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Nigerian Government Sends in Troops as Police Strike - 2002-02-01

The Nigerian government has deployed the army after the country's police forces went on strike Friday in a dispute over wages and unpaid benefits.

The Nigerian government says it considers the strike a mutiny and has ordered soldiers to take up duties normally carried out by police officers.

The order came from the country's minister of police affairs, Steven Akiga, in the capital, Abuja. The minister spoke on national television late Friday, sharply criticizing those who organized the strike. "If the Nigerian police, which constitutes the main instrument for [maintaining] law and order can degenerate into lawlessness, then we are inviting anarchy. This is totally unacceptable," he said.

Earlier, the government had said a strike by police would be illegal. Officials threatened to dismiss and put on trial those who organized it.

The strike was called in the main city, Lagos, and other parts of Nigeria as police officers demanded pay raises, the payment of benefits, and promotions that strike leaders say are overdue.

The police strike has caused major disruptions across Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation. Banks in Lagos and other cities were remained closed due to concerns over security. The absence of transit police on the busy streets of the commercial capital Friday resulted in traffic jams that motorists say were worse than usual in the city of approximately 12 million people.

Soldiers were sent to take over what government officials say are sensitive points around the country. The first troops to be dispatched were in northern Sokoto state and the central city of Jos. Both are places that have seen major outbreaks of ethnic fighting in recent months that have claimed hundreds of lives.

Officials say the strike is not expected to have a significant effect on recovery efforts following Sunday's devastating explosions at a munitions depot in Lagos. The blasts resulted in the deaths of more than 600 people.

The job action by police officers Friday follows a general strike last month. That stoppage ended when the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered police to arrest the leaders of the union that organized it.