Economic, social and government activities in Nigeria were grounded on Wednesday, at the start of a nationwide strike called by labour unions to protest a state-imposed hike in fuel prices.
In the capital, Abuja, police dispersed a rally in support of the strike which was being addressed by Adams Oshiomhole, president of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the umbrella labour union, and took him into custody.
Reports from across the country said schools, banks, shops and offices shut down while transporters withdrew their vehicles leaving the streets deserted. Most people stayed at home to avoid likely outbreaks of violence. In Abuja and the commercial capital, Lagos, heavily armed policemen patrolled the streets in anticipation of violent protests and breakdown of law and order.
The strike took effect at the end of a seven-day ultimatum issued by the NLC, demanding that President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government reverse an 18 percent to 25 percent fuel price increase that took effect on 1 January.
The government described the strike action as illegal and urged Nigerian workers and the general public to ignore the NLC directive to strike.
"Any act of intimidation and harassment, including barricading of gates, locking up of offices and preventing workers from carrying out their lawful duties will be dealt with," a statement, signed by Secretary to the Government, Ufot Ekaette, said.
But a defiant Oshiomhole vowed the strike would go on "until further notice". He said attempts to discuss labour’s grievances with the government were rebuffed by President Obasanjo, who said the price increases were "irreversible".
Since his election in 1999, Obasanjo has sought to increase fuel prices as part an economic liberalisation package agreed with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In June last year, the government effected a 50-percent increase, but was forced to reverse it after a one-week general strike called by the NLC.
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