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Cablegate: Obasanjo, Oil Marketers Win Over Labor and Civil

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 LAGOS 002330

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE, BUT UNCLASSIFIED
PASS GURNEY, LONDON AND NEARY, PARIS


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB EPET PGOV PHUM SOCI NI XY
SUBJECT: OBASANJO, OIL MARKETERS WIN OVER LABOR AND CIVIL
SOCIETY

REF: (A) LAGOS 2200Q(B) LAGOS 2322


(SBU) 1. SUMMARY Labor and civil society have lost steam and
will not strike over fuel deregulation; however, there have
been some rumblings from oil sector labor unions over the
proposed privatization of the nation's refineries (SEPTEL).
President Obasanjo appears to have successfully stymied the
strike movement by transferring the public anger over fuel
deregulation onto oil marketers and threatening to cut the
National Labour Congress (NLC) off at the knees by amending
the Trade Unions Act of 1996 (Ref B). END SUMMARY


CIVIL SOCIETY BAILS
-------------------


(SBU) 2. POLOFF spoke with Bamidele Aturu, co-chairman of the
Labor and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), on November 3 to
discuss LASCO's future plan of action. Aturu had cooled down
his previous remarks (Ref A) and was repeatedly vague and
non-committal about strike action, preferring to discuss the
nature of Nigerian democracy in broad terms as opposed to the
specifics of deregulation. It is clear, however, that LASCO,
of which NLC is a member, does not favor strike action at
this time. POLOFF pressed Aturu on his previous comment, "If
Obasanjo doesn't come to the table, we will compel him to."
He conceded that Obasanjo has not come to the table, but
asserted that civil society members "are not soldiers and do
not carry arms, therefore we must use the modicum of public
opinion. Once we do this, people will begin to see reason."
He identified public symposiums and lectures as means to
educate the people on the perceived ills of fuel
deregulation. Aturu renewed his criticism of Obasanjo for
"putting the cart before the horse" by essentially
deregulating the down stream sector via executive order
without public debate, bypassing democratic institutions as a
mechanism for public policy change, and ignoring civil
society as a stakeholder.


(SBU) 3. POLOFF questioned Aturu whether LASCO could motivate
the public behind another focused issue, as it was able to in
October with fuel deregulation. He half-heartedly mentioned
Local Government Area (LGA) reform as an issue he felt the
people would rally behind. (Note: LGA elections that were
to occur in April 2002 were postponed to August 2002 and now
have been indefinitely postponed, causing much concern and
criticism, especially in the volatile Niger Delta region. End
note.) Aturu further expressed the need for civil society to
continue dialogue with GON officials and the public to
address the continued democratization of Nigeria, a general
position that is echoed by NLC officials, showing a
consistent calculation not to commit to future action. This
may also reflect the reality that traditional civil society
has not been able to motivate the public behind one cause
since the fall of the Abacha regime without the muscle and
prestige of the NLC.


(SBU) 4. J. I. Akinlaja, General Secretary of the National
Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG),
discussed deregulation with POLOFF on 4 November. Akinlaja
echoed both Aturu's sentiments on deregulation and his
cautious demeanor. In a meeting on October 31, the NLC
membership voted not to strike over the issue of fuel
deregulation. Instead, Akinlaja, who also serves as the Vice
President of the NLC, said that labor would assess the
situation during the month of November and then decide on
their next action. In the interim, LASCO representatives and
concerned Nigerians would be visiting each of the 36 states
to observe the effects of deregulation on the people.
Akinlaja showed particular concern for the rising costs of
petroleum products and other basic goods. The NLC reportedly
solidified this position in a letter to Obasanjo on 6
November.


(SBU) 5. COMMENT Obasanjo appears to have yet again mastered
the Nigerian political game -- at least stage one of the
battle over fuel deregulation. He has forced through public
policy on his own terms and successfully diffused much of the
criticism by diverting it onto the oil marketers, claiming
that the GON no longer had a role in the price of fuel. In
addition, he was able to prolong political maneuvering and
lull LASCO into coming to the negotiation table -- avoiding a
strike and sucking the wind out of their sails. As a result,
labor and civil society have not been able to successfully
rally the public behind their cause as they had done in early
October. Their continued non-committal pattern and not
seizing upon opportunities to strengthen their position by
disrupting high level international events, such as the All
Africa Games and the upcoming December 8 Commonwealth Heads
of Government Meeting (CHOGM), appear to reflect a desire to
not rock the boat too hard. (Note: NLC Chairman Adams
Oshiomole in a press interview on November 7 stated that NLC
would not target CHOGM. End note.) In essence, labor and
civil society are talking the talk, but not walking the walk.
END COMMENT
HINSON-JONES

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