Few weeks back Nigeria witnessed widespread protests and social unrest as the new government under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu announced the removal of subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) in his inauguration speech on May 29th, 2023.
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), the country’s two largest labor unions, came together to organize nationwide protests and demonstrations.
The protests and demonstrations have since been called by the two bodies after a series of negotiations between the two unions and the federal government. The union had called off the protests after promises of palliatives but the last is yet to be heard even as the pump price of PMS keeps increasing.
Fuel subsidies have long been a contentious issue in Nigeria. According to the Federal Government, the government had provided these subsidies to keep fuel prices affordable for the general population. However, due to the economic challenges facing the country, exacerbated by economic realities and falling oil prices, the government now believes that it is no longer financially sustainable to continue these subsidies.
Upon the pronouncement by the President that the subsidy was gone because according to him there was no budgetary allocation for it, the statement immediately triggered a wave of public backlash and protests across the country between May and in the first week of June this year.
The NLC and TUC, with their combined membership of millions of workers, took the lead in mobilizing the masses against the subsidy removal. They argue that the removal of fuel subsidies will lead to a sharp increase in the cost of living for ordinary Nigerians, who are already grappling with high inflation, unemployment, and poverty rates.
The protests were marked by massive turnouts and saw workers from various sectors of the economy participating, including civil servants, teachers, healthcare workers, and transportation workers. Demonstrators took over the streets in major cities like Lagos, Abuja, Kano, and Port Harcourt, chanting slogans and carrying placards denouncing the government’s decision.
The NLC and TUC had called for a complete shutdown of economic activities, demanding that the government reverse its decision on fuel subsidy removal. They argued that the burden of the removal will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable segments of society, as the increased fuel prices will lead to higher transportation costs and a surge in the prices of essential goods and services.
In response to the protests, the Nigerian government and the labour unions engaged in heated negotiations, but have so far failed to reach a compromise. Talks have centered around finding alternative solutions to manage the economic challenges without imposing further hardships on the population.
The protests then had a significant impact on the country, with many businesses forced to shut their doors and transportation disrupted. The unrest also affected Nigeria’s oil industry.
The outcome of these protests and negotiations remains uncertain. The Nigerian government faces a difficult balancing act between addressing its economic challenges and ensuring the welfare of its citizens. The NLC and TUC, on the other hand, are determined to protect the interests of Nigerian workers and the general public.
The success or failure of the protests and negotiations no doubt had far-reaching implications for Nigeria’s political landscape and the relationship between the government and labor unions. It also served as a test of the government’s ability to effectively address economic issues while maintaining social stability.
Even as the protests and demonstrations have been called off by TUC and NLC over the promises made by the government to cushion the effect of the subsidy removal, Nigerians are eagerly waiting as to whether the government will fulfill their promises this time around but only time will tell.
By Dejiaku Esther