afrol.com, 21 March - The Nigerian trade union today defied a police ban and held a demonstration against rising fuel prices in Lagos. Nigerian trade union leaders yesterday warned the government they intend to exert maximum pressure until it backs down over oil price rises announced last month.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the principal Nigerian national trade union centre, affiliated to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), is holding a series demonstrations beginning yesterday in response to proposals for a reduction in government subsidies to the oil industry and the deregulation of the crisis-ridden sector.
John Odah, one of the NLC leaders, warned that if the government went ahead with its measures, it would face determined opposition from the workers, making "the country ungovernable". One litre of petrol is officially sold at 22 nairas (US$ 0.18) in Nigeria, one third of the sales price of neighbouring countries, thanks to a government subsidy.
The government has stepped up its campaign for the deregulation of the supply and distribution of petroleum products with a view to putting an end to chronic fuel shortages and to discourage smuggling. According to government officials, President Olusegun Obasanjo now has invited union leaders for talks in a bid to end the mass action. The government claims that until it can deregulate Nigeria's fuel sector, chronic petrol shortages will continue in the country.
The appeals from trade unionists however seem to have gained support among Nigerians. Thousands took part in the demonstrations launched yesterday, which are due to end on March 29 in the federal capital, Abuja, say the organisers.
The ICFTU yesterday reported that it supports the NLC's position and is urging the government to involve the trade union organisations in any decision about a price rise and in particular about deregulation plans. After a similar strike last year, the government was forced to give up its plans to raise fuel prices.
Source: ICFTU and afrol archives