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Nigerian Government Says Top Labor Leader Detained, Released, Before Strike - 2004-10-09

The president of the largest labor union in Nigeria was arrested at gunpoint Saturday just two days before a general strike is due to take place.

The strike is being called in response to rising fuel prices in Nigeria but the government has declared the strike illegal and security forces arrested Adams Oshiomole of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) at the airport in Abuja on Saturday.

Mr. Oshiomole was planning to travel to Benin for official business but according to a secretary general with the NLC, he was taken away to an undisclosed location and has not had contact with members of his union.

The strike is due to begin on Monday to protest the government's deregulation of the domestic fuel market. Although Nigeria is Africa's largest oil-producing nation, problems with local refineries have created the need to import the majority of its fuel.

The deputy general secretary of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Lumumba Okugbawa says the government should work on improving the domestic refining of crude oil.

"So in the case of high prices in the international market, it affects petroleum imports and that is what we are doing now," he said. "Instead of producing locally at an optimum level at least, we are spending most of our time importing fuel and this increases the cost."

Mr. Okugbawa says the government needs to consider the hardships facing the average citizen in Nigeria instead of moving forward with efforts to deregulate the market. Fuel prices in Nigeria have hit record highs in recent months.

The Nigeria Labour Congress has called for several general strikes over the course of this year to protest the increased fuel prices. But last month, a Nigerian High court ruled that unions did not have the right to call strikes in matters that were not directly related to working conditions.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has also introduced a proposal to the National Assembly to break up power of the Nigeria Labour Congress which operates as an umbrella organization. The action has brought strong criticism from activists and unions who claim that President Obasanjo is reverting back to military rule.