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Nigerian union leaders threaten to extend strike over fuel prices

AP Worldstream: Nigerian union leaders threaten to extend strike over fuel prices

“The general strike, which began Monday, was supposed to last four days and resume again in two weeks if fuel prices don’t come down. The move has already shut down businesses across the country and helped push world oil prices to record highs.”: “It was not known what caused the leak on Monday at Moghor in the Ogoni district of the oil-rich delta. While Shell officials tried to investigate, a group of unidentified saboteurs set the pipeline on fire, Shell said in a statement.”

DULUE MBACHU

Oct 13, 2004

A union leader who called a nationwide strike to protest rising fuel prices in Nigeria warned that the strike could be extended if serious violence breaks out or the government refuses to consider its demands.

The general strike, which began Monday, was supposed to last four days and resume again in two weeks if fuel prices don’t come down. The move has already shut down businesses across the country and helped push world oil prices to record highs.

Little violence has been reported so far, but at least two people have been killed in clashes between police and pro-union protesters.

“Once they begin shooting, and once they begin to kill, the character of our struggle will change,” said Adams Oshiomhole, leader of the main Nigeria Labor Congress union, referring to security forces. “We have reserved the right to elongate it. That decision will be taken by Thursday.”

Oshiomhole, who was briefly arrested on Saturday, said Tuesday that further arrests of union members and a government refusal to discuss a decrease in fuel prices could justify the strike’s extension. He said a decision on the issue would be made by Thursday.

The strike has so far had no immediate effect on oil flow in Africa’s largest oil exporter, failing to disrupt the 2.5 million barrels daily which the country exports.

However, oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell said it was cutting production by 20,000 barrels per day following a leak and a fire on a major pipeline transporting crude oil to its export terminal in the Niger Delta.

It was not known what caused the leak on Monday at Moghor in the Ogoni district of the oil-rich delta. While Shell officials tried to investigate, a group of unidentified saboteurs set the pipeline on fire, Shell said in a statement.

Nigeria is the world’s seventh-largest oil exporter and the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports.

Other multinationals said production was normal.

“Production is not affected,” said a Udom Inoyo, a spokesman for Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, the second largest producer in Nigeria. He declined to elaborate on staffing levels at the firm.

An official for Royal Dutch/Shell, which accounts for roughly half of Nigeria’s oil exports, said its executive offices in Lagos were roughly “40 percent” staffed. He said the company had put in “measures to downplay the effect” of the strike, but gave no details.

Other major cities were shut down, although taxis were running and many private businesses were still open in the capital, Abuja.

The streets of Nigeria’s normally bustling commercial capital of Lagos, home to 13 million people, were deserted and police armed with assault rifles guarded major intersections.

Sporadic protests in support of the strike continued across Nigeria, with the southern oil industry center of Port Harcourt and Lagos proving flashpoints.

In the northern city of Kaduna, a 12-year-old boy who died Monday during clashes between police and protesters in the northern city of Kaduna.

Another person was killed when police shot at stone-throwing protesters who burned tires on a highway into Port Harcourt, rights activist and city resident Aziboala Roberts told The Associated Press, citing witnesses.

A police spokeswoman in the city said she was not aware of the incident.

In Lagos, thugs blocked several major roads, smashing windshields of vehicles on the streets to keep people home.

“More than 100 boys attacked us,” said businessman Bright Ezeocha, who sustained a cut on his face when his windscreen was smashed by protesters in the Ojo-Alaba district of Lagos.

The strike spread to some cities that had not been affected on Monday.

In the southeastern city of Onitsha, a massive bazaar selling everything from locally made car parts to groceries was also shut down after union leaders stepped in.

“Yesterday our shops were open … but today the market unions have asked us to shut our shops and there will be no business,” Chi Osiuwe, a market trader, said by telephone from Onitsha.

In the nearby town of Awka, nine unionists were arrested for attempting to stop taxis from operating and were charged in court Tuesday “for disturbing public order,” police spokesman Kolapo Sofoluwe said.

Union leaders are demanding the government reverse price hikes last month that saw the price of fuel in Nigeria rise from 43 naira (31 cents) per liter (about US$1.19 per gallon) to 53 naira (US$0.39; A€0.31) per liter (US$1.50; A€1.21 per gallon).

The fuel market was deregulated last year, prompting a series of price hikes that were met with widespread protests.

Crude for November delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange reached a new high of US$54.45 Tuesday, after settling overnight at US$53.64, fueled by continuing worries over supply in Nigeria and reduced output in the hurricane-hobbled Gulf of Mexico.

Associated Press writer Daniel Balint-Kurti in Abuja contributed to this report.

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