Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Container Ports Return to Work as Shipping Queues Lengthen and Police Raid Agency Offices

Nigerian Strike Ends Whilst Freight Vessels Wait and Corruption Allegations Pursued
Shipping News Feature

NIGERIA – After a week of countrywide stoppages the general strike was called off yesterday after a move by the government designed to appease the mass of protestors whilst still clinging to a shred of credibility. The unrest caused the cessation of all export and import freight as ports and container terminals closed to shipping leaving dozens of cargo vessels moored to await instructions, just one factor which helped increase the inflation that was hitting the populace as deliveries of essentials dried up or doubled in price.

Port operations are expected to return to normal today as companies fight to catch up with the backlog of ships despite some rerouting to alternative destinations. Last week Maersk Line issued a statement saying 60% of its West African traffic was routed through Nigeria and that eight of its container vessels alone were affected by the strike.

Politically Prime Minister Goodluck Jonathan, elected on a wave of optimism, has seemingly lost credibility with the man in the street after withdrawing the fuel subsidy on petrol which enabled drivers and road haulage operators to buy fuel for as little as $1.50 per gallon. Removing the subsidy immediately imposed a price of as much as $3.50 which prompted an immediate backlash and now the Government has partially restored the subsidy resulting in price of around $2.30 at the pumps.

The Government argues that much of the money, around $7.50 billion per annum, it spent on the subsidy was being siphoned off before reaching consumers in a country where corruption on such a massive scale is hardly unknown. Jonathan argued that the money would be better spent on infrastructure improvements but his reversal may well have sounded his political death knell.

Within a day of announcing the reversal state authorities raided the offices of the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) taking away documents in an effort to prove wrongdoing. The effect of the change of policy has confused opposition groups with some labour unions claiming outright victory whilst others see it as a partial defeat and are arguing for more action to see the full subsidy returned countrywide.

Photo: Lagos Ports and container terminals were closed as thousands marched through the streets.