Nigeria oil workers call off strike

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The Independent Online
LAGOS (Reuter) - The sacked leaders of Nigeria's striking oil unions yesterday suspended their two-month stoppage which was called to force an end to military rule.

Arthur Onoviran, the spokesman for the white-collar oil workers' union, Pengassan, said his organisation and the blue-collar union, Nupeng, had 'decided to suspend the strike in the interest of the suffering masses of Nigeria, the economy and the oil industry'. 'We have asked all our members to resume work immediately and from tomorrow they should all be back to work,' he added. Mr Onoviran said an official statement would be issued later.

Nupeng launched the strike on 4 July and was joined two weeks later by Pengassan. The unions want the military government to free and install the detained presidential claimant Moshood Abiola. Mr Abiola, a wealthy businessman widely believed to have won last year's annulled poll, is on trial for treason for proclaiming himself president.

'We are still saying the government should release Abiola and all political detainees including our own members so as to allow for dialogue,' Mr Onoviran said.

According to the Nigerian Medical Association, Mr Abiola is seriously ill in detention, a development it says portends grave consequences for the nation.

The action by the two oil unions, with a combined strength of about 200,000, disrupted fuel supplies, bringing Nigeria to a virtual standstill.

Crude oil production was cut by nearly 25 per cent and world oil prices rose to a 15- month high on fears of disruption to Nigeria's export of about 1.6 million barrels per day of crude.

The military ruler, General Sani Abacha, last month sacked the oil union executives and ordered the oil workers back to work. Those in the state oil firm heeded the order but many others held out with the sacked executives insisting the strike continued even as its effects started waning. Oil industry sources said the leaders had been under pressure from members to end the stoppage because it had gone on for too long and was losing its impact.