Nigerian Unions Claim Victory in Fuel Subsidy Battle

Nigerian unions have called off a general strike that, with broad support from the public, crippled the country for more than a week after the government partially restored a crucial fuel subsidy. With the subsidy abandoned, the price of gas and other essentials more than tripled. While the protests were largely peaceful, at least 10 people were killed and hundreds wounded in the course of the strike, which began January 9.

“In the last 24 hours, the labor movement and its allies who had the historic responsibility of coordinating these mass actions have had cause to review the various actions and decided that in order to save lives and in the interest of national survival, these mass actions be suspended,” said the leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria in a joint statement. “We note the major successes Nigerians scored in these past days in which they rose courageously as a people to take their destiny in their hands.”

The new 60 cents per liter price is about one-third higher than it was before deregulation on January 1. Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan had said that the resulting $8 billion in savings from suspending the oil subsidy would be used to shore up infrastructure and improve health and education. But Nigerians saw the subsidy as their only benefit from the country’s vast oil wealth and feared that the profits would disappear to corruption. The unions had threatened to cut off oil production and shut down refineries but held off as negotiations were under way.

Jonathan also pledged to end what the unions call “massive and crippling corruption” in the oil sector. “The federal government committed to forensic audit of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and will work to eliminate acts of corruption,” said NLC spokesman Chris Uyot. “The government has agreed to form a special committee that will review all the issues that trade unions have raised concerning downstream oil production. Nigeria’s trade unionists will serve on that committee.”