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Nigerian trade unions under attack

April Ashley (Southwark UNISON, personal capacity)
06 Nov 2004

After facing four general strikes in four years Nigeria’s government is attempting to break up the country’s main trade union centre, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and cripple individual unions.

Early in September the Senate passed an anti-labour bill. Only 36 of the 109 senators were present, less than a quorum, even the chairman and members of the Senate labour committee were not present. This was the fastest agreement of a bill in the Senate’s history.


Although, some of the worst provisions of the original bill have been removed, the Senate’s version still largely retains the undemocratic and anti-labour character of the bill. It outlaws picketing and makes it illegal for workers in the so-called essential services - which include education, health, electricity, air traffic control and aviation, communication and wa ter services - to go on strike. In order to ensure strict compliance it prescribes a six-month jail term or N10,000 (£43) fine or both for the violators.

The NLC has held protests and rallies in some federal states’ capital cities and in Abuja, most of which suffered police brutality and repression.


The Obasanjo government rushed to the national assembly with this vindictive bill shortly after the last June’s hugely supported general strike and protest led by NLC against the latest rise in fuel prices. For most ordinary Nigerians fuel is used not just for transport but for cooking and running electricity generators, so price rises have a massive effect. This was the fourth general strike the NLC has called on the same issue in the last four years of Obasanjo’s administration.

Recently Atiku Abubakar, the vice president, told the representatives of international finance institutions that the NLC was the main obstacle towards achieving the regime’s economic policies. Adolphus Wabara, the Senate President, re-echoed this point of view when he stated that Nigeria’s creditors were not pleased with the general strikes and protests led by the NLC and thus refused to grant the country debt relief. In the nutshell the kernel of the bill is to emasculate opposition to the implementation of the IMF/World Bank inspired neo-liberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, downsizing, etc.

Mass action

From the outset the Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) has been involved in the struggle against this anti-labour bill with our campaign materials and slogan for a day of mass action.

The CDWR co-organised the first major public explanation of the real meaning of this bill. This was held on August 23 at the NLC Lagos Secretariat. About 1,500 workers and labour activists attended and were addressed by different national trade union and labour leaders. The CDWR has also actively participated in the Abuja and Lagos rallies of NLC and were asked to speak from the NLC platform on the two occasions.

The CDWR aims to popularise this struggle among rank and file workers and take the campaign far and wide beyond the major cities of Lagos and Abuja. Currently it is discussing collaboration with the two of the biggest affiliates of NLC, namely the Non- Academic Staff Union of Educational and Related Institutions (NASU) and the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE).

However at present the CDWR are short of campaign materials, wanting to be able to produce more materials including pamphlets, leaflets, and posters.


Limited campaigns run by labour organisations, including the CDWR, were responsible for the Senate removing some of the most provocative and anti-democratic features of the bill. If the campaign is intensified with more explanation of the issues and involvement of workers in a series of political actions, the bill could be stopped.

The level the struggle has reached now makes the demand for a day of mass political action that will involve symposia, lectures, rallies, peaceful protests including a general strike, more than ever before relevant. The CDWR aims to be fully part of this campaign. We shall call for continued mass agitation until this anti-labour law is totally defeated.


UNISON branches and members wishing to find out more about the recent trade union struggles in Nigeria are welcome to contact the supporters of CDWR in Britain for information and speakers. At the same time donations are needed to help give assistance to CDWR’s activities within Nigeria. The defeat of neo-liberal attacks, like the anti-labour bill, in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, would help send a signal out to the entire continent that the demands of the IMF/World bank can be resisted.