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Nigeria's Unions Strike to Protest Fuel Prices - 2004-10-11

Nigeria's largest labor union is on strike to protest the rising prices of fuel in Africa's largest oil-producing country, defying a court order declaring the labor action illegal. The strike shut down Nigeria's largest cities.

The strike has shut down many private shops and gasoline stations in the capital Abuja and in the commercial capital, Lagos. Reports from both cities say militants are out to enforce the strike and there are few cars on the streets.

Nigeria's largest labor union called the four-day strike action to protest the government's deregulation of the domestic fuel market, which has caused a 25 percent increase in gasoline prices during the past month.

The president of the union, Adams Oshiomhole, says the strike will end on Friday to give the government time to bring fuel prices down.

But the Nigerian Minister of Information Chukwuemeka Chikelu says the deregulation of the fuel market is the best alternative for the future of Nigeria.

"There is a major debate going on in our country today on the best way to spend the resources that have come by the increasing of the fuel price," he said. "The government has decided all along to deregulate the sector, take away the monopoly by the state run oil corporation, the NNPC, and allow the oil companies to actually be the ones responsible for the importation and distribution and marketing of petroleum products."

Mr. Chikelu acknowledged the deregulation has hurt consumers, but In the long term, will allow the government to channel more money into roads, water sources, education, and health services for all Nigerians and strengthen Nigeria's economy.

The International Monetary Fund has supported the economic reforms proposed by Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, including the deregulation of the domestic fuel market. But the unions complain that the average citizen, who lives on less than a dollar a day, cannot cope with the high cost of fuel.

Although Nigeria is one of the world's largest oil-producers, poor management and technical problems at the refineries forced the country to import most of its gasoline. Many Nigerians consider low fuel prices as a national right, and support the Nigeria Labor Union in its strike.