Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Labor unions in Nigeria nix plans for massive strike

REUTERS , ABUJA, NIGERIA

Nigeria's labor unions late on Wednesday called off a nationwide strike over a sharp increase in the cost of fuel after oil marketing companies agreed in last-ditch talks to revert immediately to the old prices.

"The NLC [Nigeria Labor Congress] strike slated for Oct. 9 is suspended forthwith," said a joint statement issued after a meeting between the NLC, oil marketing companies, governors of Nigerian states and representatives of the national assembly.

"Major oil marketing companies should revert to the old pump price of petroleum products at 34 naira [US$0.26] per liter with effect from today, Oct. 8," added the statement, read to the media by Bola Tinubu, governor of Nigeria's wealthy Lagos State.

NLC President Adams Oshiomole said the unions were "very satisfied" with the outcome of the talks, and described it as "a modest victory for the majority of the suffering Nigerians."

The government had been forced to act because of the groundswell of opinion against the price increases, he told a news conference.

The agreement was reached only hours before the stoppage was due to begin, potentially shutting down Africa's largest oil producer and the world's seventh biggest exporter.

Widespread unrest over the cost of fuel was triggered by the 17 percent jump in prices this month that followed the government's decision to deregulate oil product prices.

The mass protests threatened by the NLC could have further destabilized the fragile democracy of Africa's most populous country.

Though mired in poverty, OPEC member Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer and many of its citizens see cheap petrol as a right.

Several people died in Lagos and Abuja in July during an eight-day strike over an earlier hike in petrol prices.

Wednesday's talks were a last-ditch attempt to avert a strike, and after an unpromising start it gradually became clear that a deal was possible as pressure mounted on the oil marketing companies to reverse the latest surge in prices.

"We thought the dialogue was dead but it's not the case," Oshiomhole said at one stage during the talks. "The governors [of the 36 states] have intervened in the matter and they have made their case."

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