Nigeria unions to decide on fuel subsidy strike

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Nigeria’s umbrella trade union will meet later on Wednesday to decide whether to call a nationwide strike in response to the government’s lifting of fuel subsidies, which has already triggered a wave of protests.

Protesters shut petrol stations, formed human barriers along motorways and hijacked buses in Nigeria’s biggest city Lagos on Tuesday in anger at the shock doubling of fuel prices, and one demonstrator was reported shot dead in the country’s west.

The fuel regulator announced the end of fuel subsidies on Sunday under sweeping economic reforms meant to improve fiscal discipline in Africa’s biggest oil-producer.

Most Nigerians see the subsidy as the only benefit they derive from living in an oil rich nation, which nevertheless has to import most of its refined petroleum at great cost to the Treasury.

“We are meeting this morning on the fuel subsidy removal. We’ll hold a press conference by 2 p.m. (1300 GMT) to announce our decision to Nigerians,” said Owei Lakemfa, general secretary of the National Labour Congress (NLC), which has threatened mass demonstrations.

Protests also occurred in other parts of Nigeria on Tuesday, including Kano in the north, the Niger Delta in the southeast and in Ilorin, Kwara State, in the west, where the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) said one man was shot dead, but police did not confirm or deny it.

There were no further reports of demonstrations on Wednesday.

Economists say the subsidy filled the fuel tanks of middle-class motorists at the expense of the poor, encouraged corruption and waste, and handed over billions of dollars of government cash to a cartel of wealthy fuel importers.

But removing it pushed pump prices to 150 naira per litre from 65 naira overnight.

“Look at my fuel tank,” said taxi driver David John, pointing at a half full fuel metre in his green Toyota Camri. “That was 3,500 naira. Last week that was enough to fill the whole tank.”

The subsidy removal is part of an effort to cut Nigeria’s exorbitant cost of government, a flagship policy of Jonathan and his economic management team, alongside fixing the broken power sector and reducing waiting times for goods at ports.

The government estimates it will save 1 trillion naira this year.

The International Monetary Fund has backed the move.