Cablegate: The Impending Strike: The View From Lagos

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) The looming showdown between the unions and the GON
over fuel deregulation in Nigeria is about more than the fuel
price. Anecdotal comments from people in Lagos tell us they
are very angry about the way the price increase was
implemented without any direct announcement, as if the
government was hoping citizens wouldn't notice. As one
officer of a civil society organization said, "it was done in
the most annoying way possible." We're told it somehow seems
symptomatic of the general disrespect on the part of
President Obasanjo for the Nigerian people ("he treats us
like we're harlots: use, then ignore," said one political
contact). The issue also brings focus to strongly held
feelings about the corruption and unfairness of Nigerian
society. One worker said "poor people like us are pressed
for every last Naira for fuel, while retired generals smuggle
whole tanker loads of it." This being Obasanjo's last term,
we have been told a number of times, a massive money grab is
underway by the rich, and increasing the fuel price must have
something to do with it.


2. (SBU) Acting Econ Chief and visiting INR officer saw the
presidents of both petroleum unions NUPENG and PENGASSEN
midday Friday October 3. Neither union is as yet committed
to a strike, but NUPENG President Peter Akpatason was more
forward leaning ("...all signals indicate a strike").
PENGASSEN President Ogbeifun Louis Brown said its strike
policy would be determined by its umbrella organization, the
TUC, which will meet the week of October 6 (date TBD).
NUPENG's strike position will most likely be locked in
Saturday, October 4, when the NLC meets in Ibadan. Although
they are members of different umbrella labor groups, the
positions of the two unions had much in common. The
interests at stake for both are much broader than the price
increase itself. Both referred us to a two-part "ultimatum"
they have given the GON: (1) one week to respond to their
request for a dialogue on petroleum policy, and (2) an
explanation of the government's position on "the issues of
price adjustment, maintenance of the refineries, ports and
other infrastructural development in the downstream sector as
well as the planned privatization of NNPC..."

3. (SBU) We asked both unions what the threat conveyed in
the ultimatum actually was; the text refers to "any action we
might deem fit...," but neither could tell us what "action"
that might be. Despite outraged references by both unions to
the price hike, both were quite prepared to see substantially
higher prices if that is what it would take to make domestic
Nigerian refineries viable. The clearly evident bottom line
was to secure the employment of their members in the
refineries. If the public had to pay above market rates in
consequence, so be it. It was noteworthy that neither union
president knew what current world prices for petroleum
products are, nor what prices in other west African countries
are (in both cases, much higher than in Nigeria).

The Yoruba View

4. (SBU) Acting Econ Chief and visiting INR officer also
visited a senior officer in Afenifere, the principal Yoruba
organization, for his views on the impending strike. He was
about to leave for the midday meeting between Lagos' civil
society organizations and the NLC, but told us that on Monday
the country "would be ungovernable," and that violence would
break out far more quickly than it did in July. The "area
boys" (street thugs) would take immediate advantage of the
situation to loot vehicles and make travel impossible. For
him too, the point of the confrontation with the government
was not really the price increase, but rather rampant
corruption and Obasanjo's dismissive attitude toward the
public. He worried, though, that a serious confrontation
could be employed by the military to return to power, with
some real public support.


5. (U) There is in addition a brand new irritant: the
banning from Victoria and Ikoyi Islands (in daylight hours)
of danfos, the dilapidated orange minivans on which the
overwhelming majority of Lagos residents depend. In their
place is an as yet limited fleet of city buses. From the
narrow, technocratic perspective of the transportation
planner this may make sense; lots of small, noisy vehicles
replaced by large buses, fares paid to thousands of
individual operators replaced by fares paid to a state
operation. The timing, however, reflects an almost surreally
bad sense of judgement; the ban was implemented on the same
day as the fuel price increase, and now disgruntled crowds
gather at the control points where the danfos are halted
waiting for onward transportation that will cost nearly twice
as much. Not nearly enough buses are available yet.


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