- Nigeria's trade unions today again lashed out against the hike in prices of petroleum products, organising a nation-wide strike. Union leader Adams Oshiomhole's short detention on Saturday only served to harden the union's position and widen national and international protest.
The country's umbrella trade union, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), is today staging a nation-wide strike and mass protest against a hike in fuel prices, which the government earlier had promised to reverse. According to the NLC, the strike and protest marches are followed up by Nigerian workers all over the country. "Reports from the states indicate compliance," the union reported today.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria's capital Abuja, a contingent of armed policemen is reported to have cordoned off the national headquarters of the NLC. The Labour House has been under siege by the police the entire day, preventing labour leaders from leaving the grounds.
President Olusegun Obasanjo today invited NLC leader Oshiomhole to a meeting discussing the price hike and the union's strike action. Union leaders announced they would not call off the strike until fuel prices had been reversed to a level earlier agreed upon.
After Mr Oshiomhole's short detention on Saturday, trust is on a low level between the union and government. The union leaders today refused to be escorted by the police the meeting with President Obasanjo, persisting on using their own vehicles. After hours of negotiations, the police gave into the labour leaders' demands, who left for the meeting with their vehicles unescorted.
Meanwhile, the NLC and Mr Oshiomhole gained a wave of sympathy after his Saturday arrest by the feared State Security Services (SSS). He was reportedly wrestled to the ground and bundled into a standby Peugeot 504 station wagon that bore no licence plates. Nigerian and international commentators have called the SSS action an "unlawful arrest".
In Nigeria, the arrest of Mr Oshiomhole led to the protest of unionist, human rights groups and several outspoken politicians, including three state senators. A united political opposition on Sunday condemned the arrest, holding President Obasanjo responsible.
The arrest also caused strong international reactions. COSATU, South Africa's leading trade union, today "unreservedly" condemned the arrest. COSATU spokesman Moloto Mothapo said his union was "frightened at the real prospect of Nigeria regressing back to the dictatorship and intolerance that it triumphed over only about a decade ago. It appears to us that Nigeria is following the footsteps of Zimbabwe and other countries such as Colombia where wanton arrests, disappearances and killing of trade unionists is the order of the day," Mr Mothapo added.
Today's strike and protests are a repeated union action on government attempts to deregulate the national fuel trade. Fuel prices in Nigeria - the world's sixth largest oil exporter - have soared since the government cut most subsidies and abolished price controls last year.
While the government and unions had agreed on a maximum price for several petroleum products, a court ruling last month said unions were banned from striking over fuel prices. This immediately led to an almost 25 percent increase in fuel prices.
According to the trade union, poverty-ridden Nigerians cannot sustain fuel prices at such a high level. While prices are still lower than in most other African countries, low fuel prices were needed in Nigeria to fight poverty and create jobs, the union holds.
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