Sat, Jan 14, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Nigerian fuel strike continues, talks ‘fruitful’

Reuters, ABUJA

Demonstrators gather on Thursday to protest against the removal of fuel subsidies in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

Photo: Reuters

One of Nigeria’s main trade unions said talks with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan over the government’s removal of publicly popular fuel subsidies were “fruitful” and ongoing, but strikes would continue until an agreement was reached.

Nigeria scrapped subsidies on gasoline imports on Jan. 1, more than doubling the pump price to about 150 naira (US$0.93) a liter, sparking bitter protests across the country.

Tens of thousands of Nigerians had been demonstrating in cities up and down Africa’s most populous nation for four straight days as neither side was ready to concede any ground.

Unions said the pre-subsidy removal gas price of 65 naira a liter must be reintroduced and the government said fuel subsidies were gone for good because they were corrupt and a dangerous drain on Africa’s second-largest economy.

However, Jonathan and unions met late on Thursday.

“We had fruitful discussions, both sides have agreed to shift ground. We will be meeting again on Saturday,” said Abdulwaheed Omar, president of Nigeria Labour Congress, one of Nigeria’s two biggest workers’ unions.

“Unless and until we get a conclusive conclusion from the discussion then that means we will maintain status quo. For now the strike still continues,” Omar said.

Nigerian central bank Governor Lamido Sanusi said the strikes were costing the economy more than US$600 million a day.

Presidency sources say the sticking point is the price of gasoline and both sides might have to concede to a temporary fixed price, somewhere between 65 and 150 naira a liter.

It is not clear if unions are open to a phased subsidy removal. Sanusi said the key for government was to get unions to agree to subsidies being removed, even if it was in the future.

Nigeria’s main oil union said before the meeting it would shut down output from Africa’s biggest oil producer on Sunday if the government did not meet the public’s demands, piling pressure of Jonathan to begin negotiations.

Industry officials doubted unions would be able to stop crude exports completely because much of production is automated and Nigeria has crude stored in reserves, but even a minor outage could have a significant impact on the economy.

Worries over Nigerian supplies have pushed up global oil prices.

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