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Dock Workers Clash in Nigeria

September 9, 1999

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ Supporters of rival candidates in a recent union election clashed Thursday at Nigeria’s largest ports, and unconfirmed reports said five people were killed.

Witnesses at the Apapa and Tin Can Island ports, which are about one mile apart in the commercial capital of Lagos, said dock workers used cudgels, axes, machetes and other weapons in the bloody confrontation, which continued for more than two hours before riot police arrived.

The fighting diminished by early afternoon, though some clashes continued. Workers also smashed car windows and set tires on fire.

Local news reports said five people had been killed in the fighting, though that could not be independently confirmed. Bloody and injured workers were being taken away from the area for medical attention.

``The whole port was like a war front,″ said Ogbonna Anyadike, a worker at the Apapa port. ``Both (union) factions hired hoodlums who were smuggled inside the port to support them and for two hours the police did not have the courage to enter the port.″

He said workers who arrived before the riots began took refuge inside the ports’ many warehouses.

Banks and other offices located within the port area were hastily closed, and vehicles were detoured around the normally busy routes into the district.

The riots appeared to be linked to National Union of Dock Workers elections, held two weeks ago to select a new national executive. Results of the election of the 7,000 member union _ one of the nation’s most powerful _ had been contested by some members who said there had been cheating.

Witnesses said backers of the losing candidate attacked their opponents as they reported for duty early Thursday in what appeared to be a premeditated attack.

Later, reinforcements of heavily-armed police officers barred access to roads leading to and from the port area. Apapa and Tin Can Island handle more than 80 percent of the West African country’s import and export business.

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