Oil workers set to join the strike

2012-01-14 14:19

Oil workers in Nigeria are planning to join the nationwide strike against the removal of fuel subsidies. The protests have already crippled businesses and the nation is losing millions of US dollars every day.

The removal of a fuel subsidy has led to fuel prices doubling, and so to transport fares and other commodities skyrocketing.

Nigeria, the most populous African nation which largely depends on crude oil for its economy, scrapped the subsidy on January 1.

The move was followed by a nationwide strike and massive protests by the Nigeria Labour Congress, trade unions, academics, activists and citizens.

The strike action has been hard on the economy and businesses across the nation. In Kano, the second largest commercial centre, businesses have ground to a halt.

All the markets, including the international grains market at Dawanau that supply grains to neighbouring Chad, Niger, Cameroon and central Africa remained closed. Industries, airports and shops have been shut since the protests began on Monday.

The national vice-president of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Ali Madugu, said: “Our industries across the country remained closed, it is a minus to the economy and trading is at zero level.”

Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria has threatened to join the strike should the government not rescind its decision. And if the association does join in the strike, this will disrupt oil exports and the continent’s second largest economy will lose even more than a billion US dollars every day.

Garba Sheka, a senior economics lecturer at Bayero University in Kano, said: “If the government is wise enough, it would not have allowed such loss to happen, which by implication will affect oil prices in the world market.”

Experts said if oil workers down tools, it would affect the 2.09 million barrels of crude oil that the nation drills a day.

In the city of Lagos, that has seaports and large industries, businesses are grounded as the strike continues.

On the sea shores, owners of vessels are also losing money as their ships are lying idle.

Since the nationwide strike began, Nigeria has been losing about $1 billion (R8.1 billion) a day.

Ordinary Nigerians have started to feel the pinch as the government’s deregulation policy on the oil sector affects everyone.

Habibu Usman, a resident in Kano, said: “The price of foodstuffs is high. We have tested the new year ‘gift’ by removing the subsidy. This will continue to make us more poor.”

Mohammed Kabir, a low-income earner working for the education ministry, said: “Despite the hardships we are currently facing in the strike as nothing is moving, it is better than the consequences that will follow after the government succeeds in removing fuel subsidy.”

Since Monday, at least 10 protesters have been killed in clashes with the police and several others injured.

The killings are not conveying a good message in a nation that is already under siege from an extremist Islamist movement, Boko Haram, which is fighting for strict sharia law.

The Nigerian government decided to cut the subsidy, which amounted to $7.4 billion a year, in order to use the money in the areas of infrastructural development.

According to the government, petrol marketers smuggled out the subsidised fuel to neighbouring nations, and in the process deprived ordinary citizens from benefiting from the resource.

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