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Nigerian Oil Union Nupeng to Start Strike Tomorrow

Aug. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Nigerian oil workers grouped under the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, or Nupeng, plan to start a national strike tomorrow to protest delays in subsidy payments to fuel importers and retailers, an official said.

“The strike is going ahead tomorrow as planned,” Isaac Aberare, general secretary of the union, said today by phone from Lagos, the commercial capital. Officials of the union, which represents junior oil workers, will discuss the dispute later today in Abuja, the capital, with Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a meeting that could possibly head off the walkout.

Africa’s top oil producer depends on fuel imports to meet domestic needs and pays importers the difference between regulated prices and import costs. In January, the two biggest trade unions in the country organized a week-long strike when President Goodluck Jonathan tried to scrap the subsidy. The protests shut down businesses and threatened oil production, forcing the government to partially reinstate it, raising the gasoline price to 97 naira a liter, or $2.35 a gallon, from 65 naira.

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Nigerian unit, the second-biggest operator in the West African country after Royal Dutch Shell Plc, doesn’t expect the strike to have an impact on its output, spokesman Nigel Cookey-Gam, said today by phone. Charles Ebereonwu, a spokesman for Total SA’s in Nigeria, declined to say if the strike will affect production. Calls to Tony Okonedo, Shell’s spokesman in Nigeria, didn’t go through.

Threatening Jobs

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, or Pengassan, which groups manager-level oil workers, won’t join tomorrow’s strike, Babatunde Oguns, the president, said today. “We cannot stampede the government to pay monies that have not been verified.”

Long lines of cars formed today at fuel stations in Abuja and several other cities as many fuel retailers shut down, citing lack supplies from importers.

Delays in making the payments are threatening the jobs of thousands of workers who are members of Nupeng, prompting the decision to go on strike, Achese Igwe, president of the union, said today on Lagos-based Channels Television.

Nigeria recommended a criminal investigation of 25 fuel importers suspected of using false claims to receive payments under the government’s subsidy program, the Finance Ministry said.

“Some of the companies claimed payments for consignments brought in by ships which investigations revealed were either non-existent or were somewhere else in the world,” it said today in an e-mailed statement.

The ministry said on Aug. 16 that fuel importers and retailers in Nigeria threatening a strike over unpaid subsidy bills are trying to force the government to pay unverified claims. Importers alleging they haven’t been paid are trying to “blackmail” the government in order to avoid sanctions for fraudulent claims, it said, referring to allegations of false claims by importers.

A parliamentary committee said in April the government paid 1.1 trillion naira illegally to importers between 2009 and 2011.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elisha Bala-Gbogbo in Abuja at ebalagbogbo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dulue Mbachu at dmbachu@bloomberg.net

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