Nigerian Oil Workers Shut Depots in Fuel Strike U-Turn

Blue collar workers in Nigeria's oil industry made a U-turn on plans mapped out for an ongoing nationwide fuel strike, shutting fuel depots across the country Wednesday.

The depots supply petroleum products to filling stations nationwide. The plan by the central labor organization, the Nigeria Labour Congress, which called the strike, had been for workers in the oil industry not to participate in the first leg which ends Thursday.

Their white collar senior colleagues also declared Wednesday that they were waiting for directives to shut crude oil flow stations and other facilities in the upstream sector of the oil industry from where Nigeria exports its 2.68 million barrels of crude oil daily.

President of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association, Louis-Brown Ogbeifun, said consultations were continuing with the Nigeria Labor Congress on whether to join the strike.

Labor leaders called the strike to protest Septembers increase in the pump prices of petroleum products, arguing that it would unleash further hardship on the already impoverished citizenry.

Meanwhile, a Federal High Court in Abuja struck out a motion filed by the Nigerian government seeking to stop the strike.

The court had earlier refused the application by labor seeking to restrain government from effecting any increase in the price of petroleum products.

Presiding judge Justice Roseline Ukeje directed the two parties to go to the Court of Appeal to pursue their case, declaring: "This court is functus officio- it can do nothing in this case and therefore refuses to make any further declaration on the matter."

Ukeje gave her ruling after the close of submission by counsel to labor, Femi Falana, and that of government, Seeni Okunloye.

In a judgment she delivered on September 21, in a suit filed by government, Ukeje had restrained labor from embarking on a strike and from protesting against any government policy which did not relate to the terms and conditions of their employment.

The judge had also in the September judgment held that the position of the labor congress president, occupied by Adams Oshiomhole, was not recognized by any statute.

As a result, petroleum marketers increased prices of petroleum products. Labor in turn gave the government two weeks' notice, which expired Monday, of a strike if the prices were not reverted.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, Falana filed an appeal at the Abuja Court of Appeal on behalf of labor challenging the judgment.

He also filed another motion before Ukeje seeking a stay of execution of her judgment pending the determination of the appeal.

Counsel for the government countered with a "motion on notice" seeking an order of the court directing labor to give an undertaking not to go on strike or flout the court's September 21Iorder.

Alternatively, the government asked the court to refuse to entertain all or any application from labor until it had withdrawn its intention to strike.