By Camillus Eboh
ABUJA May 22 (Reuters) – A Nigerian union that defied a court ban to launch a general strike in protest at a hefty increase in fuel prices has suspended the industrial action after five days, its president said on Sunday.
The government hopes that removing costly fuel subsidies, causing prices to rise by up to two-thirds at the pumps, will help alleviate a fuel crisis that caused Africa’s biggest economy to contract by 0.36 percent in the first quarter of the year.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) decided to go ahead with an indefinite strike, which started on Wednesday, defying an order by the Nigerian Industrial Court to cancel the action due to the risk of civil disorder.
Ayuba Wabba, the NLC’s president, told journalists in the capital, Abuja, that the union had “resolved to suspend with immediate effect the action”.
“Congress will resume negotiations with government on the twin issues of the hike in electricity tariff and an increase in the pump price of petroleum products,” he said, adding that the union “remains committed to genuine dialogue”.
The NLC’s action had little impact nationwide. A second union, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), had also planned to take part in the strike but abandoned its plans in response to the court ruling.
A wave of strikes the last time Nigeria tried to cut fuel subsidies, in 2012, ensured that authorities eventually reinstated some of the subsidies.
A fall in oil prices has eaten into the foreign reserves of Nigeria, which relies on crude sales for around 70 percent of national income. The central bank has adopted a fixed exchange rate in an attempt to prevent further depletion of its reserves.
Last week, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said President Muhammadu Buhari had been “left with no choice” but to raise petrol prices.
Despite being a major oil producer, Nigeria has to import nearly all of its fuel as its refineries are largely out of action after years of neglect and mismanagement.
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