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Nigerian unions threaten strike in fuel price anger

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-01-04

Nigerian trade unions have called for a national strike and mass demonstrations to shut down oil production and other sectors starting from Monday unless the government restores a fuel subsidy it scrapped this week.

AFP - Nigeria's main labour unions on Wednesday threatened to shut down the country next week amid increasingly volatile protests over soaring petrol prices in Africa's largest oil producer.

The government however showed no signs of retreating on its policy that eliminated fuel subsidies on January 1, causing petrol prices to instantly more than double in a country where most people live on less than $2 per day.

Taxi and bus fares have followed suit, doubling the cost of commutes, and other fallout was also feared in the continent's most populous nation, including on food prices.

There have been claims that numerous people have not returned to the country's main cities from their hometowns after the holidays because they cannot afford the trip.

"From Monday 9th Jan 2012, all offices, oil production centres, air and sea ports, fuel stations, markets, banks, amongst others, will be shut down," a statement signed by the heads of the country's two main labour unions said.

"We advise Nigerians to stockpile basic needs, especially food and water."

President Goodluck Jonathan convened an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday that addressed fuel subsidies.

His information minister said afterward that measures would be taken to ease the blow of the increase, such as improved public transport.

"Our country is in a difficult situation and we are appealing to the citizens to appreciate this difficulty," Labaran Maku said.

"With the measures we have taken, we are confident that we will correct the imbalance in the economy."

The country has seen increasingly volatile protests since the policy was introduced.

Protests in Kwara state led to the death of at least one person on Tuesday, with a union claiming police shot dead a protester while authorities said a mob killed him.

In Lagos on Tuesday, one man claimed he was shot by police who also fired tear gas at mobs setting bonfires along a main highway. Some 200 people also marched on a main highway and forced petrol stations to close.

On Wednesday, hundreds of protesters shut down petrol stations in northern Nigeria's largest city of Kano and a mob threatened to burn a newspaper office.

Placard-waving protesters in Kano headed toward the state governor's office when dozens of armed police and soldiers blocked them using trucks and vans.

The protesters then gathered on the city centre's main square, known as the Silver Jubilee Square but which protesters renamed "Liberation Square."

Businesses around the square pulled down their shutters fearing violence and four filling stations overlooking the square were forced to close after they were besieged by the protesters.

A mob also threatened to burn down the office of the Daily Trust newspaper -- whose coverage the protesters perceived as supportive of the government's move -- but police blocked them.

They smashed the windshield of a newspaper van and beat a security guard, leaving him wounded.

Protest threats in Nigeria have often fizzled out in the past, but the fuel subsidy issue is one of the few that unites much of the vast country, with widespread popular opposition to the move.

Economists and government officials view removing the subsidy as essential to allow for more spending on the country's woefully inadequate infrastructure and to ease pressure on its foreign reserves.

The government says more than $8 billion was spent in 2011 on fuel subsidies.

Nigerians however see the subsidy as their only benefit from the nation's oil wealth, and years of deeply rooted corruption have resulted in profound distrust of government officials.

Date created : 2012-01-04


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