Jonathan Meets Planned Strikes in Nigeria With Cuts in Salaries, Costs
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said executive-branch politicians will take a 25 percent pay cut amid labor union plans for a nationwide strike to protest scrapping of fuel subsidies that more than doubled gasoline prices.
The government will reduce overseas traveling and all ministries and departments must cut costs in 2012, Jonathan said, adding that he won’t restore the subsidy.
Trade unions called an indefinite nationwide strike Jan. 9 and threatened to shut down ports, fuel stations, banks and oil operations in Africa’s largest crude producer if the government fails to restore the fuel subsidies. Jonathan abolished 1.2 trillion naira ($7.4 billion) of subsidies on Jan. 1, promising to use the savings to boost investment in power plants and roads in Africa’s most populous nation. Nigeria imports more than 70 percent of its fuel because of a lack of refining capacity.
“If I were in your shoes at this moment, I probably would have reacted in the same manner as some of our compatriots, or hold the same critical views about government,” said Jonathan. “But tough choices have to be made to safeguard the economy and our collective survival as a nation.”
The government will start a mass-transport program tomorrow and will employ 10,000 youths per state under a public-works program, creating a further 370,000 jobs, Jonathan said today on state television. That will include the rehabilitation of railway lines from the southern cities of Lagos and Port Harcourt to northern Kano and Maiduguri, he said.
Earlier today, Owei Lakemfa, general secretary of the Nigeria Labor Congress, said by phone from Abuja, the capital, that the strike is still on. The National Industrial Court of Nigeria ordered unions to stop the planned strike, the Associated Press reported yesterday. “The court order has not been served,” Lakemfa said.
Oil workers will join the strike called by the Trade Union Congress and NLC, Nigeria’s two main labor federations, according to Babatunde Ogun, president of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, or Pengassan, which represents about 24,000 workers.
Nigerian ports will remain open next week and their workers won’t strike, Michael Ajayi, spokesman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, said by phone yesterday from Lagos. Still, Channels TV reported that the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria will join the general strike Jan. 9.
Jonathan held an emergency meeting late yesterday in Abuja with governors of 36 states to discuss measures that can help ease higher prices.
“The governors agreed with the president that we are going to carry on with the removal of subsidies,” said Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, chairman of the Governors’ Forum, in an e-mailed statement today. “This is a sacrifice we have to make as a country.” Money saved from the subsidy will be spent on improving transportation, Amaechi said.
Nigeria’s House of Representatives in Abuja will hold an emergency session tomorrow at 3 p.m. local time to discuss the fuel subsidy removal, Monima Daminabo, a spokesman for the National Assembly, said by phone today.
The U.S. embassy said in a statement on its website that its citizens in Nigeria should have food, water and fuel for at least three days in case the protests shut down shops and services. Air travel may be disrupted, it said.
“Even though organizers state their intent to stage peaceful strikes and protests, there is the potential that some events may become confrontational and escalate suddenly into violence,” the embassy said in the statement.
Fuel stations in Lagos run by the state oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corp., are selling gasoline at 138 naira a liter (0.3 gallon), up from a previously capped 65 naira. In Abuja, Forte Oil Plc stations in the center of town were selling gasoline at 139.8 naira per liter.
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