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Oil Union Leaders Urge Continued Strike, Call For International Support

August 25, 1994

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ Oil union leaders appealed today to all nations to support the struggle to bring down Nigeria’s military rulers and prevent a ″catastrophe, the magnitude of which is unimaginable.″

The plea, carried as full-page advertisements in leading newspapers, was the first public statement by labor leaders since last week, when ruler Gen. Sani Abacha ordered their arrest and they went into hiding.

The leaders made no specific demands. But there have been rumors Washington is considering a trade embargo and a freeze of Nigerian state assets in the United States.

The United States is Nigeria’s biggest customer of crude oil, the main export in this nation of 90 million people.

″The cooperation of the international community at this crucial moment will spare the entire world a catastrophe, the magnitude of which is unimaginable,″ the statement said.

It was signed by Bola Owoduni, president of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association, and Wariebe Agamene, president of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers.

The leaders also urged workers to press on with their oil strike, now in its seventh week.

″Nigeria is too big to be turned into another Rwanda,″ they warned. ″There will be no war crime tribunal or refugee centers big enough to accommodate the impact of a Nigerian tragedy.″

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous with 250 tribes who speak dozens of languages, has been in turmoil for more than a year.

Newspapers and politicians predict that unless the military surrenders its 11-year grip on power, the country will degenerate into conflict worse than the Biafran secessionist war that claimed 1 million lives from 1967 to 1969.

Federalists backed by Britain, the colonial power until independence in 1960, defeated eastern secessionists from the Ibo tribe who were supported by France.

The crisis began when the military annulled a June 12, 1993, election to end its rule. Results coming in showed an overwhelming victory for business tycoon Moshood K.O. Abiola.

Abiola’s support cut across the tribal and regional divisions and a victory for him, a southerner, would have ended traditional northern dominance of Nigeria’s politics, economy and military.

Abiola was arrested after he declared himself president to mark the anniversary of the election and is awaiting trial on treason charges.

Oil workers went on strike in sympathy on July 4, and have succeeded in crippling the economy.

Abacha’s regime has taken a hard line, arresting dozens of opponents, including labor officials, politicians and retired generals and shutting down newspapers.

On Monday, Abacha fired his army and navy commanders, both northerners, indicating his iron-fisted tactics have even alienated some at the highest levels of the military.

Petroleum exports account for more than 90 percent of Nigeria’s export earnings and 80 percent of government income.

The government has asked retired oil workers and graduates of geology and engineering to sign up for possible employment and there were rumors this week that officials were considering hiring foreign workers to replace the strikers.

Strikers have threatened to attack expatriate workers and to sabotage oil installations.

The United States and the European Community introduced limited sanctions after the election was annulled, including refusing to give visas to the rulers or their families.

The National Democratic Coalition, a London-based group of Nigerian politicians and retired generals, last week asked for tougher sanctions but did not specify oil.

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