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Thursday, 8 June, 2000, 18:02 GMT 19:02 UK
Nigerian strikers reject fuel offer
Lagos skyline
Lagos has been badly hit by recent fuel price hikes
Nigerian trade unions have rejected a compromise deal which the government had hoped would halt a national strike prompted by a fuel price rise.

The Nigerian Government, which originally announced a 50% price rise, has offered to reduce it to a 25% increase.

The concession given by government is unacceptable

Adams Oshimole, Union leader
The main oil workers' union has promised to join the strike, which has already closed schools, hospitals and banks.

The strike is a test of strength for the unions - which have re-emerged in the past year following the return to democratic rule.

Presidential spokesman Doyin Okupe said the compromise reflected President Obasanjo's belief "in upholding the tenets of democracy" and appreciation of the widespread outcry that greeted the increases in petroleum product prices.

But after several hours of talks with the main trade union body, the leader of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Adams Oshimole, rejected the offer.

"The concession given by government is unacceptable, so we shall continue with our strike until the president listens to labour," Mr Oshiomhole said.

Strike set to grow

Last week the government raised the price of petrol from 20 to 30 naira per litre ($0.20-$0.30).

The NLC is demanding an outright return to the old price of 20 naira per litre.

The main oil union, the white-collar PENGASSAN, says it will also go on strike on Friday over the fuel increases.

Union spokeswoman Chinwe Owete said: "The strike will go ahead tomorrow. Whatever work they [members] are doing, they'll have to down tools."

PENGASSAN members mainly process crude oil export documents. Oil companies have in the past deployed management staff to fill in for striking union members.

Ghost cities

On Wednesday a general strike call by the unions led to the closure of banks, schools and hospitals across the country.

The indefinite strike call was widely observed in the south-west, with the centre of the commercial capital, Lagos, virtually deserted.

Major protest areas in Nigeria
Witnesses said protesters were barricading roads into the main business districts. Similar scenes were reported in Ibadan.

In the capital, Abuja, and in the northern city of Kaduna, businesses were reported to be open as usual, although government workers obeyed the strike call.

But oil officials said the oil industry was unaffected with production and loadings continuing.

Hot issue

The price of petrol and diesel has long been one of Nigeria's hottest political issues.

The country has large oil reserves and its production costs are low, so Nigerians have come to see very cheap petrol as their right - the one certain benefit they get from their national oil wealth.

Attempts in the past to raise the price have brought an angry reaction on the streets.

And this dispute has also become the first real test of trade union strength since the return to democracy a year ago.

General Sani Abacha's military dictatorship crushed the Nigerian Labour Congress.

Now it has revived, and this strike, over a popular issue, will show how much support it can command.

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08 Jun 00 | Africa
Nigerian strike takes hold
25 May 00 | Africa
Nigeria's year of turmoil
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