Nigerian unions launch general strike

LAGOS/ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s main unions launched an indefinite nationwide strike on Thursday in a dispute over the minimum wage but a spokesman for the state oil firm, which is crucial to the economy, said there was no evidence its operations were affected.

Talks between President Muhammadu Buhari’s government and unions broke down on Wednesday and the strike aims to raise pressure on the government to produce a minimum wage proposal.

Unions want the monthly minimum wage raised to around 50,000 naira ($164) from 18,000 naira.

Buhari had vowed to review the wage due to a fuel price hike and currency devaluation in the last two years aimed at countering the effects of a plunge in global oil prices.

He plans to stand for a second term at an election next February and his economic record will come under scrutiny, given previous pledges to raise living standards, tackle corruption and improve security.

Evidence for the strike was patchy. Government offices were shut in the capital, Abuja, while most of the city’s banks were closed but witnesses said the commercial capital Lagos was largely unaffected.

A spokesman for Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation said he had seen no sign the strike was affecting production, while Cogent Ojobor, a leader in the Niger Delta region for the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, said: “No oil company is affected for now.”

At the same time, the general secretary of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Lumumba Okugbawa, said: “We are not shutting down production.”

Oil is a mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, which is the biggest in Africa.

South African telecoms company MTN sent a text message to staff telling them to work from home until further notice due to the strike.

Last year Nigeria emerged from a recession, its first in a quarter of a century. Growth remains fragile and consumer spending is yet to recover in a country where the United Nations estimates that most people live on $2 a day or less.

Analysts said the strike could derail the recovery and even tip the country back into recession if it is prolonged.

Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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