The Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) today barred all traders and artisans using the union’s building in Yaba from selling or displaying their wares as Nigeria entered into the second day of protests against President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to sharply increase the price of fuel. A union member who identified himself simply as Lanre described the action as a case of charity beginning at home. “It is not right for the traders and artisans to open today or any day until the strike is suspended. If they open, it shows that we cannot even control our house.”
But some of the irate traders said they were more concerned about the disruption of their means of livelihood, adding that they did not ask labor leaders to fight for them. A female trader, who said she was not interested in participating in the strike, expressed her nonchalance. “If they like they should strike till next year, I don’t care. The labor congress should not fight or stop me from opening my shop. Some of them voted for Buhari; they should not complain,” she said.
Even so, the union leaders seemed undeterred by the low public interest in their protests. Our correspondent learned that the leadership of the NLC, Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Joint Action Front (JAF) held a secret meeting with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). A labor leader said the meeting discussed strategies to take commercial buses off the road. However, the plan was hardly successful as buses were seen everywhere in Lagos today.
At the end of their meeting, the unions and civil society activists mobilized their members and marched down to the Lagos State Office of Power at Alausa, Ikeja.
JAF’s secretary, Abiodun Aremu, urged the few but energetic protesters not to be discouraged. “We are moving down to Alausa now to shut down every government activity in the area. We cannot continue to buy fuel at 145 naira while they sit in their offices like nothing is wrong,” he said. “This is an opportunity to sensitize the public. We will be doing this as we march to Alausa. We must make the public see the reason to join the strike, else we will all suffer the hardship together,” Mr. Aremu added.
Our correspondent who interviewed members of the public around Alausa said the response to the strike remained mixed. Some of those interviewed said they had lost trust in the NLC because of its leaders’ past compromises, but some said they were happy that the current NLC leadership was resisting the fuel price hike.
“Some of the labor leaders shout everywhere and then shut up once they collect money. That’s why they are even divided. Look at what they did during OccupyNigeria. They collected money in the end and kept quiet,” said one of those interviewed. Another bystander echoed the same sentiment. “You can see they are very few? It is because we do not trust them,” said the man, who identified himself as a civil servant.
However, traders at the Ojuwoye Market in Mushin cheered on the union protesters. “Help us beg them o, 145 too much o,” one of the traders said.
About 2 p.m., the union protesters arrived at Alausa and temporarily shut down the main road while a JAF member, nicknamed Soweto, addressed the protesters. He said, “The government has been using austerity measures to put the masses in hardship. The masses are always the ones sacrificing while the government and the privileged few enjoy our commonwealth,” he said.
After a few minutes, the protesters marched into the Lagos State Secretariat chanting slogans as a DJ blared various songs by the late Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Several speakers, including Amaechi Asugwuni, the NLC’s deputy national chairman, Achike Chude, JAF’s deputy national chairman, and Malachy Ugwummadu, president of the Committee for Defense of Human Rights (CDHR), then addressed the demonstrators. The speakers emphasized their resolve not to give up the struggle until the government yielded to their demands, which include total reversal of fuel price, an increase of the minimum wage, and a retreat from privatization and deregulation.
Soon after the speeches, policemen arrived at the Secretariat brandishing guns and tear gas canisters. Their presence raised tension among the demonstrators, but the union and civil society leaders urged the protesters to remain calm.
Mr. Aremu told the protesters that the gathering venue for tomorrow’s protests would be communicated to them through their various leaders. Around 3:40 p.m., most of the protesters headed back to the NLC building in Yaba.