msnbc.com news services
updated 10/31/2004 4:20:59 PM ET 2004-10-31T21:20:59

Nigeria’s umbrella trade union body, the Nigeria Labour Congress, decided on Sunday to hold the next in a series of general strikes to protest rising fuel prices on Nov. 16, the union president said.

Originally expected to start this week, the action in the world’s fifth largest oil exporter was put back by two weeks to avoid clashing with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, said Adams Oshiomhole.

“In deference to the Muslims, the foot soldiers, the strike is postponed to Nov. 16 and it’s going to be indefinite on account of the bitterness and anguish of all Nigerians,” he told reporters after a meeting of top unionists.

Slideshow: Conflict over oil in Nigeria Unions staged a four-day warning strike in mid-October to press the government to revert a 20 percent hike in pump prices, but the government has only offered soft loans to public transport companies.

The rise in fuel prices is a key part of the government’s economic reform program, but unions argue it has further impoverished the majority of Nigerians, who live on less than a dollar a day.

The most recent strike paralyzed most businesses including public transport, but the OPEC nation’s 2.3 million barrels per day of oil output and exports were unaffected.

Industry executives fear that oil operations could be affected by a prolonged shutdown, particularly if it is accompanied by civil unrest.

Shell in the crosshairs
Union leaders singled out Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Nigeria’s largest petroleum producer. They accused it of planning to try to block the strike in court.

“We have resolved to declare Shell an enemy of the Nigerian people,” Oshiomhole told reporters.

“Shell will be treated as an enemy. We have the capacity to engage them,” Oshiomhole said, without elaborating.

Shell officials would not comment on the matter and government officials could not be reached.

“The last time we did not target oil exports because we expected the government to listen,” Brown Ogbeifun, president of the union for Nigeria’s white-collar oil workers, told reporters.

“Now that the government will not listen, we have no option but to target exports,” Ogbeifun said.

Nigeria is the source of one-fifth of U.S. oil imports.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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