How to respond to strikes

Published: Sunday 30 November 2003

-- Nigerians have developed a unique response to strikes, as was seen on October 6, 2003. Thousands of panic-stricken people besieged banks to withdraw money and stockpile food even as the Nigeria Labour Congress (nlc) announced another round of action, to protest a 12 per cent hike in fuel prices.

At a meeting held over the weekend, the nlc insisted the price rise had negated an earlier agreement between them and government, in which the price of petrol had been fixed at 34 Naira (34 us cents) per litre, and that of diesel and kerosene at 32 Naira (32 us cents) per litre. After the increase, fuel operators shut down their filling stations, to create artificial scarcity and force new prices. As a result, a litre of petrol now cost up to 45 Naira (45 us cents) in Lagos, and 100 Naira (one us dollar) in the northern state of Bauchi.

While the government denied it had approved the increase, what caused the cost of fuel to jump by 12 per cent was a move by the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency -- a state-run agency -- to lift subsidies on petroleum products. Adams Oshiomhole, nlc president, expressed bitterness over government's decision to renege on the agreement reached in June. This was before the last industrial action in July. "If for eight days Nigerians made all the sacrifice just to be able to communicate to their president that they cannot afford this level of price, it is shocking that government would re-introduce the same price hike three and a half months later, and this time even in a manner more annoying," he said. Since he came to power in 1999, president Obasanjo has increased fuel prices by 275 per cent. Oshiomhole was also surprised that government took such a decision while the All-Africa Games had begun on October 4. The Games cost Nigeria an estimated us $700 million to host.

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