Nigerian strike rumbles on after talks

Union official says discussions with president were "fruitful", but threatened shutdown of country's oil industry looms.

    One of Nigeria's main trade unions has said that strikes in protest over the scrapping of popular fuel subsidies will continue despite ongoing talks with the government.

    Abdulwaheed Omar, the president of Nigeria Labour Congress, said after meeting President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday that both sides had agreed to shift ground and would meet again on Saturday.

    "We had fruitful discussions, both sides have agreed to shift ground," said Omar. "Unless and until we get a conclusive conclusion from the discussion then that means we will maintain status quo. For now the strike still continues."

    Nigeria scrapped subsidies on petrol imports on January 1, more than doubling the pump price to around $0.93 per litre, sparking paralysing protests across the country.

    Before the Thursday meeting between labour union representatives and the president, Nigeria's main oil union said it would shut down the country's oil and gas production starting on Sunday in support of the national strike.

    "We are herby notifying the Federal Government of Nigeria ... that PENGASSAN (The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria) shall be forced to go ahead and apply the bitter option of ordering the systematic shutting down of oil and gas production with effect from ... 00:00 hours on Sunday, January 15," the union said in a statement.

    Union president Babatunde Ogun said if fields were shut down, it could take six months to a year to restart them.

    "We ... believe that if everything comes to a standstill, the government will budge," Ogun told reporters in Lagos.

    He also said a natural gas shutdown would turn off the nation's power grid, which is already prone to frequent blackouts and shortages in many areas.

    Petrol dollars

    Since demonstrations against the subsidy cuts started, hundreds of thousands of people have staged protests in cities across Africa's largest crude oil producing country, and at least three people have been reported killed in the demonstrations.

    Many of the protesters see the government's withdrawal of financial support as another blow to the public's needs by not tackling the rampant corruption that has severely damaged the country's economy.

    Petrol dollars dominate Nigeria's economy and represent the majority of its government revenues, with about two million barrels exported per day.

    Members of Nigeria's senate and house of representatives have sought to broker a way out of the crisis, but no progress has been reported so far.

    Government officials and economists say removing subsidies was essential and will allow the $8bn per year in savings to be directed into projects to improve the country's woefully inadequate infrastructure.

    Demonstrators, on the other hand, say that the subsidies were the only benefit that citizens received from the country's massive oil wealth, and cutting them would raise the price of oil as well as other goods even further.

    Increased attacks by Boko Haram in the country's north is adding pressure on a government already facing popular dissent following the removal of the fuel subsidies.

    Analysts warn that could raise political risks in a nation with a young democracy and a history of military rulers.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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