Nigerian Unions, President Prepare for Talks to End Fuel Strike

Posted January 14th, 2012 at 8:40 am (UTC-5)
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Nigerian unions are preparing to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan for talks that could put an end to ongoing strikes that have paralyzed Africa's top oil exporting nation.

Union leaders were set to meet in the capital of Abuja Saturday to agree on a negotiating position ahead of the talks with Mr. Jonathan.

The unions said Friday they were suspending their five-day old strike Saturday and Sunday but that the strikes could resume Monday.

Labor leaders gave different reasons for the suspension, with one saying that organizers want protesters to relax, then come back energized.

The French news agency reported many Nigerians have been rushing to stores and markets to stock up on food, but that many were confronted by food prices that had tripled in some cases.

Tens of thousands of people have been taking to the streets to express their anger over the removal of consumer fuel subsidies that caused fuel prices to double.

Previous talks among union leaders and Nigeria's president have made little progress.

A union of oil industry staff workers has threatened to join the strike beginning Sunday if the issue is not resolved.

Nigeria exports more than two million barrels of crude oil a day. Experts say it is not clear how much production would be affected by a strike, since much of the process is automated, but even a minor disruption could have an impact on the country's economy and affect global oil prices.

The government eliminated the subsidy January 1. Talk that the strikes could cause the county's oil industry to shut down have since caused world oil prices to climb.

President Goodluck Jonathan and his government eliminated the fuel subsidy on the grounds that Nigeria can no longer afford the $8 billion program. Mr. Jonathan has promised to use the money on infrastructure and social programs.

Most Nigerians live on less than $2 a day and the fuel subsidy was one of the few benefits they received from the country's oil wealth.

The United States said Thursday it was closely monitoring the situation. But State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the United States supports the right of Nigerians to protest peacefully. She said it was “incumbent on the government to encourage an environment that remains peaceful.”

Some economists have said the subsidy was wasteful, but protesters have alleged that government corruption and mismanagement are responsible for the oil-rich nation's sustained poverty.