Members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) took their grievances to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja on Thursday, causing a halt in activities.
The demonstration was in response to an attack on the president of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, in Imo State.
What initially seemed like a localized issue gained national attention as the protesting unionists arrived at the airport at approximately 8:58 a.m., disrupting aviation activities in one of the country’s busiest airports.
They aimed to prevent flights heading to Owerri, the capital of Imo State. Security operatives prevented them from entering the airport, leading to the blockage of entry and exit routes, leaving numerous passengers stranded. Many resorted to abandoning their vehicles and trekking to their destinations.
The organized labour’s actions have resulted in widespread inconvenience, affecting not only the airport but also causing disruptions for many Nigerians.
This development marks the latest chapter in the ongoing conflict between labour and the Imo State government.
The unions accuse the state government of deploying police officers to assault NLC chief Joe Ajaero. While the police authorities in the state deny involvement in the assault, the government accuses Ajaero of meddling in politics. In response, organised labour declared a nationwide strike scheduled for November 14th, 2023.
Critics and observers express concern that this move could further strain an already struggling economy. However, the NLC and TUC remain steadfast in their decision to proceed with the industrial action unless the government meets their demands, which include the resignation of police officials involved.
“We are worried that it has become criminal for workers in Nigeria to gather for a peaceful protest,” the unions stated.
Recent strikes in the country have yielded mixed results. Last month, the unions called off a planned strike over rising living costs after the government offered measures to alleviate the impact of economic reforms.
The NLC, representing a coalition of trade unions, had planned a demonstration in Owerri over issues such as “non-payment of salaries and pensions for 44 months and violation of other labour rights,” according to spokesman Benson Upah. However, the state police banned the protest, leading to clashes between unionists and police personnel.
The unions allege that Ajaero was attacked by “police personnel” during the crackdown on the demonstration.
Ajaero received medical treatment at a police hospital and the city’s Federal Medical Centre, with images circulated by the NLC showing him with a bruised face and a neck brace. Opposition leader Peter Obi condemned the attack, highlighting the growing lawlessness and impunity in the country.