Nigeria Closes Down as Striking Unions Defy President About Fuel Subsidies

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Nigeria Shuts Down

Nigeria Shuts Down

Yvonne Mhango, an economist at Renaissance Capital, talks about Nigeria’s decision to lift fuel subsidies. She speaks from Johannesburg with Linzie Janis on Bloomberg Television’s “Countdown.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and striking unions are deadlocked over their demands that the government reverse its decision to lift fuel subsidies that more than doubled the price of gasoline.

The strike, which entered its third day today, shut down banks, businesses and ports across the West African nation, limited the trade in stocks and the naira and helped push up cocoa prices. While the action hasn’t slowed oil exports from Africa’s top crude producer, pumped by companies such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) and Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), it may have cost 320 billion naira ($2 billion) in economic output, said Bismarck Rewane, chief executive officer of Financial Derivatives Co.

“It’s mind boggling the cost” to the economy, he said by phone from Lagos today. “The foreign-exchange markets are down” and “the stock market is operating at about less than 5 or 10 percent of its optimal turnover and transactions.”

Jonathan, who won a four-year term in April, has pledged to use savings from the 1.2 trillion naira ($7.4 billion) subsidy to invest in power plants and roads in sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest economy. He’s also vowed to curb wages and create a sovereign wealth fund.

Credibility at Stake

“Any backing away from the issue now will raise quite profound credibility issues with the government,” Antony Goldman, the head of London-based PM Consulting, which specializes in risk analysis in West Africa, said in a phone interview yesterday. “If they get this through, maybe people will start believing the transformational agenda is something more than just rhetoric.”

Thousands of protesters marched through the streets of major cities, led by union leaders, displaying banners and signs denouncing Jonathan’s government and demanding the reversal of fuel-price increases.

Naira trading was limited for the third day, with the currency little changed at 162.05 per dollar as of 10:38 a.m. In Lagos. The Nigerian Stock Exchange All-Share Index (NGSEINDX) fell less than 0.1 percent to 20,900.19, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Yields on Nigeria’s 6.75 percent Eurobonds due 2021 declined 10 basis points, or 0.1 percent, to 6.015 percent, the lowest since Nov. 8, as of 9:43 a.m. in London, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Court Order

The unions’ defiance of an injunction the National Industrial Court issued against the strike last week “constitutes an open invitation to anarchy,” Attorney General Mohammed Bello Adoke said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. The government may withhold the pay of state workers who don’t honor their employment contracts, he said.

The northern state of Kaduna imposed a 24-hour curfew in its the capital to curb violent protests, Police Commissioner Bala Nasarawa said.

The strike began a day after Jonathan, 54, said the Boko Haram Islamic group responsible for attacks in the north had infiltrated his administration and threatened Nigeria with a situation worse than the 1967-70 civil war.

At least 11 people, including four policemen, were killed yesterday in attacks by suspected Islamic militants in the northern states of Yobe and Bauchi, police said.

The Senate will mediate between the government and striking labor unions to end the deadlock over removal of fuel subsidies, Senate President David Mark said today in a statement.

No Middle Ground

While Labor Minister Emeka Wogu told reporters in Abuja,
the capital, that “the option of dialog is still open,” Goldman doesn’t see much scope for compromise.

“I don’t know how much middle ground there is when neither side really wants to look like they’re making concessions,” he said.

Gasoline prices in Nigeria, where two-thirds of the population of about 164 million live on less than $1.25 a day, more than doubled after Jonathan abolished the subsidies on Jan.

1. The price had been capped at 65 naira a liter, undermining investment in refineries that forced the nation to import about 70 percent of its fuel.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, one of the country’s two main oil workers’ unions, urged Jonathan to compromise.

“If government doesn’t do something about the strike, then it will be shut by the weekend,” Babatunte Oke, a spokesman for the union, said by phone from Lagos.

No Oil Impact

Nigel Cookey-Gam, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, which has the second-largest oil operations in Nigeria, said by phone that “production and exports have not been affected by the strike.”

Precious Okolobo, a spokesman for Shell’s venture, which has the biggest operations in Nigeria, wouldn’t comment yesterday on the strike’s impact on production.

Nigeria produced an average 2.2 million barrels of crude a day in December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, and is the fifth-largest provider of oil imports to the U.S. At least 90 percent is pumped by Shell, based in The Hague, Exxon Mobil, San Ramon, California-based Chevron Corp. (CVX), Total SA (FP) and Eni SpA (ENI) in joint ventures with state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp.

“If the oil continues to flow then I think that the government would hope that it can face down the strikes and tough it out,” Goldman said.

Cocoa Rises

The strike forced Nigeria, the world’s fourth-biggest cocoa producer, to stop moving beans from farms for processing and grading, according to Robo Adhuze, spokesman for the Cocoa Association of Nigeria. Cocoa rose in London, heading for the biggest four-day gain in seven years.

Cocoa for March delivery climbed 0.5 percent to 1,552 pounds ($2,399) a ton by 10:10 a.m. on NYSE Liffe in London.

A.P. Moeller Maersk A/S (MAERSKB), the world’s biggest container ship owner, closed its office in Nigeria and all shipments are at a “standstill” because of the strike, Anders Boenaes, vice president of Africa services at Maersk Line, said yesterday in an e-mailed response to questions.

 

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