Nigerians yesterday were caught up in panic buying as they anticipated the industrial action by the organised labour.A visit to some filling stations in the Abuja metropolis showed many motorists trooping in to buy fuel. Banking halls were also filled with customers making last-minute transactions, while automated teller machines were attended by long queues.
One motorist, Bamidele Olukoya, who spoke to The Guardian, said he bought enough fuel to last a week. Reminded that the move could be dangerous, he replied: "I kept the gallons in my backyard."In Ibadan, residents swooped on markets to purchase food and other essential items.
At Bodija market, a civil servant, Mary Okoisi, told The Guardian she was ready for the strike, as she had stocked up enough food.But not everyone shared Okoisi's view. Some, like Mr. Kehinde Odewunmi, a builder, would rather the strike didn't take place. He added that if government accedes to labour's demand, there would be inflation and a worsening of the economy. He was joined by Chinyere Nwafor, who urged government to boost the economy and bring down prices of goods instead of increasing workers' salaries.
The organised labour yesterday held a prolonged meeting at the Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government Boss Mustapha. But as at 10:00 p.m., there had been no consensus on the contentious N30,000 minimum wage demanded by the workers' unions.At a point, the governor of Kebbi State, Bagudu Abubakar, who was the sole governor that attended the meeting, stormed out at exactly 7.42 p.m., declining to speak to reporters.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said the invitation extended to the state governors was a mere opportunity to be a part of the negotiation process and not to influence proceedings.He said: "Government is one. The state governments have no choice but to follow what the Federal Government wants. We have agreed on two figures of N24,000 and N30,000 to be submitted to Mr. President for onward transmission to the Council of State and the National Assembly for legislative process."
The Guardian learnt that the organised labour insisted on obtaining a definite date for the submission of the report to President Buhari before suspending the strike. Mustapha explained that the president had closed for the day and had gone home. He added that the president might likely come downstairs later in the evening. This necessitated a two-hour adjournment.
In readiness however the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) and associated institutions and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) directed their members to join the strike.NASU General Secretary Peters Adeyemi said in Abuja that the strike became inevitable following the refusal of the Federal Government to accept the N30,000 new minimum wage. He therefore directed all NASU affiliates in the county to observe the action in totality.
SSANU held emergency meetings at its branches nationwide to mobilise for the strike. A statement by Senior Assistant General Secretary Kingsley Okayi in Abuja directed all branch chairmen to ensure full compliance. The statement reads in part: "The call for a new national minimum wage is in line with our demand for increased salaries in our renegotiation documents to the Federal Government and will enhance our chances of a better bargain.
"All chairmen are to ensure that the strike is observed by all our members. They should also cooperate with other sister unions on campus and state chapter officials of the Nigeria Labour Congress to ensure a successful strike ."The Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) also urged its members to stay resolute and committed to the effective implementation of the strike.
The union gave the advice at a press briefing in Abuja yesterday. Its national president, Biobelemoye Joy Josiah, noted: "The government is complaining of a broken economy but the political class is earning equal to or more than their counterparts in the United States where we copied our model of democracy."
He added: "The N30,000 compromise figure by Nigerian workers is less than $100 per month at the current exchange rate of N365.00 per dollar whereas in the same United States, the minimum wage per hour is $10. That is $80 per day, $400 for five working days and $1600 per month. That's N584,000 per month. Therefore, there is no reason why the political class should earn even 10 per cent more than their American counterparts while the workers are earning a pittance."
The Federal Government meanwhile began fresh moves to woo members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) back to the negotiation table. The development followed the indefinite strike embarked upon by the union late Sunday night after its national executive council meeting in Akure, Ondo State.
Minister of Education Adamu Adamu, at a briefing in his office, attributed the delays in meeting some of ASUU's demands to the Federal Government's weak financial base. He regretted that previous administrations made bogus promises to the union when the economy was more buoyant. ASUU's strike is predicated on delays in implementing a Memorandum of Understanding all the parties allegedly agreed to in 2017, including compelling government to conclude the renegotiation of other agreements collectively reached in 2009.
The National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, while announcing the commencement of the strike had re-echoed government's insincerity in meeting the union's demands. The minister, who said he regretted ASUU's decision, explained: "The agreement provided for funding of universities to the tune of N1.3 trillion over a period of six years. It is instructive to know that Nigeria was experiencing the oil boom at that time. It was therefore expected that government would be able to meet the terms of agreement.
"However, international oil prices crashed in subsequent years thereby throwing the country into economic hardship. At the inception of this administration, the country's economic fortunes worsened, nose diving into recession, with dire consequences on all sectors of the economy, including education."