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NIGERIA-STRIKE Jan-13-2012 (400 words) With photo. xxxi

Nigerian bishops call for negotiated end to nationwide strike

By Peter Ajayi Dada
Catholic News Service

LAGOS, Nigeria (CNS) -- The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria called on the Nigerian government and organized labor to negotiate a settlement to a crippling nationwide strike.

The bishops expressed concern Jan. 12 that "things seem to be deteriorating by the day" as the country endured the fifth day of a work stoppage that at times erupted into violence.

A union representing 20,000 oil and gas workers threatened to shut down all production starting Jan. 15 to join the strike.

The strike began Jan. 9, a week after the government ended a fuel subsidy. Pump prices shot up by as much as 300 percent overnight, leading to higher prices for consumer goods and services.

A meeting between Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and leaders of the Nigerian Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress late Jan. 11 failed to resolve the impasse. Another meeting was scheduled for Jan. 13.

Archbishop Felix Alaba Job of Ibadan, conference president, signed the statement, which called for the parties to use restraint and to take steps to return the country to normal activities.

"All parties claim that they have the welfare of the poor in mind, but as we can see, it is actually the poor who are caught in the crossfire," the bishops said.

The bishops condemned the violence that erupted during the strike. They said they were concerned that the strike had been "hijacked by rogues, hoodlums and persons that have other interests apart from the nation's in mind."

"What started out as an expression of our democratic right and the opportunity for ordinary people to make inputs into policy affecting them has unfortunately turned rather ugly and is looking like the dialogue of the deaf," the statement said.

While the bishops said they support removal of the fuel subsidy, they suggested that it might be reinstated in part and then implemented in stages to lessen the impact on average Nigerians.

The bishops also commended the move by Jonathan to cut salaries of elected officers and political appointees by 25 percent. "But we think it is not enough," they said.

"We think this is the time Mr. President can cut corruption from the roots by ordering massive cuts in the fringe benefits that are even above the salaries -- sitting, travel, hospitality and all forms of allowances that make politicians and government officials financial overlords on the poor citizens," the statement said.

END


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