1. (SBU) Summary: Chima Ubani, Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), told us that labor and civil society leaders meeting on October 4 and 6 decided to begin a two-week general strike on Thursday, October 9. Demonstrations will be held on Thursday in Lagos, Abuja and Kano, with additional demonstrations slated for the Southeast. A similar scenario is expected for Monday, October 13, but the demonstrations' intensity may be undercut by the possible absence of one or both of the two petroleum unions, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN). Conversations with the unions' presidents late on October 6 suggested that the unions are under pressure to strike but are actually willing to work with the GON to resolve the deregulation issue. End summary.
STRIKE AND DEMONSTRATIONS: NOT A REPEAT OF JULY
2. (SBU) Ubani said labor organizers and their civil society partners learned important lessons from the "fizzled" strike in July 2003 and are determined not to have a repeat performance. The October 4 and 6 meetings of labor and civil society leaders resulted in the formation of an umbrella organization called the Labor Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) (Ref C) and the creation of a national framework for the strike and demonstrations. Local meetings to detail, "fine tune" and set up a "framework for location control" were also set in motion. LASCO, he says, has planned for a two-week action. Ubani recognizes that two weeks is a long time; the "actual period will be determined on the ground," he said. Demonstrations have been organized for Lagos, Abuja and Kano, and others may be held in Enugu, Port Harcourt and Awka, Anambra State. According to Ubani, Lagos will be the "national center" of demonstrations, with most taking place on the mainland in Yaba and Ikeja with possible rallies in Mushin and Akegbala. Ubani did not believe Lagos Island, Ikoyi or Victoria Island would see demonstrations and noted that without many vehicles traveling, it would be difficult for demonstrators to reach the islands.
THE PLAYERS AND THEIR ANNOUNCEMENT
3. (SBU) Ubani named four national leaders who are in charge of LASCO demonstrations: Adams Oshiomole, President of the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), Bamidele Aturu, President of United Action for Democracy (UAD), Dr. Jibirin Ibrahim, President of the Citizen's Forum for Constitutional Reform, and Mr. Didi Ododo, General Secretary of the Congress of Federal Trade Unions (CFTU). Aturu will hold a press conference Tuesday morning to announce the planned demonstrations in Lagos and call on the general public to participate. (Note: CLO is affiliated with UAD, the umbrella human rights organization that won prominence fighting the Abacha regime. CLO was then and is still considered one of the prominent leaders of the Nigerian human rights community.) Ubani said that LASCO would wait to see how the government responds to the announcement but reported that LASCO would probably forge ahead with its plans.
TO STRIKE OR NOT TO STRIKE, THAT IS THE QUESTION
4. (SBU) Ubani reported that a long list of actors in the Nigerian trade union arena was set to strike on Thursday. He included NUPENG and PENGASSAN, but conversations late on October 6 with Peter Akpatason, President of NUPENG, and Ogbeifun Louis Brown, National President of PENGASSAN, suggest that the petroleum unions are not fully committed to a strike. Akpatason identified NUPENG's attitude as "middle of the road" and open to a two- or three-month discussion with the GON on "modalities of deregulation," which NUPENG supports in principle. When asked if the NLC and other groups would strike without NUPENG, Akpatason said, "labor can't argue with us; it's our industry. A few (unions and groups) will not be happy, but we think we can bring them around to our position." Brown spoke in a distressed tone about wanting to "help the government and Nigerian people" by finding scenarios to address the issue of fuel price. Brown wants a six-month "emergency structure" to assess the downstream sector and repair the Port Harcourt and Warri refineries.
BURNING TIRES AND VIOLENCE AGAIN?
5. (SBU Ubani does not believe that the demonstrations will be violent. He said local thugs or "area boys" would not be a factor in the demonstrations, mostly because "area boys are only able to take over when there's no leadership. Once you have action called by a known platform with visible leaders, area boys have no position to unleash violence. The only violence will be from police if they react poorly." Ubani also doubts that demonstrators will attack vehicles, not because they won't want to, but because there won't be many cars out there.
6. (SBU) Comment: The CLO and other civil society groups appear committed to the strike, but they seem more upset by the manner in which the decision to deregulate was taken than with deregulation as an economic policy. Ubani characterized deregulation as an "unlawful action of the President in collusion with gas marketers" and called for the GON to reset the fuel price at 34 naira per liter. This, of course, is unlikely. Demonstrations will probably take place with or without PENGASSAN or NUPENG, but their legitimacy and strength may be undercut by the petroleum unions' absence. End comment.