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Nigerian Government Denies Detaining Top Labor Union Leader - 2004-10-10

The Nigerian government denies detaining the president of the country's largest labor union in order to prevent a general strike set to begin Monday to protest rising fuel costs in Africa's largest oil-producing nation.

The president of the Nigeria Labor Congress, Adams Oshiomhole says he was detained and taken from the international airport in Abuja Saturday. But the Nigerian information minister, Chukwuemeka Chikelu told VOA that the incident had nothing to do with the planned strike.

"Adams Oshiomole was never detained," said Mr. Chikelu. "He was invited to the offices of the security agencies. He had an altercation with some low-level security officials at the airport.

"He spent not more than 10-15 minutes in the office and he was on his way," he continued. "He was never detained. He was never incarcerated, contrary to what has been said."

The Nigeria Labor Congress is calling Monday's strike to protest rising fuel costs due to the government's attempt to deregulate the domestic market.

Mr. Chikelu says that a high court in Nigeria has deemed the strike action illegal because it does not pertain to working conditions. But he says the Nigerian government is a democracy and would not try to preempt the strike by detaining Mr. Oshiomhole.

A lawyer and human-rights activist Femi Falana disagrees with Mr. Chikelu and says the action against Mr. Oshiomhole was an attempt at intimidation to prevent the strike.

"We suspect that there is an attempt to put him away because of the planned strike that is going to commence tomorrow, believing that if they do that, Mr. Oshiomhole may not be able to coordinate the strike," he said. "But all segments of the public have been mobilized and things are going to go ahead."

Mr. Falana says Mr. Oshiomhole sustained injuries from the rough-handling of the State Security Service. He says the government interference will bolster the impact of the strike.

The Nigerian government says it has been pushing to deregulate the market in order to use oil subsidies to improve the quality of life for average Nigerian citizens. But the labor unions have complained that the price of fuel is skyrocketing and they are not seeing the benefits of the subsidies.

The strike is expected to last for at least four days and many analysts say it should drive the already record-high worldwide oil prices even higher.