The union of Nigerian oil and gas workers have Thursday threatened to begin shutting down production of Africa’s top crude oil exporter. This came on the fourth day of a nationwide strike as workers continue to protest the removal of oil subsidy.
The union is demanding that the government return petrol prices to 65 naira per litre ($0.40, 0.30 euros), the price before January 1 when the oil subsidies were removed, which has made gas prices skyrocket overnight, causing transportation and food costs to rise as well for a nation where most live on less than $2 a day.
A labour official meanwhile announced union leaders were to meet President Goodluck Jonathan later in the day for the first time since the strike began on Monday and the petroleum minister signaled there was room for compromise.
Union officials and analysts have said shutting production would only be done out of desperation due to the damage it could cause to a country that derives some two-thirds of government revenue and more than 90 percent of export earnings from the industry.
According to president of the PENGASSAN oil workers union, Babatunde Ogun, “From Sunday we are shutting down.” describing the decision taken by the organisation.
The strike and protests have already put the government under mounting pressure as it also seeks to stop spiralling attacks blamed on Islamist group Boko Haram — with the violence even sparking some to evoke the possibility of civil war.
Nigeria exports around two million barrels per day and is a key supplier of crude to the United States and the European Union.
An official with one of Nigeria’s main unions said labour leaders were due to meet with the president at 5:00 pm (1600 GMT) Thursday after earlier holding talks with lawmakers.
The country’s petroleum minister declined to say whether reversing the removal of subsidies was a possibility, but clearly signaled there was room for negotiation.
“I think, at all times, we have asked that the door for dialogue should remain open,” Diezani Alison-Madueke told journalists after meeting Jonathan.
She added that “no government would stand up and put itself through a sort of onslaught that we have been put through if they did not believe that what was to come is far better for the country than what has already passed.”
Government officials and economists say removing subsidies was essential and will allow the $8 billion per year in savings to be plowed into projects to improve the country’s woefully inadequate infrastructure.
But protests across the country pressed ahead, with large crowds denouncing the government move to end subsidies, which Nigerians view as their only benefit from the country’s oil wealth.
In Lagos, the largest city of Africa’s most populous nation, a crowd of over 10,000 packed a park which has become the main protest site in the economic capital.
Some watched from atop a bridge, as a truck of protesters drove by the crowd chanting “Ole! Ole!” (thief in the local Yoruba language).
However, the president insists that removing the subsidy was necessary to save the country an estimated $8 billion a year — money which he promises will go toward badly needed road and public projects. But protesters do not trust the government, saying it should first cut corruption in a nation where military rulers and politicians have stolen billions of dollars.