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Nigerian Bakers Strike Over High Cost of Production

FILE - A vendor measures wheat flour in a cup for retail at a market in Ibafo, Ogun State, southwest Nigeria, on March 14, 2022.
FILE - A vendor measures wheat flour in a cup for retail at a market in Ibafo, Ogun State, southwest Nigeria, on March 14, 2022.

The Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria began a nationwide strike this week to protest soaring production costs, fueled partly by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The association's more than 450,000 members have vowed to keep their doors closed for at least a week to pressure the government to remove a 15 percent tax on wheat.

The entrance gate to Abba Mohammed's bakery in Dutse Alhaji, a suburb of Abuja, is shut — an indication of the total compliance with the bakers' association strike.

Abba started the bakery two years ago amid the COVID-19 lockdowns. She said it's been a struggle running her business and that she asked her workers not to report for duty on Friday.

"It has always been challenging right from the onset and it just keeps getting worse, that was when all the prices started skyrocketing,” Abba said. “Because of that we have had to let go of some staff and reduce production."

The bakers’ association is trying to pressure authorities to resolve several issues affecting productivity, especially the soaring price of ingredients and fuel, and to remove a 15 percent tax on wheat imposed by authorities years back.

Nigerian Manufacturers Struggle with Wheat, Energy Shortages
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Prices for wheat and sugar, key ingredients in bread, have been rising steadily in Nigeria for years but nearly tripled following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

Other factors like high diesel prices, fuel scarcity and power cuts have made operations even more difficult and expensive.

Jude Okafor, national secretary of the Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria, said more than 1,000 bakers have stopped working across the country as a result of unfavorable business conditions.

"Over 90 percent of them have lost working capital, all the bakers, those who are still in the business are now massively indebted,” Okafor said. “The master bakers are suffering from several factors."

The association said it will continue the strike if authorities do not resolve these issues.

The head of Nigeria’s Federal Competition and Consumption Protection Commission, Babatunde Irukera, said the commission is doing what it can to help the bakers, but said a strike is not the answer.

"We do not regulate price,” Irukera said. “When the bakers come together, we regulate competition, and we think it's problematic if they come as an association to strike, and we've told them that coming together to strike and prevent production is anti-competitive. Every baker should go out there, those who can do their business should do it.”

The bakers’ association is also calling on authorities to remove barriers to importing sugar, so its members can import their own sugar and reduce costs.

They also want authorities to help members whose businesses were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.