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Rioting Breaks Out in Nigeria

June 8, 2000

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ Rioting brought Nigeria’s commercial capital to a standstill Thursday after last-ditch talks failed to avert a nationwide strike touched off by a 50 percent hike in fuel prices.

Protesting youths in Lagos barricaded roads and attacked commuter buses, halting traffic for several hours. Many people abandoned their vehicles and made their way on foot.

Traffic was similarly paralyzed in the southern cities of Abeokuta, Ibadan and Benin City.

Schools, offices and most banks were closed in major cities across Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Airports also shut down, Radio Nigeria reported.

Trade union members barricaded the main office complex in the capital, Abuja, and refused to let people enter. They were later driven away by police.

Armed police guarded Abuja’s gas stations, which were closed in the morning but opened in the afternoon, when long lines formed. In Lagos, the gas stations stayed closed.

``This has been the most successful strike action called by the labor congress for quite some time,″ said Lekan Aderibigbe, a Lagos school teacher. ``There is hardly any one in this city who will say he was not affected by the strike in one way or the other.″

However, oil production _ the country’s economic mainstay _ was not affected, industry officials said.

``Production, loading of vessels and all other essential services are going on uninterrupted,″ a spokesman for oil giant Shell said on condition of anonymity.

Government and labor leaders met throughout the night in Abuja, but failed to reach agreement to avert the strike by Thursday morning.

``We can’t afford higher fuel prices,″ said Adams Oshimole, president of the Nigeria Labor Congress.

The NLC, a union umbrella group, has called for an indefinite strike to protest the price hike, which increased the cost of gas from about 76 cents to $1.15 per gallon.

A government statement Thursday afternoon said authorities were prepared to reduce bring the cost of gas down to 95 cents per gallon, but could not restore it to original levels.

An exception was made for Kerosene, the main source of fuel for Nigeria’s rural poor, which could revert to its original price of 65 cents per gallon, the statement said.

President Olusegun Obasanjo says the government can no longer afford the $2 billion annual subsidy required to keep fuel prices down.

Nigeria, which has a foreign debt of $30 billion, is also under pressure from international lending institutions to deregulate and reduce price subsidies.

Labor leaders discussed the government’s latest proposal with their membership but rejected the offer, saying the strike would continue until last week’s decision was reversed.

The increase in the cost of major petroleum products prompted violent protests Monday and Tuesday in Lagos and other cities across southwestern Nigeria, which remains desperately poor despite the country’s status as the world’s sixth-largest oil producer.

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