News / Africa

    Nigeria Oil Workers Issue Ultimatum to Government

    Angry youths protest on the streets following the removal of a fuel subsidy by the government, in Lagos, Nigeria, January 12, 2012.
    Angry youths protest on the streets following the removal of a fuel subsidy by the government, in Lagos, Nigeria, January 12, 2012.

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    • Clottey interview with Babatunde Ogun national chairman of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN)

    Peter Clottey

    In Nigeria, the national chairman of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) says his group issued a 48-hour ultimatum after talks with the administration failed to resolve their concerns.

    PENGASSAN says it will embark on their own strike Sunday if the government maintains its refusal to reinstate a popular consumer fuel subsidy.  Chairman Babatunde Ogun said members of his organization have been affected by the ongoing labor unions’ strike protesting the removal of a popular fuel subsidy removal.

    The government eliminated it on January 1, saying the nation can no longer afford the $8 billion program.  The move caused full prices to double in a day.

    “We have given government the next 48 hours to consider and engage other stakeholders,” said Ogun. “We cannot work at an offshore location when [because of the absence caused by already striking workers] there is no medical facility… there is no food supply, so if there are any emergency concerns, life of our members will be jeopardized. We cannot continue to risk our lives for people that [do] not believe that we are doing enough.”

    Economists say a strike by the oil workers’ union will cripple the country’s energy sector and affect global oil prices.  They say it will also severely undermine the economy due to Nigeria’s heavy reliance on its more than two million barrels per day of crude oil export.

    Ogun said PENGASSAN is displeased with the progress of talks with the government.

    “Our people are discussing with government, but it has taken more than four days and government has not changed [its] position,” said Ogun. “Nigerians are seeing oil and gas workers as their enemy because they are comfortable. And I cannot jeopardize the life of my members and as now those people are there without medical facility, without emergency [equipment] to move them out.”

    He called on the administration to reverse its decision, which removed the fuel subsidy.

    If the oil union goes on strike, it would join two major trade unions that launched a nationwide strike on Monday, prompting tens of thousands of Nigerians to stage protests that have paralyzed major cities.

    The labor unions strike enters its fifth day today, Friday.

    Ogun said his organization stands by its 48-hour ultimatum unless the government changes its mind.

    “We surely believe that it has taken too long for government to attend to the yearnings of the people. There is unrest because it has taken too long for a mass protest of this nature not to attend to it in good time.”

    So far President Goodluck Jonathan has refused to reinstate the popular subsidy.

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