( AGO) reduced from N29 to N24 per litre. However, the price of kerosene is reduced from the new price of N27 to its original price of N17 per litre. This is in recognition of the importance of domestic kerosene to the generality of Nigerians. In order to avoid the cynical crisis associated with the pricing of petroleum products, the federal government believes that it is imperative to fully deregulate the sector within the next 12 months. Government would like to involve organized Labour, employers and other relevant consumer groups in formulating a policy of cushioning the effects of price hike in fuel and other consumer items. A committee to do this will be formed after necessary consultation- Dr. Doyin Okupe, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity.

NLC We have to fight on all the fronts, but the important thing is for you to appreciate that organized Labour is a large family. It has enough troops to fight all its battles and I think every worker is truly mobilized to engage those who want to engage us - Congress President, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole

As the strike progressed, the Head of Service, issued a statement warning senior civil servants not to participate in the strike.

Swiftly, the NLC reacted As Nigerians who fought with tears and blood for the present democracy, public servants, senior or junior have the right to strike in order to protect and improve their living standards and dignity - Ag. Deputy General Secretary of the NLC, Comrade John Odah

In the early hours of June 13, 2000 negotiation ended. Government and NLC agreed on N22 per litre. But not after days of heated negotiation during which President Obasanjo threatened to resign and Adams Oshiomhole offered to resign instead.

Govt: The whole thing is a question of the quantum of money to be able to import, so, if government has to look for extra money to import, then there will be severe shortages but if we are willing to bear a little bit of the cost, so that we can bring it in, then there will be over supply and there will be no scarcity - Information Minister, Professor Jerry Gana - June 13

Why NLC accepted N22 per litre price and suspended the strike

NLC We have gotten to a point that it was clear that government had a problem, to revert back to N20.00 and we had to deal with that. We had two options.

Stick to our guns and the strike is prolonged and then get the government thoroughly humiliated because that is the way they see it or give them what we can call the passage so that Nigeria can return to work and peace is restored

We did that for Nigeria. That for us was a sacrifice we made to keep Nigeria going and to keep democracy on. We are also conscious that although the strike was directed against the government, those it hurt most includes the self- employed, the small scale businesses who have been crying.

It was clear that if we had to pursue it further, we would be hurting some of the people we are working with to a point that, we too would begin to count more losses than gains. So, we had to recognize that a general strike is not like an industrial union strike that you can prolong indefinitely.

We made this very token concession to keep Nigeria going so that the Nigerian project, the democratic project, must remain on course - NLC President, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole