21 January 2004
Nigerian union leaders have suspended strike action after the government announced it was temporarily withdrawing a controversial tax on gasoline. The developments follow a court ruling that said hearings would begin on the dispute next Monday.
The head of the Nigerian Labor Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, says that since the government has agreed to stop what he calls an illegal collection, Nigerians should resume work.
He made the comment after a meeting with other union leaders in Lagos. But Mr. Oshiomhole warned that union leaders could revise their stance if the government revives the tax.
"We are suspending the strike until such a time that the government reintroduces," he said. "If the government reintroduces illegal collection Monday, the strike will resume on Monday. If they put it on hold for one year, the strike will be put on hold for one year. We therefore want to call on Nigerian workers, and Nigerian people, the masses, that they should now be free to resume work, and we want to formally put on record our gratitude for the confidence, for the trust, for the support."
Wednesday, many Nigerian bank workers, civil servants and shopkeepers stayed home amid confusion about whether the general strike against the tax was under way.
The developments follow an appeals court ruling in the capital, Abuja, on Tuesday, which said the strike planned to start Wednesday had to be suspended and that the government had to withdraw the gasoline tax. The court said the dispute will be resolved at hearings starting next week.
The government immediately said it would abide by the ruling. Government lawyers said they looked forward to the hearings to debate their case.
The one cent tax on each liter of gasoline, started being implemented on January 1. The government says it is needed to pay for highway maintenance. But union leaders said the move was illegal because it was not approved by lawmakers.
The government has responded by saying the tax is part of overall reform efforts to make the large Nigerian oil sector more efficient.
The increase in gasoline prices that began last year with an end to subsidies has angered many union leaders, who insist that Nigerians should continue to have access to cheap gasoline.