Nigeria–Oil Shutdown Starts

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The general strike in Nigeria entered its fifth day yesterday, as talks between President Goodluck Jonathan and trade union leaders failed to end the dispute over the axing of fuel subsidies.

The oil union Pengassan said yesterday it would begin shutting down crude oil production on Sunday if there was no deal with the government, while its counterpart Nupeng said it has withdrawn its workers from fields operated by companies such as Shell and Exxon.

Oil accounts for about 80 per cent of state revenue and more than 95 per cent of export income, according to the Finance Ministry.

The strike has shut the country down, closing ports and banks, and sparking massive street protests.

The cost of the strike to the economy is estimated to be more than $1 billion a day.

Talks are due to resume in the capital, Abuja, today, following ‘fruitful’ negotiations on Thursday, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) president Abdulwaheed Omar said yesterday.

He said the mass protests and rallies would be suspended over the weekend, but ‘there will be the mother of all crowds on Monday’.

The unions are demanding President Jonathan reverses his decision of January 1st to scrap 1.2 trillion naira ($7.4 billion) in fuel subsidies that more than doubled gasoline prices.

Gasoline prices in Nigeria, where two-thirds of the population of about 164 million live on less than $1.25 a day, which had been capped at 65 naira a litre ($0.40), leapt to over 140 naira ($0.86).

As the strike continued to bite, the price of crude oil for February delivery rose 87 cents to $99.97 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday morning.

The oil-producing West African nation imports about 70 per cent of its fuel.

Meanwhile, Cocoa prices have gained 8.2 per cent this week in London on concerns that the strike will stop shipments from the world’s fourth-biggest producer.

The strike has halted cocoa grading and transportation of the beans from farms, according to the Cocoa Association of Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) general secretary Abiodun Aremu said on Thursday that labour would not be distracted by the activities of ‘hoodlums’.

Aremu said: ‘Some of these attacks on innocent people are to weaken our resolve to continue with this protest.

‘We cannot be weakened and we must ensure that our purpose of starting this protest is fulfilled. If we remain resolute, we will win this battle.’

His statement came after an attack disrupted an NLC motorcade on its way to commiserate with the family of the late Abiodun Aderinto, who was killed by the police on January 9th during a protest in Ogba, Lagos.

The motorbike-riding thugs also robbed unsuspecting vehicle owners and passers-by.