The Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) has called on workers in the country to embark on an indefinite general strike action beginning today to protest what it refers to as the rising fuel prices, despite concessions made by President Umaru Yar'Adua’s government. Sources say an emergency meeting between the government and union leaders failed to reach an agreement that would have averted the strike. The government said the strike action would destabilize the country’s already troubled oil production. However, many Nigerians are said to be supporting today’s strike.
From the capital Abuja, Labor Congress spokesman Owei Lakemfa tells Voice of America English to Africa reporter Peter Clottey more about today’s strike action.
“We are beginning the strike today because the government has refused to listen to the voice of the people, and the yearnings of the people. Nigerians do not want increase in prices of petroleum products, and that is exactly what this government has done,” Lakemfa pointed out.
He said the government has turned down calls by Nigerians for a reduction in fuel prices.
“The government has refused to reduce the prices, to take back the prices back to the old rate which is 55 Naira (about 5 Cents). Rather, they reduced the prices from 75 to 70 Naira. Now, petrol plays a very important role in Nigeria, and it has multiplying effects. For instance, the increase itself has led to increases in the cost of transportation, food and other basic things in the country. And that is why we are asking the government to revert to the old so we can return to some normalcy,” he said.
Lakemfa said the NLC gave the government a deadline to press home its seriousness about embarking on a strike action.
“We have to give a short notice so that the government can one, take us serious, and secondly, we can negotiate and discuss and dialogue before any problems happen because in any case, people would blame us if we did not give the government any notice. So that is why we gave the two weeks notice, which expired on Monday June 18th 2007,” he noted.
Lakemfa explains the rationale behind today’s strike action.
“The first thing is that we are trying to fight to ensure that our demands are met. Secondly, we want to show the government that Nigerians are angry, and are no longer interested in lame excuses. Thirdly, that the voice of the people should be allowed to prevail, especially on matters that are basic and fundamental to the Nigerian people,” he said.
Lakemfa urged President Yar'Adua’s government not to be responsible for what he said were increases in petroleum products imposed on Nigerians by the former administration.
“That is precisely the point we have been making. That these increases were made by President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime. Therefore, this government does not have any reason to own up to these things. Rather, it should distance itself from these policies and programs,” Lakemfa said.