Nigeria unions call for fuel price strike
Lagos - Nigerian labour unions have threatened a nationwide and indefinite strike to protest the government's decision to end a subsidy programme that had kept gas costs down for more than two decades.
The cost of fuel more than doubled in Africa's most populous nation almost immediately after the government announced on Sunday that they would end a consumer subsidy. Its removal triggered a wave of protests in major cities across the nation, leaving at least one dead.
Protesters in the northern city of Kano had a sit-in at a main junction on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, an angry mob assaulted a soldier in the commercial city of Lagos after crowds forced at least three gas stations to stop selling fuel at hiked prices. In the central city of Ilorin, a man was killed during demonstrations. While unions accused the police of shooting him, authorities said he was a victim a gang attack.
In a statement on Wednesday, the National Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress said that a coalition of groups will strike starting January 09. It said the general strike can only be stopped if President Goodluck Jonathan restores gas prices back to $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per litre), from its new price of at least $3.50 per gallon (94 cents per litre).
The fuel is desperately needed to power the generators that keep many businesses running in Nigeria, where the national electricity supply can be described as sporadic at best.
The strike is meant to paralyse the nation of 160 million people if gas prices aren't reversed, the unions said.
"From Monday, 9th January 2012, all offices, oil production centres, air and sea ports, fuel stations, markets, banks, among others will be shut down," the statement said.
Nigeria's government announced on Sunday that it would stop paying a gas subsidy to gas importers effective immediately and invest part of the $8bn in savings for much-needed infrastructure upgrades and social programs to improve the quality of life of Nigerians.
Few, though, have seen any benefit from the country's vast oil wealth over decades of production, and a culture of distrust of government permeates Nigerian society. Most residents subsist on less than $2 a day.
Nigeria, an OPEC member nation, produces about 2.4 million barrels of crude oil a day, and is a top supplier to the United States, but virtually all of its petroleum products are imported after years of graft, mismanagement and violence at its refineries.
The unions said in the statement that the government has violated a 2009 agreement that if the government decides to remove the subsidy it would not start until certain conditions are met, including the repair of Nigeria's refineries and the provision of regular power supply.
The announcement ending the subsidy came a day after Jonathan declared a state of emergency in parts of the country hit by a growing Islamic insurgency that is fuelled in part by widespread poverty. Still, simultaneous attacks in three northern states blamed on the radical sect known as Boko Haram left three dead on Tuesday.