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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 August 2007, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Nigerians divided over bakers' strike
By Fidelis Mbah
BBC News, Lagos

Bread sellers
Nigerians are divided over the bakers' strike
When Nigeria's bakers announced they would be shutting down their bakeries for a week it alarmed many Nigerians because bread is the staple food of Africa's most populous nation.

The Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria stopped bread production across the country on Tuesday night, in protest against the rising cost of flour.

Bakers say that once the strike ends they will increase the price of a loaf of bread by about 15%.

At the moment, the strike appears to be having the greatest impact in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital. But other cities are expected to join in as the bakers say the strike is intended to be nationwide.

The strike follows President Umaru Yar'Adua's refusal to call on flour makers to reduce the cost of flour - which recently went up from 3,000 Nigerian naira ($23) per 50kg bag, to about 4,000 naira ($31) per bag.

The decision to shut down the bakeries was painful but inevitable, said a spokesman for the bakers in Lagos, Lateef Oguntoyinbo.

Flour mill operators increased their prices in May after the government announced an increase in value added tax (VAT).

'Market pressures'

The Nigerian public is divided over the bakers' strike with some people describing it as "selfish and uncalled for" while supporters of the strike say it will keep prices down in the longer term.

Auwaly Nguru
I sympathise with the bakers, but they are missing the point
Auwaly Nguru
Bread retailer, Abuja
"The strike is absolutely shameful and shows no concern at all for the common man," says Idris Umar, a roadside bread seller in the capital, Abuja.

"Bread is the common man's food and now even that is being taken away. It's just sad."

But Kola Ajayi, who manages a bakery in Abuja, disagrees and says the bakers are just responding to market pressures.

He says his bakery is not joining the strike because, "our association has not written to ask us to join the strike".

Mr Ajayi, however, disagrees with the calls on President Yar'Adua to intervene in the crisis, saying the problem comes from the flour millers rather than the government.

Another Abuja-based bread retailer, Auwaly Nguru, says the strike is unpopular and is bound to fail.

"I understand the arguments for the strike and I sympathise with the bakers, but they are missing the point by trying to transfer the problem to the consumer," he says.

Inuwa Umar, another roadside bread seller says business is normal in Abuja. He says he is happy with the strike decision.

"If the bakers win, it would be a win for the Nigerian bread consumer because it'll mean lower bread prices," he says.

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