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Nigerian Unions Plan New Strikes to Protest Removal of Fuel Price Limits - 2003-10-03

Nigerian union leaders are threatening a new strike to protest a sudden government decision to remove price limits on fuel.

Television commercials broadcast repeatedly in Nigeria say deregulation is the solution.

The government says ending fuel subsidies is needed to pay for social programs.

But union leaders say ordinary Nigerians shouldn't bear the brunt of paying for reform.

Leaders from the Nigerian Labor Congress are due to meet Saturday in the southwestern city of Ibadan to decide whether to resume a strike suspended in July.

The 10-day protest action was halted after the government decided to scale back a fuel price increase.

This week, the state fuel pricing agency abruptly announced it would no longer set a price cap on refined fuel products, such as gasoline. The cost of fuel has since risen from an average of 34 naira per liter, or about 25 cents, to nearly 40 naira or more than 30 cents.

The two main oil unions Friday set a one-week ultimatum for the government to explain the increase. The head of the blue-collar union known as NUPENG, Peter Akpatason, says the government is setting a dangerous precedent by making key policy decisions without prior consultation.

"We are absolutely worried about unilateral decisions of this government," he said. "They are not in the spirit of consent. They don't take any advice from anybody. They just go their own way, irrespective of the yearnings and aspirations of the people. But at the end of the one-week ultimatum, if nothing happens, then we might have to take further action."

Nigerian lawmakers also say they were not informed of the decision, and that it should be discussed first. Nigeria's lower house of parliament has already voted to suspend legislative activity in protest.

Nigeria is among the world's top 10 oil exporters, and many Nigerians view cheap fuel as a birthright, even though most refined fuel products are actually imported.

The fuel price increase comes just several days before Nigeria begins hosting the All Africa Games, the continent's answer to the Olympics.