Abdul Karimu Akamo is indignant. Each day, he handles the symbols of affluence provided by Nigeria's oil wealth. Yet none of the new wealth or the social habits it brought to other sectors of the country's population -- such as daily champagne drinking -- has trickled down to him and his fellow dockworkers.
After 21 years of unloading the dank holds of freighters, the 39-year-old Akamo said he thinks he knows the value of an average shipload and says the $10 a day -- $6.80 a day before April -- that he is paid for an eight-hour shift "without lunch or rest break" is not enough to feed him and his family adequately.
Akamo and 26,000 other dockworkers went on strike twice recently and closed all seven of Nigeria's ports because private contractors had not paid them a government-ordered 56 percent wage increase six months after it was due.
After being kept on a short leash for 13 years of military government, Akamo and the more than 3 million unionized workers in Nigeria have grown increasingly militant with the year-old civilian government in demanding a larger share of its oil wealth.
Buffeted by oil-fueled inflation since the mid-1970s, cramped into inadequate, substandard housing and increased by the doubling of food and public transportation prices since last summer, angry urban workers and a budget-conscious Nigerian government are on a collision course that could have disturbing ramifications for the country and its financially weaker neighbors.
In Nigeria, where 25 percent of the work force is urban, the trade union movement is the largest on the African continent. It is feared that its restiveness could spill over into adjacent countries among equally unhappy, poorly and industrial and civil service employes.
With rising energy bills leaving many African national budgets in deficit and a world recession slowing down already slow industrial growth, it is doubtful if more than a few African countries could absorb the shock of long strikes and high wage demands from the type of angry union member that Akamo represents.
Led by the socialist-leaning Nigerian Labor Congress president, Hassan Sunmonu, Nigerian unions are demanding that a workers' monthly minimum salary be increased to $564, three times the minimum of $180 set by Nigerian President Shehu Shagari in April.
Shagari and his advisers argue that the country's growing wealth, 90 percent of which comes from oil, is already too thinly spread among ambitious agricultural and industrial development projects, education and health programs for Nigeria's nearly 100 million residents -- the largest population in Africa.
Meeting union leaders' demands, several of Shagari's advisers said, would push inflation back up to its onetime annual high of 30 percent and bring major, but capital-short government projects crashing down like houses of cards if money allocated for them had to be shifted to salaries.
Government officials claim that overall inflation is running at 9 percent but some experts said it is closer to 20 percent.
Even so, union leaders said, Nigeria's oil revenues have more than doubled in the past two years -- to $25 billion for 1980 -- and more of that should be finding its way into workers' pockets.
Beginning last spring, wildcat strikes have hit private industry, public transportation and federal and state civil service agencies over pay grievances. Federal officials accused union leaders of trying to undermine the government.
The union leadership itself, although united on pay and working conditions, is split into pro-Soviet and pro-Western blocs, according to well-informed Nigerian trade union sources. Upcoming February elections for offices in the national body, the Labor Congress, will be hotly contested between the two groups. The outcome of the election, several sources said, may well help determine the level of militancy in the Nigerian trade union movement and in many neighboring countries.
Akamo said he will support the men who get him a pay raise. Out of his monthly base salary of $320, Akamo said he pays $112 to rent two rooms in Lagos' Orosuki slums and $68 in transport. The remaining $140 is never enough to feed and clothe his wives, children and himself.
"I don't eat the good food," Akamo added. "Good food is left for my children."
Since last summer his family's staple food, rice, has gone from 15 cents for a small canful to 50 cents.
Because many other workers share Akamo's concern, the wildcat strikes -- which also hit the country's vital oil industry for the first time in October -- have been growing more violent. In different parts of Nigeria recently, strikers have damaged factory property and injured employers and officials. The courts, in reaction, have begun handing down stiff jail sentences.
In a national television broadcast, Minister of Labor Abebisi Ogedengbe accused the Labor Congress of standing by with folded arms instead of trying to end unauthorized strikes. The Congress is the umbrella organization for all 42 of Nigeria's civil service and private industry unions.