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Nigerian Union Suspends Strike Plans - 2003-10-09


The main trade union in Nigeria has suspended plans for a general strike, as fuel prices in the country are lowered.

Union leaders say Nigeria's federal government and fuel marketers have agreed that fuel prices at the pump will revert to prices that were in effect in September.

State governors also took part in negotiations in the capital, Abuja, Wednesday, and said their role had been instrumental.

The Nigerian National Labor Congress had called for a strike to begin Thursday, after prices for gasoline, diesel and kerosene jumped more than 15 percent. The price increase followed a government decision to start deregulating the oil sector.

On Thursday, business was slow to pick up in many cities, as most residents and workers had expected the strike to begin. Some gasoline stations that were open were still selling at higher, unregulated prices, because, they said, they had not been officially informed of the price reversal.

Once filling stations are informed, the price of gasoline should go back to 34 naira per liter, or about 26 cents, instead of 40 naira, or 31 cents.

Union leaders are calling the development a victory for ordinary Nigerians, saying they should not be the first to bear the brunt of reform.

The secretary-general of NUPENG, the blue collar oil workers' union, Joseph Akinlaja, also says that, now that the immediate strike threat is averted, negotiations can focus on improving Nigeria's large, but ailing oil sector.

"It's a good decision, because the government has reverted to the old price of 34 naira for petrol, and that will give room now for that dialogue on the way forward for the downstream on supply and distribution and pricing, so it won't be (a) price matter alone," he explained. "I think what has been worrying to us is why should the refineries not work."

Even though Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer, it often faces fuel shortages because most of its production is for crude oil exports. Locally refined oil is often of poor quality and in insufficient supply. Gasoline is also smuggled across borders for resale at higher prices.

Political analyst Tunde Martins says the government is trying to find a long-term solution to these problems. He says he hopes labor unions will have less and less of an impact on policy.

"Many people are really tired of all these crises," he said. "They are willing to find fuel at the prices set by the independent marketers, so long as the fuel is available at the stations. Let Nigerians respond without being forced, and you will see what will happen."

Late Wednesday, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said that, even though prices were going down for now, the federal government was not backing down on letting market forces determine the cost of fuel.

He also warned union leaders against misrepresenting government policies.

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