Nigeria is facing mass protests after the government canceled a fuel subsidy, effectively doubling gas prices. With anti-government feeling rapidly growing, some fear the demonstrations may soon turn violent, repeating the Arab Spring scenario.
Tens of thousands of people have been demonstrating in cities across the country since Monday, demanding fuel prices revert to their previous level before the authorities introduced the increase.
The demonstrations, which were originally triggered by the removal of the subsidy, later became generally anti-government in their mood, with further demands being made.
Protesters held anti-government banners calling President Goodluck Jonathan a ‘dictator’ and a ‘tyrant’ and demanding an end to corruption and poverty in the country.
Despite its oil resources, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, does not have a high standard of living. Half of its population of 160 million live on less than $2 a day. Following the increase in petrol prices, the cost of food and transportation has also skyrocketed, thus adding to people’s hardships.
The authorities say removing subsidies will save the national budget about $8 billion per year, which will then be spent on projects to improve the country’s infrastructure.
But these promises do not convince protesters, who are fed up with the situation in the country. One protester, who was carrying a banner reading “Go Jonathan or die like Gaddafi,” told the Associated Press he was ready to storm the presidential palace.
Major oil supplier to US
Nigeria’s trade unions are supporting the public protests with strikes. Some schools, banks and transport services have been closed since Monday.
The country’s main oil union has also threatened to shut down oil production on Sunday if the government does not reinstate the subsidy.
On Thursday President Jonathan met with trade union leaders in an attempt to avert the strike, which could have devastating consequences for the Nigerian economy.
Although no final agreement was reached, one of the union leaders called the meeting very productive, adding that the negotiations would continue on Saturday.
The union leaders said the government had offered a small subsidy to bring down gas prices, but the unions had rejected it as insufficient. However, the unions have agreed to suspend the strike for the weekend.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of oil and the 8th largest exporter of petroleum in the world. The oil industry accounts for 40 per cent of GDP. The country is also the United States’ largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa and supplies a fifth of its oil.
Given its vast oil reserves many protesters are puzzled by their poor economic situation and accuse the government of corruption and poor management.
Protests amid sectarian violence
The protests come at a time when Nigeria is being torn apart by sectarian conflicts. On Tuesday religiously motivated attacks killed 13; a mob killed five people in a mosque in Benin City in the south, while in the north Islamist militants shot dead eight people in a bar.
The attacks in Benin City are believed to be a response to the atrocities committed towards Christians in the north of the country.
More than 80 Christians have been killed in bomb and gun attacks in recent weeks. Most of the attacks have been attributed to Boko Haram, a terrorist organization based in the north-east of Nigeria, which is seeking to establish an Islamic state in the country.
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