[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 June 2007, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Strike bites in Nigerian cities
A police officer talks with striking workers at a barricade
Police have cleared some barricades set up in the capital
Nigeria's main cities are reported to be very quiet on the first day of a general strike called by trade unions.

Office blocks are empty in central Lagos, with long queues at petrol stations. Schools and offices are shut in the northern city of Kano.

Police have cleared some barricades in the capital, Abuja, set up by strikers.

The government offered concessions on fuel and value-added tax rises on Tuesday, but the trade union federation said it was "too little, too late".

Nigeria's Labour Congress also want the government to reverse the sale of oil refineries.

Strike voices
"Today's action is a boom for my business" Abuja bus driver

The strike is seen as the first major test for new President Umaru Yar'Adua since he took over last month.

The BBC's Alex Last in Lagos says that for the strike to really hurt the government, it has to have an impact on the oil industry which provides 90% of its revenues.

Local staff at oil companies in the Niger Delta have joined the strike, but it will probably be some time before oil production is affected.

In the past strikes have not lasted long.

The government has already reached a separate deal with oil and transport unions who went on strike last Friday, leading to fuel shortages.

Bus fares doubled

Correspondents say in major cities, most schools, banks, businesses and government offices are closed.

Those who are in power don't really know how the people feel
Taiwo Ogunloye
Lagos resident

Lagos's streets are deserted and there is no public transport in Abuja where some strikers set up barricades to stop other traffic.

Police either dismantled the barricades or directed cars around them. At one barricade a small bonfire was lit by the strikers.

The unions were angry at a series of measures pushed though in the last days of the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, who stepped down last month.

The price of petrol was increased from 65 naira (51 US cents) a litre to 75.

The government has now reportedly offered to reduce this to 70 naira (55 cents).

Transport fares have doubled in some areas following the fuel price hike.

The government has also offered to increase civil service salaries by 15% - another union demand.

Our reporter says that subsidised fuel is one of the very few benefits Nigerians have seen from their oil wealth since the government has failed to provide even basic services.

This is why the unions are insisting in a complete reversal in the fuel price rise.

"Those who are in power don't really know how the people feel," Lagos resident Taiwo Ogunloye told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

He said he would join in the strike and stay at home and watch TV "as long as there is light", he said.

Tough choice

Dino Mahthani, West Africa correspondent of the UK's Financial Times, told the BBC that the government was stuck between a rock and a hard place on the refineries.

Nigeria's new President Umaru Yar'Adua after he is sworn in - 29/05/2007
The strike could be Umaru Yar'Adua's first real test

He says that despite being a major oil producer, it has hardly any refining capacity because the equipment is in such a poor state.

To give the owners an incentive to put money into the refineries, the government should stop subsidising the price of fuel, he says.

But this would lead to a lot of angry people in the cities, who would accuse the government of making their lives harder, he says.

A further complication is that the new owners are among the richest people in the country, with strong links to the ruling party.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer but had to import most of its petrol because of the poor state of its refineries.


RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites




FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific