BY DOUG LORIMER
Nigeria remains locked in a general strike, after talks between the government and the country's main trade union federation, the Nigerian Labour Congress, broke down on July 3. "The strike continues", declared NLC president Adams Oshiomhole, after the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to withdraw its decision to increase fuel prices by 50%.
The fuel price hike, decreed on June 20, has sparked protests in which at least eight people have died.
On July 2, Reuters reported that troops were called in, after police failed to disperse strikers who were attempting to shut down market traders in the capital city of Abuja.
"Soldiers immediately started firing tear gas and live ammunition in the air", a Reuters reporter on the scene said. "There was a big stampede. Market women were running in all directions and many people were injured."
That same day, riot police used tear gas and fired in the air when some 3000 protesting university and high school students occupied a major street in the south-eastern oil city of Port Harcourt.
The general strike has paralysed economic activity and transportation in Nigeria, the world's eighth biggest oil exporter and Africa's most populous country, with 120 million inhabitants.
"This is not about the price of petrol. People see the increases as taxation by a government in which they have no confidence", analyst Bismarck Rewane of the Lagos-based Financial Derivatives Company told Reuters.
Since his election in 1999, Obasanjo has presided over deepening poverty and massive unemployment, which have fueled a rising tide of ethnic, religious and political violence that has killed more than 10,000 Nigerians.
"Over 90% of Nigerians live below the poverty line, there is a high level of hunger and strife", Daniel Onjeh, president of the National Association of Nigerian Students, told Agence France Presse. Onjeh, whose organisation supports the general strike, described the fuel price rise as "unconstitutional, wicked and malicious".
"The current campaign of the labour movement is not a trade dispute but a popular campaign aimed at opposing an obnoxious policy of prohibitive fuel price increase that will sentence the people to increase poverty", Oshiomhole told reporters on June 28.
From Green Left Weekly, July 9, 2003.
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