Nigerian President partially reinstates fuel subsidies to end violent strikes
LAGOS, Nigeria – Labour unions have finally ended their indefinite nationwide strike this Monday, shortly after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan partially reinstated fuel subsidies to keep petroleum prices low. The Nigerian government’s decision, after six days of strikes marked by demonstrations coupled with violence, will see petrol prices drop to about $2.27 a gallon (60 cents a liter). Thrilled union leaders described the government decision as a their victory.
Interestingly, during the strike, despite threats by oil workers association, Nigeria’s oil production of 2.4 million barrels of crude a day did not get disrupted. In case of disruption oil futures may have badly shaken, as Nigeria is the fifth-largest crude supplier to the US and a major African oil exporter.
For President Jonathan, the challenge to the government is far from over. The populist rage that swept the country in recent days following government decision to withdraw fuel subsidy, has not been fully appeased by the announcement to partly reinstate the subsidy.
More protesters continued to join demonstrations to pressurize the government to revert to the old price of about $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per liter).
In an early Monday morning televised address, Jonathan warned that demonstraters were using the gas-price protest to cause instability.
“It has become clear to government and all well-meaning Nigerians that other interests beyond the implementation of the deregulation policy have hijacked the protest. These same interests seek to promote discord, anarchy and insecurity to the detriment of public peace,” Jonathan said.
In a rare display of military might, soldiers took over major highways and road junctions throughout Lagos, home to 15 million people, and Kano, Nigeria’s second-largest city.
Soldiers have been deployed in the streets to halt widening demonstrations. At one point soldiers fired over the heads of marchers.
“This is a clear case of intolerance and shutting of the democratic space against the people of Nigeria which must be condemned by all democracy-loving people around the world,” read a statement from the Save Nigeria Group, which has organized massive demonstrations in Lagos.
Describing the six-day strike as a success, the Nigeria Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress applauded the government’s recent promise to probe corruption in the country’s oil sector.
“We are sure that no government or institution will take Nigerians for granted again,” said Abdulwaheed Omar, the president of the Nigeria Labor Congress, speaking to journalists in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.
Labour organizers had urged workers to stay home on Monday after Jonathan appealed to them over the possibility of insecurity in the country. At the Lagos headquarters of the Nigeria Labor Congress, some 50 protesters gathered anyway.
Lawyer Bamidele Aturu led the crowd in chants and cheers, comparing the president to military rulers of the past who used soldiers to suppress dissent. ”It’s very clear the revolution has begun!” Aturu shouted.
However, presence of large number of trucks filled with soldiers proved a deterrent for many. Some foreign media offices in Lagos were also targeted. Officers of the State Security Service, Nigeria’s secret police, Monday raided an office compound used by the BBC and CNN, witnesses said. Marilyn Ogar, a secret police spokeswoman, however denied any information about the raid.