From: Tom Ashby, Reuters
Published November 2, 2004 12:00 AM

Nigerian Unions Vote for General Strike on Nov. 16

LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigerian unions decided on recently to hold an indefinite general strike on Nov. 16 to protest against rising fuel prices in the world's eighth largest oil exporter.


Originally expected to start this week, the action was postponed two weeks to avoid clashing with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, said Adams Oshiomhole, president of the umbrella union body Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC).


"In deference to the Muslims, the foot soldiers, the strike is postponed to Nov. 16, and it's going to be indefinite on account of the bitterness and anguish of all Nigerians," he told reporters after a meeting of top union officials.


Unions staged a four-day warning strike in mid-October to press the government to scrap a 20 percent hike in pump prices, but the government has only offered soft loans to public transport companies as a cushioning measure.


The rise in fuel prices to 53 naira a liter (40 U.S. cents) was caused by the government reducing subsidies, a key part of its economic reform program. Unions say it has further impoverished the majority of Nigerians, who live on less than a dollar a day.


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The most recent strike paralyzed most businesses, including public transport in the OPEC member nation, but its 2.3 million barrels per day of oil output and exports were unaffected.


Industry executives fear oil operations could be hurt by a prolonged shutdown, particularly if it is accompanied by civil unrest.


Unionists said they would hold talks with the government over the next two weeks in an effort to avert the strike.


The NLC has emerged as the most potent opposition to the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo since his election in 1999, which marked the end of 15 years of military dictatorship.


Obasanjo has tried to limit its powers by obtaining a court ruling that it should not strike over matters unrelated to work conditions. He also tabled a new union law to abolish the NLCs monopoly and give unions freedom of association.


Unions have tried to persuade the government to reactivate its idled oil refineries to supply the country with fuel, but the government has continued to rely on imports costing $2 billion a year, blaming sabotage on its pipelines and poor contractors.


Vice-President Atiku Abubakar blamed the poor performance on corruption in state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp., which operates the refineries and controls the lucrative import contracts.


Source: Reuters


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