Two Nigerian unions suspend strike after president cuts fuel prices

Nigerians have taken to the streets to demand the return of fuel subsidies in Africa's most populous nation

Story highlights

  • Nigerian Joint Action Front calls for continued strikes over fuel subsidy
  • The Nigeria Labor Congress suspends strikes and protests, citing progress
  • President Goodluck Jonathan announced a reduction in fuel prices on Monday
  • Nigeria has been wracked by protests for more than a week over the end of a fuel subsidy

Two Nigerian labor groups suspended their nationwide strike Monday over the elimination of the country's fuel subsidy and urged demonstrators to go home "in order to save lives and in the interest of national survival.

The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress cited successes gained by demonstrators, including an announcement Monday by President Goodluck Jonathan slashing fuel prices, in its announcement suspending the strikes.

"In the past eight days through strikes, mass rallies, shutdown, debates and street protests, Nigerians demonstrated clearly that they cannot be taken for granted and that sovereignty belongs to them," NLC President Abdulwahed Omar and Peter Esele, president of the Trade Union Congress, said in the statement.

But a third organization, the Joint Action Front, issued a statement deploring the suspension and urging continued strikes and protests until the government agrees to restore gas prices to what they were before the government ended the subsidy.

"Nigerians should not be discouraged by the abrupt and unwarranted suspension of strike by its Labour partner; neither should the militarization of the protest centers deter Nigerians in their resolve to rid the polity of this class of looters and profiteers that are responsible for mass poverty, unemployment, social insecurity and untold hardships of the majority of Nigerians," JAF Secretary Abiodun Aremu said in the statement.

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In an earlier statement on the group's blog, Aremu said the group and a related organization, the Labor and Civil Society Coalition, had decided Sunday that they would continue their strikes and mass protests after talks with the government failed.

"However early this morning, our joint leadership advised Nigerians to continue the strike but (said they) should stay at home in view of the resolve by the Federal Government to unleash violence on Nigerians who want to exercise their right to protest and procession," Aremu said in the statement.

The Joint Action Front is part of the National Labour Congress and has organized many of the protests and rallies against the government's decision to end the fuel subsidy.

On Monday, the government deployed troops in Lagos, and military forces set up armed checkpoints at most key bridges and along major roads. Eyewitnesses told CNN that police and the army were not allowing protesters into demonstration zones, but there were no confirmed reports of violence.

Scattered demonstrations began in Nigeria after Jonathan announced on January 1 that the government would end the popular fuel subsidy, which was widely seen by citizens as one of the few perks of living in the oil-rich but largely impoverished nation of more than 160 million people.

The government has said the removal of subsidies would free up billions of dollars to boost the economy and improve the country's infrastructure.

The removal caused the price of fuel and other goods to spike and became a rallying point for Nigerians angry over corruption and the alleged misuse of oil revenues in a country where most citizens battle grinding poverty.

Fuel that had cost about 65 nairas (40 cents) before the subsidy was lifted rose to 141 nairas (86 cents).

On Monday, after more than a week of protests, Jonathan announced in a speech that the government would reduce fuel prices to 97 nairas (60 cents) per liter. He cited "the hardships being suffered by Nigerians."

Aremu rejected the Nigerian government's concession and said his group would only accept a return to prices before the government cut the fuel subsidy.

"The people have every right to tell the presidency and this class of looters and profiteers that Nigeria belongs to Nigerians," Aremu said.

It was unclear Monday whether the Nigeria Labour Congress or the Trade Union Congress would accept the fuel-price cut and call for a permanent end to the strikes and protests.

Last week, a major oil union, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, had threatened to halt production in solidarity with protesters if the two sides didn't reach an agreement.

A move to halt production would reverberate on the global market. Nigeria is the world's eighth-largest crude exporter.

Charlie Robertson, a chief economist at the global investment firm Renaissance Capital, said earlier this month that a subsidy removal could help Nigeria in the future.

"If they're prepared to try this petroleum subsidy removal then perhaps they can push through electricity reform, too. If they do that, Nigeria's growth can be, instead of 7%-8% a year, 10% or 11%," Robertson said.

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.

Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said Nigerians should not let the past determine the future. She said the goal now is to regain the citizens' trust and move forward.

"They cannot say because of mistakes in the past the country should not move forward," she said.

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