Federal workers in Nigerian are bracing themselves for mass layoffs following a weekend announcement that some 15,000 workers are to be let go this month. Union officials are reacting angrily to the plan and are demanding that it be suspended.
The surprise announcement that 15,000 workers are to be laid off this month has provoked an angry backlash from groups and unions representing workers.
They claim the government acted in bad faith by announcing retrenchment plans at a time the government and unions were still discussing details of the proposal.
Another 34,000 workers who have allegedly offered to quit their jobs are also set to leave public service in the next couple of weeks.
Fidelis Edeh, national president of the Federal Civil Service Union, says the arbitrary nature of the cuts could lead to social tensions.
"I think the federal government has been insincere in this and I think it is not in the spirit of democracy," he said. "We were able to speak to the chairman of the bureau team, el-Rufai, and from the meeting it was established that the criteria were faulty and that due process had not been followed and these people were not given fair hearing, which is a constitutional provision. And we had agreed to put up a committee to look at these issues and we are surprised. But I think if you want to at what is happening in the Niger Delta, there are no parallel but you can see why at times Nigerians like to take the laws into their hands, because they cannot obtain justice."
The government says public sector reforms are essential to achieve efficiency in Nigeria's bloated and corrupt civil service.
The Nigeria Prisons Service, for instance, is said to have a total of 22,000 wardens taking care of some 41,000 prisoners.
Edeh says the unions welcome the reforms in principle but are upset about how they are being applied.
"I think we want to speak out now on this issue because we can no longer hide the facts. I believe in reforms," he added. "I believe that these reforms are needed for the civil service. But it is about institutional reforms, its about clear guidelines, its about a legal framework which even the next government will not be able to subvert. But now, a lot of discretion is allowed and that is not due process and it is not the rule of law."
The unions are expected to meet in the next few days to decide on a response to the mass dismissal. Fired workers have been directed by the unions not to accept dismissal letters until a consensus is reached on how to proceed.
The federal government has about two million staff on its payroll and has provided nearly $200 million to pay off entitlements of those to be dismissed.