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Nigeria faces further strikes over fuel prices

Business Report: Nigeria faces further strikes over fuel prices

“A Shell official said the company has not ruled out fresh unrest in the delta region: “As long as the NLC threat still hangs unattended to, our installations and lives of our workers are not safe and this will have an impact on oil exports,” the Shell official told AFP.”

October 4, 2004

Lagos – Nigeria’s central labour movement on Monday urged parliament to pressure the government to reverse recent fuel price hikes or face a strike starting next week, which would likely cause world oil prices to swing upward again.

“In the past week, we have written letters to the parliament, various bodies and notable individuals. The aim is to attract their attention to the injustice the government is perpetrating against Nigerians”, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) secretary general Owei Lakemfa told AFP.

“The letters also seek to draw attention to the pauperisation of citizens and to put pressure on government to enter into dialogue with workers over the hike,” authorised on September 23, he said in a telephone interview.

Last week, the NLC gave the government a two week ultimatum expiring on October 11 to reverse the 25 percent fuel price hike or face a “sit-at-home” strike.

“We will certainly launch the strike at the expiration of the ultimatum if there is no favourable response from government,” said Lakemfa, who added that mobilisation for the strike has been under way since last week.

Nigeria’s powerful blue collar oil union, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG), affiliated to the NLC, and civil society groups have pledged their support for the labour coalition on its planned strike.

The NLC’s decision to call workers out on strike was in protest against the increase in prices of petroleum products in the oil-rich west African country.

The NLC has launched half a dozen widely followed strikes in protest at earlier increases. Two of the previous strikes got the government to bring prices back down.

Fuel prices are a very sensitive issue in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest exporter of crude oil, where cheap fuel is regarded as a birthright but few of the population of some 130 million benefit from oil wealth in Africa’s largest exporter of crude.

If the strike happens, oil prices are likely to soar on the international market.

Prices last week broke through the 50 dollar a barrel barrier last week amid trouble in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, the heartland of Nigeria’s oil industry, where an armed rebel group threatened foreign oil installations and workers, and two rival gangs did battle for control of the country’s key resource.

Worried about the situation, Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell withdrew about 200 of its workers from the troubled region where gang clashes since August have claimed about 500 lives, according to Amnesty International.

Official figures say only 13 people died in the clashes, mostly in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State, where most international oil firms’ operations are based, and where two refineries are located.

After three days of talks with President Olusegun Obasanjo, the two rival rebel groups, including the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) which issued the threat against the multinationals and foreigners, signed a peace accord on Friday in Abuja.

The peace deal eased tensions in the delta, and oil prices slid below the critical 50 dollars per barrel level on Monday.

A Shell official said the company has not ruled out fresh unrest in the delta region.

“It is as if we have yet to be completely out of trouble. As long as the NLC threat still hangs unattended to, our installations and lives of our workers are not safe and this will have an impact on oil exports,” the Shell official told AFP.

The government has said the new, higher fuel prices were in line with a deregulation policy introduced in October last year, which allows private oil-product retailers to import refined fuel and fix consumer sale prices.

Despite being Africa’s biggest exporter of the type of crude oil that is the best suited for refining into petrol, Nigeria is forced to import refined petroleum products due to the poor state of its four refineries.

Obasanjo last Friday in a nationwide broadcast appealed to Nigerians to cooperate with his government in the implementation of its reform programmes, which include deregulation of the oil sector. – AFP

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