Deadline Looms for Nigerian Fuel Deal

Protests will halt over the weekend, but the pressure is on for the Nigerian government and union leaders to come to an agreement before Monday.

Posted: 01/13/2012 04:04 PM EST
Dedline Looms for Nigerian Fuel Deal Decision

Nigerian government officials and representatives from labor unions are slated to meet this weekend in an attempt to find common ground about rising fuel prices that have spawned crippling strikes and sent throngs of Nigerians into the streets in protest.

Widespread demonstrations began last week when the government announced the formal end of a popular fuel subsidy that made gas affordable for much of the population for nearly two decades. Without the government assistance, fuel prices stand to increase nearly 50 percent — leaving a critical resource out of the reach of many. The Nigerian government contends that the $8 billion saved from the removal of the subsidy will be placed in infrastructure projects.

Ahead of the weekend summit, labor union officials called upon members and supporters to refrain from protesting this weekend, and instead, rest up for renewed demonstrations on Monday, should the talks be unsuccessful.

"The labor movement and its civil society allies after nationwide consultations has decided that Saturday and Sunday will be observed as strike, protest and rally-free days," a joint statement from Nigeria's main labor unions said.

"We ask Nigerians to utilize these days to rest, restock and get re-energized for the continuation of the strikes, rallies and protest from Monday."

Much is at stake for the meetings as the government has much more to worry about than simply controlling angry demonstrators. The subsidy decision has also sparked widespread strikes that have brought many Nigerian cities to a standstill and have all but shut down the country’s largest airport.

Most concerning however is the petroleum association’s vow to stand in solidarity with the protesters, threatening a shutdown of all oil production until the subsidy is reinstated. Nigeria receives 90 percent of its foreign exchange revenue from its oil exports and produces more than two million barrels of crude oil per day.

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