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Nationwide strikes planned to protest rising fuel costs

Latest update : 2009-05-13

Nigeria's labour leaders plan a series of rallies around the nation to protest the planned privatisation of oil concerns, which some feel will hike up prices in a nation already beset by poverty and a lack of basic utilities.

REUTERS - Nigeria’s main labour movement is planning rallies around the country to protest against the threat of rising fuel prices, a low minimum wage and lack of progress with electoral reform in Africa’s top oil exporter.


The protests are due to begin with a march in the commercial capital Lagos on Wednesday before moving to Asaba, capital of the southern Delta state and the northern cities of Kano and Maiduguri over the next 10 days.


A second phase of demonstrations is planned for other cities around Africa’s most populous nation, said Owei Lakemfa, spokesman for the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), an umbrella labour movement which is co-ordinating the planned action.


“Generally the Nigerian people are not happy about the government because it has not met the minimum demands,” he said.


“These protests are a midway between the dialogue we have been trying to hold with government and a national general strike. If the government does not respond we will move to the next phase,” he added.


The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) said the protests may be used by “desperate elements to cause chaos and anarchy” and called on labour leaders to return to the negotiating table.


Demonstrations are not currently planned in the main oil city of Port Harcourt and the rallies are unlikely to have any impact on the country’s mainstay oil industry. The NLC claims four million members but it was unclear how many would turn out.


When President Umaru Yar’Adua took office just over two years ago pledging respect for the rule of law, he was seen as a breath of fresh air after eight years of rule by overbearing ex-military leader Olusegun Obasanjo.


But little has changed in the most tangible aspects of daily life for much of the country’s 140 million people. Electricity supply remains virtually non-existent across large swathes of the country and fuel and food prices have been on the rise.



Fuel prices


Lakemfa said one of the NLC’s major demands was that the government does not push ahead with plans to deregulate the downstream oil sector, which the movement fears would lead to further fuel shortages and force pump prices even higher.


Nigeria imports around 85 percent of its petroleum product needs, despite being the world’s eighth biggest crude oil exporter, because of the chaotic condition of its four state-owned refineries. [ID:nLQ218049]


The government says privatising the refineries would allow investors to restore existing capacity and potentially expand it much further, ending Nigeria’s import reliance. The NLC argues the move would allow private companies to charge more for fuel.


The government is locked in a battle with the country’s powerful fuel marketers over subsidies, which it has said it wants to cut. The marketers say that will make their businesses no longer commercially viable and have cut imports in protest.


The dispute has caused country-wide fuel shortages, forcing motorists to wait hours at filling stations or buy illegally from the black market.


“There is a very strong cartel in this country that is benefitting from this issue of subsidies and it has introduced colossal corruption within the system,” President Yar’Adua told reporters in Abuja, pledging to push ahead with deregulation.


Lakemfa said the protests were also meant to push the government into dialogue about raising the minimum wage, currently 5,500 naira ($38) per month, and encourage it to push ahead with electoral reforms.


A chaotic re-run governorship race in the southwestern state of Ekiti last month [ID:nL6944517] raised fears that the next federal and state polls in 2011 will be as flawed as those which brought Yar’Adua to power in 2007.


Electoral reform legislation is before parliament but analysts fear time is running out.

Date created : 2009-05-13