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As Fuel Skyrockets in Nigeria, Activists Direct Anger at Government

  • Nick Loomis

Police watch as people protest after the government suddenly removing subsidies on gasoline prices in Abeokuta, Nigeria, January 5, 2012.

Police watch as people protest after the government suddenly removing subsidies on gasoline prices in Abeokuta, Nigeria, January 5, 2012.

Police in the Nigerian city of Kano have used tear gas to break up protests against the government ending a popular consumer fuel subsidy.

This comes a day after the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) called for a nationwide strike next week to pressure the government to reverse its decision. The government says that a strike will only make things worse.

In the five days since the government removed the subsidy, the price of gas has increased two to three fold nationwide. Abdulwaheed Omar is the president of the NLC. He says that is too much of a shock for impoverished Nigerians.

"The immediate generalized negative impact of this price increase on transport costs, food, drugs, school fees, and rent indicates that the government is totally wrong to underestimate the impact assessment of the so-called deregulation policy."

He refers to the government's long-standing plan to do away with the subsidy, which was widely viewed as wasteful and frought with corruption. A 2009 agreement between the government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities stated that the subsidy would be removed when certain conditions were met, such as increased refinement capability that would eliminate the need to export the country's crude oil and import refined fuel.

Minister of Information Labaran Maku says the government cannot not wait.

"Presently, we have saturated the capacity of the government to service even the domestic debt. We are borrowing the entire capital budget. Completely borrowed. And also, part of the subsidy that we were expending was from the banks. So if we continue on this line, in another one-and-a-half years, the economy will tumble."

With the subsidy gone, it is now up to the average Nigerian to pay much of the fuel tab while earning less than $2 per day, and most have refused. Strikes and protests have spread to at least 10 cities this week. At a protest in Lagos on Wednesday, political activist Dipo Fashina said the government's intentions are not what they say.

“The evidence is that one, it wants to force on the people punitive measures, punitive prices they are not willing to accept. Two, this government is bent on selling out Nigeria," the activist said.

The government says that Nigeria's economy, the third fastest-growing in the world according to the IMF, will eventually compensate for the rise in fuel costs, and asks that people be patient and go back to work. But many in the oil-rich country say they do not have the time or the means to wait.

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