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Nigerian Government Urges Oil Unions to Forego Threatened Strike

The Nigerian government has asked oil unions threatening a three-day strike this week to abandon their plan. Unions are scheduled to meet government officials on Monday in hopes of averting the strike.

The powerful white-collar Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association, PENGASSEN, and the blue-collar National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, Both PENGASSEN and NUPENG served a 21-day strike notice on March 2. They say they will begin a three-day warning strike on Wednesday to protest the growing insecurity in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

One-fifth of Nigeria's oil production has been shut down for the past three years due to the security situation in the Delta region, and the government is worried a strike could further cripple the troubled oil industry. Oil Minister of State Odein Ajumogobia says a strike could have severe consequences for the struggling Nigerian economy.

"The security forces are doing their best to try and address the issue. We are appealing to the oil workers to bear with us," said Ajumogobia. "We are trying to provide as much security as we can to make the facilities safe for them to work in. I do not think going to strike is the solution because that just disrupts the entire economy and everybody is affected. So I am not sure that is the solution. We sympathize with their concerns and government is doing everything it can to address the issues of security."

The past three years have seen an increase in violent attacks and kidnappings targeting oil companies, workers and their families throughout the Niger Delta.

Some are carried out by militants claiming to be fighting for a larger share of the region's oil wealth for local people, others by criminal gangs out to make ransom money.

The surge in violent attacks on Nigeria's oil in industry has meant a drop in crude production in the world's eighth largest producer to about 1.7 million barrels a day, compared with 2.6 million in 2006.

Nigeria is Africa's largest crude oil producer and its petroleum sector remains the mainstay of the economy, accounting for about 20 percent of annual GDP, 80 percent of government revenue; and at least 90 percent of all foreign exchange earnings.