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ECONOMY-NIGERIA: Nationwide Strike Suspended

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Jan 21 2004 (IPS) - The Nigeria Labour Congress announced Wednesday that it was suspending a nationwide stay away that had been called to protest against a fuel price increase.

The strike was scheduled to begin today (Jan. 21). However, a court of appeal in the capital, Abuja, last night ordered the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to withdraw its call for a stay away. This followed government’s appeal of an earlier judgement that the strike could go ahead.

In the latest court decision, Justice Ayo Salami said the strike action could not proceed before Jan. 26, the date which has been set aside for hearing the government’s appeal.

Salami also ruled that authorities had to rescind a fuel levy of one cent (1.5 naira) that has raised the cost of petrol in Nigeria to 30 cents a litre since the start of the year.

Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration promised to abide by this ruling, with the President saying, "For peace to reign in any society, the rule of law must be adhered to."

"Since government has agreed to remove the pain (fuel levy), we have agreed to suspend the strike and return to work," said Adams Oshiomhole, President of the NLC.

He added, "If they (government) put the tax on hold for one year we are ready to also put the strike on hold for one year, but if government returns the tax, we will resume the strike."

The NLC announced the suspension of the strike at midday. Earlier, there was less traffic than usual on the streets of Lagos, and fewer passengers in the city’s buses.

The bonfires, impromptu games of football and placard-carrying workers that usually characterise Nigerian stay aways were also absent, however.

While previous mass protests have seen clashes between law enforcement officers and youths who often seize the opportunity to provoke trouble, the presence of substantial numbers of riot police in Lagos was a mere formality today. No violent incidents were reported.

The early hours of the stay away appear to have been less successful elsewhere in Nigeria. Joe Akande, a civil servant in Akure – capital of the Western State of Ondo – told IPS, "There was no strike here. We heard on network news yesterday night that the strike has been suspended because of the court ruling."

In Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State, the stay away was partially observed.

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