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Nigerian Government in Frantic Effort to End Nationwide Strike

  • Douglas Mpuga

There is a semblance of calm in Nigeria as a nationwide strike and demonstrations are suspended for two days. Labor leaders say organizers want protesters ‘to relax,’ then come back energized on Monday.

Tens of thousands of people have been taking to the streets to express their anger over the removal of consumer fuel subsidies that caused fuel prices to double.

Meanwhile, Nigerian unions are preparing to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan Saturday for talks that could end ongoing strikes that have paralyzed Africa's top oil exporting nation.

“Life is returning to normal in Abuja [the capital],” said Obiora Ani, a political reporter with the Voice of Nigeria. “Businesses are open and people are going about their business except today is Saturday and banks are not open.”

Many Nigerians have been rushing to stores and markets to stock up on food, but many were confronted by food prices that had tripled in some cases, according to reports from Africa’s most populous nation.

Ani said government is making attempts to convince union leaders to call off the strike. “The meeting is in progress although there are still disagreements on the proposed price of fuel.”

According to analysts, protesters — who joined the current nationwide labor strike against the elimination of oil subsidies — say the government is in no position to ask people to sacrifice given extravagant government spending and a history of widespread theft of billions by military rulers and politicians.

“It has been like frustration has been building up,” said Ani, “Over the years there has been this issue of corruption in government; the money the leadership spend on themselves. This labor strike was like an opportunity for people to vent their anger.”

He said even some politicians, especially those who lost in the last elections, have taken advantage [of the labor strike] to settle old scores. “They have hired miscreants to cause chaos and to campaign against the government.”

Ani noted that the government’s decision to eliminate oil subsidies was well intentioned. “The government wanted to plow back the money saved from the subsidy into infrastructure development.”

He said it was unfair to expect the government that has been in power for less than a year to solve all the country’s problems caused by past leaders.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across Africa’s most populous nation to protest the government’s removal on Jan. 1 of a subsidy that had kept gasoline prices low for more than two decades.

Overnight, prices at the pump more than doubled, from $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per liter) to at least $3.50 per gallon (94 cents per liter).

The costs of food and transportation also doubled in a nation where most live on less than $2 a day.

“Food prices have skyrocketed,” Ani said, and as a “result of increased gas prices, transport costs have risen – and they impact the cost of goods.”