Photo: Nigerian Union (NLC) on strike. Source: Global Information Network - Photo: 2024

Nigerian Leaders Warned of Impending Revolt as Prices Soar

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK | 16 June 2024 (IDN) — In the country’s worst economic crisis in decades, an imminent revolt could be inevitable in Nigeria should government officials continue to increase prices while holding down wages.

The federal government insists on capping wages at $42 a month while organized labor advocates are demanding nearly four times that amount.

“More than 60 years after independence, we are still running an apartheid society,” Father George Ehusani of Lokoja Parish in Abuja said at a June 9 homily. “This time it’s not racial apartheid, it’s economic apartheid.”

“We are running an apartheid society of people of conspicuous consumption, flying around in private jets at government expense, people who are riding four, five, six, seven SUVs with pilot vehicles chasing the poor out of the road, and the same people are debating and discussing what the poor should earn,” he said.

Nigeria today is facing skyrocketing inflation, a national currency in free-fall and millions of people struggling to buy food. Only two years ago it was Africa’s biggest economy, but Nigeria is projected to drop to fourth place this year.

The pain is widespread, according to various media reports. Unions strike to protest salaries of around $20 a month. People die in stampedes, desperate for free sacks of rice. Hospitals are overrun with women wracked by spasms from calcium deficiencies.

The crisis is largely believed to be rooted in two major changes implemented by President Bola Tinubu, elected 15 months ago: namely the partial removal of fuel subsidies and the floating of the currency. Together these have caused major price rises.

Each year, the Emergency Room at Murtala Muhammed Specialist Hospital in Kano, Nigeria’s second-largest city, received one or two cases of hypocalcemia caused by malnutrition, said Salisu Garba, a health worker as he hurried from bed to bed, ward to ward.

Now, with many unable to afford food, the hospital sees multiple cases every day.

More than 87 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, live below the poverty line—the world’s second-largest poor population after India, a country seven times its size. And punishing inflation means poverty rates are expected to rise still further this year and next, according to the World Bank.

Last week, unions shut down hospitals, courts, schools, airports and even the country’s Parliament, striking in an attempt to force the government to increase the monthly salary of $20 it pays its lowest workers.

But over 92% of working-age Nigerians are in the informal sector, where there are no wages, and no unions to fight for them.

The two major unions, the Trade Union Congress and the Nigeria Labor Congress called off the strike for a week to the frustration and disappointment of many union members. While union leaders sang “Solidarity Forever”, union members interviewed on the street wanted a return to the negotiating table.

Oil-rich but under-investment

Many people know Nigeria as an oil-rich country, but after years of under-investment and mismanagement, its state refineries produce hardly any gasoline.

Until recently, the government subsidized that petroleum to the tune of billions of dollars a year.

Successive presidents pledged to remove the subsidy, which drains a hefty chunk of government revenue—and later backtracked fearing mass unrest.

President Tinubu, to the working people’s dismay, carried through the subsidy removal calling it a “necessary action for my country not to go bankrupt.”

Now, many Nigerians are going bankrupt—or working multiple jobs to stay afloat.

Life under the previous government was very expensive, he said, but nothing like today.

“It’s very, very bad,” said Garba, speaking to a reporter.

The International Monetary Fund said last month the state has started subsidizing fuel and electricity again—though the government has not acknowledged this.

Meanwhile on June 4, “there’s very little clarity—if any—on where the economy is headed, what the priorities are,” said Zainab Usman, a political economist and director of the Africa Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

For now, Nigeria’s resourcefulness is being stretched to the limit. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Nigerian Union (NLC) on strike. Source: Global Information Network

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