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Pressure Mounts on Nigerian Government Over Fuel Prices

Demonstrators protest against the elimination of a popular fuel subsidy that has doubled the price of petrol in Nigeria's captial Abuja, January 10, 2012.

Tens of Thousands of Nigerians took to the streets for a third straight day Wednesday in the main commercial city of Lagos and the capital, Abuja, to protest soaring fuel costs, sparked by a government move to end a popular fuel subsidy.

Despite the growing public outcry, the government has shown no sign of reversing its decision to cut the popular subsidy, which it said would bankrupt the country in the long-term, and has vowed to withhold wages for public employees who are on strike.

That tactic has proven somewhat effective, but workers remain on strike in numbers that could force an economic crisis in the short-term. Sonny Enehuvwedia, a civil servant in Warri, did not cross the picket line and he is not discouraged by the defectors.

"Every struggle is always like that," said Enehuvwedia. "You must have betrayals. The whole people cannot be in the struggle together. But there are those who will be there to sustain it and, at the end of it all, victory will be ours."

In addition to the paralysis of Africa's second-largest economy, the strike and accompanying protests have exacerbated Nigeria's security problems.

Most of the recent violence has stemmed from religious tensions and the government's conflict with the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram. President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in 15 locations last week but violence continues, including an attack on a mosque in southern Nigeria Tuesday.

Abubakar Kari is a lecturer in the University of Abuja's Department of Sociology. He says that, between the two crises, a potential sectarian conflict is the greater threat to Nigeria.

"This issue of oil price increase is a government policy which can be resolved, if the two sides want, in a matter of hours or minutes," said Kari. "But the second one has been a protracted an intractable problem and there appears to be no solution in sight."

But Kari says that the fuel crisis must be resolved quickly if the government hopes to address the security crisis, which he says is an economic issue as well.

"Because if poverty increases and unemployment worsens, it will be very easy to recruit people to engage in violence and terrorism," Kari added.

Some in the international community fear the possibility of another civil war in Nigeria. But Kari says those people are incorrectly using other countries as indicators and they underestimate the majority of Nigerians.