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Nigerian Unions Urge Fuel Sellers to Honor Price Deal - 2003-10-20

Labor unions have called for fuel sellers in Nigeria to adhere to their previous agreement to cap the pump price of fuel after the end of government subsidies.

Labor unions have threatened to force fuel vendors to stick to their word and cap fuel prices. According to union leader Adams Oshiomhole, the sellers have been given until Monday or Nigerians will be urged to enforce the agreement by picketing filling stations.

Mr. Oshiomhole is president of the Nigerian Labor Congress, the main labor union in Nigeria. The NLC came close to staging a general strike over the issue last week, but action was averted at the last moment, after fuel vendors made a commitment to cap the pump price at around 25 cents a liter. But the sellers have not honored that agreement.

The federal government brought an end to fuel subsidies earlier this month, causing prices to jump by at least 15 percent at the pump.

Unions complain that the price rise is an intolerable burden for Nigeria's largely impoverished population.

Six leading members of the NLC were arrested last week after picketing gas stations over this issue. Legal moves are currently under way to secure bail for the six.

Although Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has criticized the labor leaders, accusing them of seeking to set up a parallel government, some elements within his government have voiced their support. The chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on petroleum, Cairo Ojuigbo, said the house will arrest and prosecute any marketer that sells petroleum above the price cap.

The ending of subsidies is part of the government's ongoing privatization of the sector, which saw the sale of national oil refineries opened for bidders last week.

Those in the industry want to see the move to a deregulated, privatized oil sector take place smoothly. Oil companies have seen their share prices on the Nigerian Stock Exchange hit by uncertainty in the market and the repeated threats of strikes.