Nigeria’s unions tells government to cushion hardship caused by reforms

 Nigeria’s main unions on Thursday gave a two-week ultimatum to the government to meet demands ranging from wage hikes to improved access to public utilities, and accused it of failing to uphold pledges to soften the impact of reforms. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), umbrella unions that represent millions of workers in Africa’s most populous nation, including its dominant oil sector, said millions are facing hunger, erosion of purchasing power and insecurity due to reforms that drove up inflation.

President Bola Tinubu scrapped a popular but costly fuel subsidy last May and lifted restrictions on currency trading, which more than tripled petrol prices. Africa’s biggest economy is now grappling with a cost of living crisis, fueled by the highest inflation rate in nearly three decades. The widespread insecurity has also hit agricultural output, fuelling food price inflation. The unions in a statement gave the government 14 days to deal with “issues crucial to the well-being of Nigerian masses and workers.” They did not say what they would do if it didn’t meet demands.

The latest threat comes after a strike lasting one day in November which was called off following government intervention. Unions have issued several threats in the past and demanded the government reverse petrol price hikes. On Thursday, state-oil firm NNPC said it has no plans to increase petrol prices after last week’s devaluation of the local currency, its second in less than a year. Tinubu has been under pressure from unions to offer relief to households and small businesses after he scrapped the subsidy that kept petrol prices cheap but cost the government $10 billion last year.

In north central Niger state, the governor ordered security agents to seize trucks carrying farm produce bought from local farmers, saying this was responsible for driving up food costs in the state, following protests by residents this week. Niger state, part of the agriculture-rich middle belt region, mainly produces millet and sorghum, which traders buy from farmers to resell in markets across Nigeria, including in the capital Abuja and the commercial city of Lagos.

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