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Fuel Strike Paralyzes Nigeria

Published: 11/01/2012 01:34:09 PM GMT
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LAGOS - Tens of thousands of Nigerians took to the streets in a second day of a nationwide strike on Tuesday, January 10, against the elimination of fuel subsidies in Africa's most populous nation. If we have to starve to (more)

LAGOS - Tens of thousands of Nigerians took to the streets in a second day of a nationwide strike on Tuesday, January 10, against the elimination of fuel subsidies in Africa's most populous nation.

"If we have to starve to make the president reverse his decision, I will do it," Musa Abdullahi, a 43-year-old iron worker in Kano, told Reuters.

"This strike is about every Nigerian and the future of our nation.

“Every government has told us that more money on petrol will better our lives in the long term, but nothing changes."

Thousands gathered outside the labor union headquarters in Lagos and marched to the marina that runs along its wide lagoon.

Oil workers were also on strike and the offices of international companies such as Shell and Exxon Mobil were shut. But Shell and the state oil company said output was unaffected.

A group of youths set up a road block of burning tyres on the main bridge over the lagoon connecting Lagos's two islands to the mainland, shouting at cars to turn back.

"The betrayers in government must free us from slavery," one placard read.

Police fired live rounds into the air to disperse a crowd in the middle-class Lagos suburb of Lekki, but most protests, many guarded by riot police, were peaceful.

On Monday, thousands of Nigerians took to the streets nationwide to protest the subsidy elimination.

Police shot dead two people in the northern city of Kano who were helping to pull down the walls around Government House, the seat of the state governor, according to witnesses and hospital staff.

The police said one person had been killed in that incident.

Police spokesman Yemi Ajayi said a policeman who shot dead a protester in Lagos on Monday had been arrested.

"If he is culpable, he will be charged. It could be (murder), but that depends on what the investigation discovers."

The Nigerian government last week eliminated fuel subsidies as part of efforts to cut government spending and encourage investment in local refining.

But the decision has sparked popular anger in the oil-producing country, with trade unions threatening strikes to force the government to reconsider the decision.

Strikes have forced previous governments into u-turns on fuel subsidy cuts.

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Analysts believe that the strike adds to the woes of President Goodluck Jonathan, who is facing an Islamist insurgency in the north.

"The strike is the first true test in policy terms of the Jonathan presidency. They chose the issue and the timing," Antony Goldman, Nigeria specialist and head of London-based PM Consulting, told Reuters.

"If they prevail, the prospects for reform in other delicate areas - the constitution, oil and gas, revenue - all improve.

Jonathan has been under fire over attacks by the radical group Boko Haram against churches and police institutions in the north.

“If the strikers prevail, the administration's credibility is massively damaged. If oil exports are not hit, the government will hope the thing just peters out," said Goldman.

Jonathan has said he will not back down and the strikes will test his resolve.

Many Nigerians see cheap fuel as the only tangible benefit they derive from an oil-rich state where corruption bleeds billions of dollars from state coffers.

Critics say wealthy politicians could have found savings within government first and tackled oil industry corruption.

Despite its huge oil wealth, Nigeria is forced to import costly refined fuel because it lacks its own capacity.

Hopes are that the new pricing regime will prompt investment in oil refineries and reverse disrepair caused by decades of corrupt mismanagement.

The subsidy also encouraged smuggling into neighboring nations such as Benin and Cameroon where fuel is more expensive.The government estimates it will save 1 trillion naira ($6 billion) this year by eliminating the subsidy.

Reproduced with permission from