Nigeria talks resume as protests pause for the weekend

Thousands of youth activists, Labour workers, Universities Staff union protesting against Fuel price hike in Nigeria.

Story highlights

  • Oil workers will resume their strike on Monday, union leader says
  • Meeting comes ahead of a planned shutdown of the Nigerian oil industry
  • An oil industry union gave the government an ultimatum to restore fuel subsidies
  • A decision to halt production would affect global oil prices
Nigerian unions resumed talks with the government Saturday following days of national protests over corruption and soaring fuel prices in Africa's largest oil producer.
The two sides met ahead of a promised labor shutdown of the Nigerian oil industry.
In solidarity with protesters, the oil union has threatened to stop production if the government does not reinstate subsidies that will return the cost of fuel to previous levels.
A decision to halt production would affect global oil prices; Nigeria is the world's eighth-largest exporter.
Throngs of protesters have rallied to demand government accountability and a return of fuel subsidies ended on January 1, a move that doubled gas prices and sent the cost of other goods skyrocketing.
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"This is not the first time the subsidy has been removed in Nigeria. For two decades, every single government has done this," said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the nation's finance minister. "There is a very short memory. It has always resulted in resistance and a strike and so on."
A deal had not been reached to avert the shutdown as talks stretched into early Sunday. While negotiations remained ongoing, one union leader said oil workers will resume their strike Monday.
Earlier, labor unions urged protesters to take a break from their five-day strike Saturday and Sunday to stock up on food and water supplies.
Stores and supermarkets shut down as part of the national strike were set to reopen over the weekend to allow protesters to get supplies, said Folorunso Oginni, chairman of the nation's oil union, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria.
Despite the strike suspension, the deadline to shut down oil production is still in effect unless the government and labor unions reach an agreement, he said.
The protests -- dubbed "Occupy Nigeria" -- have galvanized the continent's most populous nation.
Nigerians accuse their leaders of corruption and misusing oil revenues in a country where most citizens battle grinding poverty.
The government has said the removal will free funds to improve the country's infrastructure.
But there is a widespread lack of trust in the government to provide the infrastructure -- Nigeria is regularly ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world.
"It is to now to try to move this forward regain the people's trust. They cannot say because of mistakes in the past the country should not move forward," the finance minister said Friday.
In addition to the protests, the government faces another crisis -- religious attacks that have heightened fears of sectarian violence in parts of the country.