Nigeria: general strike forces government into talks on petrol price rise
Nigeria’s five-day old General Strike – called by unions over the unilateral withdrawal of the petrol subsidy which is all ordinary Nigerians see of the country’s massive oil wealth – has forced the Government into negotiations described by unions as ‘fruitful’, despite the deaths of several protesters. Unions suspended the General Strike for talks over the weekend, but have warned that if progress is not made it will be back on from Monday, with oil workers now threatening to halt crude production, which would intensify the impact on the Nigerian economy, put so far at $3bn. The General Strike has paralysed the country, demonstrating the enormous support for the trade unions’ campaign, and significantly damaging the reputation of President Jonathan Goodluck.
The NLC and NTUC, who earlier called for the Government’s violent attack on protesters in several cities to be referred to the International Criminal Court, have received support from unions around the world as well as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). But most importantly, they have mobilised workers and consumers across Nigeria. And it’s not the first time they have shown themselves to be a force to be reckoned with – successive previous Nigerian Governments have tried to remove the fuel subsidy, and each time the unions have fought them off.
It’s not just a fuel protest like the ones we’ve seen in western Europe, however, and this explains the almost total support for the strike across the country. The abolition of the fuel subsiy has done far worse than just push up prices at the petrol pumps, having had a knock on effect on the cost of food, basic goods, medicines and services. The dispute has also shone further light on the corruption and inefficiencies of the Nigerian economy (especially its energy sector) which the current Government has done nothing to correct. It is this corruption and inefficiency that means Nigeria exports oil but imports petrol, and still faces power shortages that make industrial production difficult. Until these issues are dealt with, Nigeria will not be able to develop the economy, raise living standards to an acceptable level, and then – through agreement with the unions – tackle the fuel subsidy.
As he informed a rally in the capital Abuja of the decision to suspend the strike, NLC President Abdulwahed Omar said:
“We want to make sure that [on] Saturday and Sunday people – we – relax. But Monday morning, it is going to be the mother of all crowds!”