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Nigerian Workers Protest Against Oil Sector Deregulation

Nigeria's main labor organization, the Nigeria Labor Congress, is staging a protest rally against the deregulation of the oil sector. The demonstration is being staged despite a government appeal to suspend it.

Wednesday's rally leaves from the national stadium in Lagos, the largest city, and is to and at the office of the governor of Lagos state, covering a distance of about 16 kilometers. Labor leaders are expected to hand over a protest note to the federal government through the state governor.

Nigeria Labor Congress spokesman Owei Lakemfa says the rally is aimed at compelling the government to rescind its proposed deregulation of the downstream sector of the country's oil industry.

"It is a rally that would be peaceful, where people will express themselves," he said. "People will join the rally at any point they want and leave at any point they want. The important thing is that we are trying to get the government to gauge the feelings of the people."

"And, the Nigerian people must have some gains in what they produce, like crude oil. If you look at what they call subsidy, it is talking about freight, about demurrage, about lifting, about storage. If our refineries are working we don't need all these," he added.

The NLC is also protesting against rising inflation, poverty, slow electoral reforms and lack of progress in minimum wage negotiations.

The government said in February it planned to end subsidies on petroleum products because it could no longer sustain the more than $4 million a year spent on subsidies.

Nigeria, the world's eighth-largest crude oil exporter, imports a substantial part of its petroleum needs, because of the poor state of its four refineries. Organized labor says deregulating the industry could lead to higher prices for petroleum products and further hardship for Nigerians.

More rallies are scheduled to take across Nigeria in the next 10 days. The government is opposed to the protests, which it says could turn violent. Labor Minister Adetokunbo Kayode had asked NLC to put the protests on hold, saying he would look into the union's demands. But several opposition parties and civil society groups have endorsed the anti-government rallies.

The police have asked labor leaders to keep the rally peaceful and promised adequate security.