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Nigeria’s Oil Strike Collapses

September 5, 1994

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ Thousands of oil workers ended a devastating 2-month strike today. Union leaders had complained the public didn’t support their attempt to restore democracy to Africa’s most populous nation.

The collapse of the strike was a victory for Gen. Sani Abacha’s military regime. Oil sales provide 90 percent of Nigeria’s export revenues, and fuel shortages paralyzed much of its faltering economy.

″We are fully back at work today,″ said Diji Egwaoje, chief of press relations for Shell-Nigeria, which produces more than 50 percent of Nigerian petroleum.

Strikers returned to work before a planned meeting today by union leaders to formally declare an end to the walkout. Reports indicated nearly all of the 100,000-strong petroleum work force were at their posts this morning.

Developments in the strike drove international oil prices up and down over the past two months. They rose last week after Oil Minister Umar Baba confirmed the strike had cut Nigeria’s production by about 29 percent.

Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil producers and a member of OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Output fell by 300,000 barrels a day in August to an average of 1.47 million barrels a day, the Middle East Economic Survey, an industry newsletter based in Cyprus, reported today.

Egwaoje, the Shell-Nigeria spokesman, said he did not know when full production would resume.

″The engineers are moving in to assess our equipment after a long state of disuse,″ he said.

Union leaders and strikers were disillusioned by the lack of public support.

″We have done our best,″ Arthur Onoviran, spokesman for one of the striking unions, told The Associated Press on Sunday. ″We knew when it started that it was up to all Nigerians to save the country and not the oil workers alone.″

Oil workers went on strike July 4, crippling this nation of 90 million people with fuel shortages.

They demanded that Abacha transfer power to Moshood K.O. Abiola, a business executive widely believed to have won a 1993 presidential election that was annulled by the military.

Abiola was arrested June 23 after he declared himself president to mark the anniversary of the election and is awaiting trial on treason charges.

The respected Nigerian Medical Association said Abiola is critically ill in jail, suffering severe high blood pressure.

The association, which represents more than 10,000 doctors, threatened today to take ″appropriate exceptional measures″ if Abiola is not released for treatment by Saturday. It issued no specific threat, but doctors said they were considering going on strike.

Abacha’s government has said only the courts can free Abiola. But officials have been unable to persuade a judge to hear his case.

The strike paralyzed business with fuel shortages and cut exports of crude oil that provide 80 percent of government income. Labor leaders said they halved Nigeria’s exports of 1.6 million barrels a day. The government said exports were cut by 465,000 barrels.

Abacha responded to the strike and subsequent pro-democracy protests and riots by banning the leadership of the oil unions and arresting dozens of labor leaders and human rights activists.

Some activists were attacked by unidentified gunmen in what critics called state terrorism, and the government last week threatened to hunt down labor leaders in hiding.

In the past few days the government began importing fuel, hiring new workers and persuading some strikers to return, easing fuel shortages at home.

The biggest oil refinery at Port Harcourt, which had been sabotaged by strikers, was back on line at 60 percent capacity Friday. The other refineries at southern Warri and northern Kaduna, also were reported producing again. By the weekend, at least one oil company, Total, reported all its workers were back.

Onoviran suggested that politicians were being bought off by the regime.

″The political class has been particularly compromising,″ he said. ″It would seem Nigerians are content, or at least too passive to do their own bit″ to end military rule.

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