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Unions in Nigeria Say Oil Strike Still an Option


Nigerian oil unions say they could resume their strike, if the government fails to meet their demands. The unions suspended their strike Thursday, a day after it started.

The leader of Nigeria's largest oil union said Friday workers will resume their walkout, if the government fails to act on their demands for improved security in the Niger Delta.

Peter Esele, national president of the Petroleum and Gas Senior Staff Association, told VOA that leaders of the two unions have the mandate of their members to resume the strike, without resorting to the complex processes involved in calling a fresh strike.

"What we are saying is that it is merely being suspended," said Mr. Esele. "So, if nothing happens, we can go back to the trenches. If it is called off, there are processes that we have to go through but when it is suspended, you may not need to go through that same process again, in accordance with our constitution."

The unions called a three-day strike from Wednesday to protest unrest in the volatile Niger Delta, where the country's massive oil wealth is concentrated.

The strike was suspended Thursday, a day early, following intense pressure, and appeals from the government and other industry operators.

Esele says the strike was successful, and won widespread popular support.

"The first thing was, get them to the table," he added. "That was the mandate of NEC [National Executive Council]. And we have been using every available means since February. And the way the whole thing went, it was a huge success, and we also know that the Nigerian public, Nigerian people were also behind us. I am sure, if you take a public opinion [poll], you will have about 80 percent of the people supporting what we did."

Apart from flight cancellations resulting from an acute shortage of aviation gasoline, analysts say the strike did not have a crippling effect on Nigeria's petroleum-based economy.

Mohammed Umar, is an expert on the Nigerian energy sector.

"I think, the impact of the strike on the industry was very low, because installations in the Niger Delta were not shut down," he said. "The refinery, the Port Harcourt refinery, this is the only functional refinery, was not shut down, and most petrol filling stations sold fuel, that is in the downstream sector. And most workers turned up for work. So, if you look at it critically, the impact of the strike was not really felt by the industry."

The unions were striking to draw attention to recent government decisions in the oil industry, and the problem of security for oil workers, who have frequently been the target of kidnappings and killings.

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