Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image Nigerian strike shuts down cities, oil production continues

Posted : Wed, 20 Jun 2007 10:24:00GMT
Abuja – Nigerian workers walked off the job Wednesday in an indefinite strike that saw banks and offices shut down but left oil exportation unhindered in Africa’s largest oil-producing nation. Labour unions rejected government efforts to meet their demands Tuesday saying the concessions came too little too late and urged banks, schools and markets across the country to join the strike.

Workers in Lagos, Nigeria’s business centre, heeded the call, leaving streets deserted and offices around the megacity closed.

The streets of the capital Abuja were empty as well, but the lack of car traffic was mostly due to an earlier strike in the petrol- sector which created a fuel shortage.

Meanwhile, officials in the oil-producing southern states said foreign companies were continuing to produce and export the resource, on which Nigeria relies for some 90 per cent of its annual foreign exchange earnings.

But an official with Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell said he was not sure work would continue unhindered throughout the day.

In Abuja, Abdulwaheed Omar, president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, one of the three organizations that called the strike, led a protest march across the Nigerian capital city to drum up more support for the workers’ action.

The unions were striking over wages, an increase in value added tax (VAT) and the rise of petrol prices at the pumps. They were also asking for the reversal of a privatization of two oil refineries.

The government Tuesday said it would increase the workers’ pay by 15 per cent and reverse the increase in VAT from 5 per cent to 10 per cent as per the unions’ demands.

It said it could not meet the request to reduce the petrol prices to 50 cents per litre from 59, but would meet the unions half way and bring the cost down to 54 cents a litre.

The unions rejected the compromise, saying they wanted their demands to be met in full, and said their workers were mobilized and ready to strike.

The unions’ complaints stem largely from the final days in office of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who upped fuel prices, doubled VAT and forged ahead with the sale of the refineries. He never fulfilled a promise to workers on increasing wages.

The strike is seen as the first significant challenge for Nigeria’s new president, Umaru Yar’Adua, who was criticized as a largely unremarkable politician during his time as governor of northern Katsina state.

The unions had given the government two weeks from June 1 to meet their demands.

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