Workers worldwide celebrate International Workers’ Day on 1st May, demanding decent work and a better future. In the heart of the youngest continent of the world, Nigeria is growing at a rate of one new life every six seconds. In a few decades it will be the third largest country on the planet.
Lagos is the biggest in Africa and one of the fastest growing cities globally. Unfortunately, other human development indicators are not as impressive. Child mortality is still alarmingly high and wages dramatically low.
As part of his presidential campaign pledges, and after months of demonstrations by Nigerian trade unions, President Muhamadu Buhari signed a law on 18th April 2019 that sets the minimum wage at 30 000 Naira (around 100$) a month. Those most likely to receive a pay rise through this legislation are government workers. However, a large number of states currently do not have the required budget to even start rolling it out, while there are also concerns about fuelling inflation, rising VAT and other taxes that will deplete the achieved rise in pay that actually merely compensates for the growing cost of living in recent years.
The Nigerian Labour Congress also called on the government not to follow the advice of the International Monetary Fund to remove the so-called “petrol subsidy” which is a euphemism for an increase in the pump price of petrol.
Around 70% of Nigeria’s population resides in rural areas, where subsistence farming remains a vital source of income. “Many such communities still find themselves going hungry due to poor management of supplies, outdated infrastructure, and lack of knowledge. The arable land is there, the manpower is there, but the farmers do not have access to agricultural education, and this creates food insecurity.
For smallholder farmers in remote communities, access to markets can also be a major issue, as the presence of a “middle-man” often prevents them from getting fair prices for their produce”, said 27-year old Matthew Danjuma Oguche who was killed at Kajuru Castle on 19th April . He is one of the many innocent victims of violent clashes in Northern Nigeria.
Insecurity, low wages, youth unemployment and lack of access to public services are also important push factors for migration – often irregular – to Europe and other regions. Nigerians are among the largest group of asylum seekers and many never reach their destination. Public investment in infrastructure, health and education but also water and sanitation, is essential to turn this tide around. Informal work and survival economics are also important barriers for sustainable development.
At the same time, Nigeria is a country that bursts with creativity and harbours great potential. Unlocking positive change is the real challenge for the current government and social movements alike. May 1st reminds us that solidarity and unity are what can make that change happen.
Story by Sandra Alonge
Photos and Illustrations by Bolaji Alonge