AFP. 1 February 2002. In first for Nigeria, police start strike in
several cities.

LAGOS -- In a first for Nigeria, police have gone on strike for better
pay and conditions in several cities nationwide, forcing banks to close
over fears they will be robbed and sparking traffic chaos in Lagos.

According to police, witnesses and state-run Radio Nigeria, thousands of
police officers below the rank of inspector went on strike in Lagos and
other cities around the country.

The strike is illegal under Nigerian law, which bars trades unionism in
the police force.

But discontent over pay and delayed promotions is rife within the force,
which is on the frontline of the fight against crime in the country.

In Lagos, the country's commercial capital, many banks shut early on
Friday or never opened for fear that robbers would take advantage of the
absence of police from the streets to stage a heist, banking sources

"Normally, we have two police at the door of the bank but today they
failed to turn up," said one banker, who spoke on condition that his
bank was not identified.

Traffic police also appeared to have been withdrawn from much of the
city, causing worse than usual traffic problems.

In Abuja, the political capital, the strike was not being followed, said
an AFP correspondent in the city.

But Radio Nigeria reported police were on strike in places as far apart
as the southern state of Cross River and northern Nigeria's Taraba and
Adamawa states.

In Taraba, police were patrolling but were not standing guard at public
buildings and banks, Radio Nigeria said.

Police Affairs Minister Stephen Akiga announced Friday that the
government had recently released five billion naira (44 million dollars)
for police backpay and urged the striking policemen to return to work,
Radio Nigeria said.

Femi Oyeleye, deputy national police spokesman, told AFP the police
national command was still trying to assess the situation.

"Reports are coming in from some states that policemen are on strike...
We are trying to collate these reports, verify them and take an
appropriate position," he said.

All police commissioners across the country had been "directed to ensure
that there is no problem" as a result of the action, he said.

The police said Thursday they had arrested four officers in central
Nigeria whom they described as "dissidents" and "ring-leaders" of the

Deputy Inspector General of Police Bukar Ali told reporters Thursday no
strike would be tolerated.

The four arrested Thursday, one inspector and three sergeants, would be
prosecuted and dismissed from the force, he said.

"I'm going to dismiss them ... We are not going to tolerate it. Our law
does not allow (trades) unionism in the Nigeria police. So you have to
channel your request through the proper authority," he said.

"I'm going to deal with them ruthlessly."

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Barry Stoller

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