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ABUJA: Nigerian labor unions shut down the national power grid and disrupted flights on Monday as they launched an indefinite strike that closed schools and public offices after failing to reach a new minimum wage deal with the government.

Africa’s most populous country is facing its worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, with double-digit inflation leaving many Nigerians struggling to afford food. The two main unions, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), said they urged workers to strike after the government refused to increase its minimum wage offer beyond 60,000 naira ($40) a month.

The current minimum monthly wage is 30,000 naira and the NLC said it had called for the minimum wage to rise to 494,000 naira. Following crunch talks, the government released a statement late on Monday saying it was “committed to a National Minimum Wage that is higher than N60,000” and that the two sides would meet “every day for the next week” in order to reach an agreement on the issue.

The presidency also published an appeal on social media platform X for the unions to “continue along the path of negotiations”. Government buildings, petrol stations and courts in the capital Abuja were closed, according to AFP journalists, while the doors to the city’s airport were also shut and long queues formed outside.

“Today we didn’t do anything at the office, it was virtually empty. Everything is at a standstill, there’s no light at my house and very few gas stations are selling fuel,” said Charles, a 53-year-old government administration worker in Abuja. Eight members of Nigeria’s Super Eagles football squad, including winger Ademola Lookman, were stranded by the airline disruptions and could not make a World Cup qualifier training session, a team spokesman said.

In the economic capital Lagos, the strike also took effect, with bands of schoolchildren walking home from empty schools and workers picketing outside a courthouse where the gates were padlocked. “Nigeria workers stay at home. Yes! To a living wage. No! To a starvation wage!” the unions said in a joint statement.

The unions are also protesting an electricity tariff hike and there have been widespread blackouts after the Transmission Company of Nigeria said workers said had shut down the national grid overnight. The United Nigeria Airline told customers that airports across the country had been closed due to the strike. In a statement on X, Nigerian carrier Air Peace also warned of “disruptions or possible cancellations” across its network. Since coming to office a year ago, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has ended a fuel subsidy and currency controls, leading to a tripling of petrol prices and a spike in living costs as the naira has slid against the dollar.

Tinubu has called for patience to allow the reforms to work, saying they will help attract foreign investment, but the measures have hit Nigerians hard. “Workers are finding it very stressful and demoralizing,” said civil society activist Veteran Chi. “It’s really tough and people can’t buy anything.”

A source close to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) said domestic flights had been cancelled and the airport would be shut to all flights on Tuesday.

AFP has contacted FAAN for confirmation. Airport workers’ unions said in a joint statement they were withdrawing all services from Tuesday to allow international flights already airborne to land before their full action begins. “All aviation workers should recognize the seriousness of this struggle and comply unfailingly. All branch officers of our unions shall ensure compliance at all airports.”

Security was stepped up with an increased presence of soldiers on the streets of Abuja. Outside the Federal Secretariat, which houses several ministries, picketing union members urged workers to return home. “Stay at home and stay safe. We don’t want to embarrass you. No work now,” they called. In the northern city of Kano, government offices and public schools were closed.

Children in one neighborhood chanted: “No school, it’s a free day!” The unions had said in a statement on Friday: “Nigerian workers, who are the backbone of our nation’s economy, deserve fair and decent wages that reflect the current economic realities.” Presidential spokesman Ajuri Ngelale agreed the minimum wage was “unsustainably low” but said a “pragmatic assessment” was needed. Thousands of Nigerians rallied against soaring living costs in February, though previous union strikes have had limited impact and turnout. – AFP

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