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London: Nigerians protest against sudden end of fuel subsidies

Politics Not vetted story Vetted story London, Great Britain - 06 January 2012

Several hundred Nigerian emigrees representing "Nigerian Students In Diaspora", "Nigerians In Diaspora" and their supporters protested on January 6, 2012 outside the Nigerian High Commission on Northumberland Avenue in London, against the abolition of fuel subsidies by the government of Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan.

This decision has seen the average price of petrol in Nigeria since January 1 rocket - with no prior warning - from $0.40 per liter to $0.89 per liter with black market prices as high as $1.25 per liter.

In a country where the national average wage is around $2 per day, with two-thirds of Nigerians living on less than $1.24 a day and pre-January inflation at 10.5%, this abolition is having an immediate negative impact on the cost of living for millions of Nigerians.

Transport fares have already increased by 150% causing huge resentment amongst the general population who regard it as a devaluation of the minimum wage, triggering protests in several Southern cities and towns, including Lagos (on January 3), Ilorin and Kano (on January 4) which provoked a violent response from government forces which resulted in several injuries and one death after protesters blocked access to gas stations.

The largest producer of oil on the African continent, Nigeria nevertheless lacks the infrastructure to refine oil to make petroleum and so imports $16 billion of fuel a year. The fuel subsidies have been adding a further $7.5 billion to the budget, and the Government - which is accused by activists and Human Rights Watch of squandering and stealing much of the nation's vast oil wealth, leaving very little for health services and education - now claims that this money would be better spent on improving national infrastructure and social programs.

Speaking earlier this week, Minister of Petrol Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke said "We are looking not in fact at necessarily at subsidy removal, if you want to call it. It is actually a subsidy transfer, because we are looking at the real benefits to the economy and to Nigerians, that can be handed over to Nigerians, that all Nigerians across the spectrum will feel and see from the get go".

Following talks in the capital Abuja on Wednesday 4th January Nigeria's two main unions, the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress called for nationwide demonstrations and labour strikes starting on Monday 9th January unless the government restores the subsidy which is, they say, the only tangible benefit that ordinary Nigerians receive from the huge oil wealth flowing through the government's coffers. Despite being quickly labeled as "Hooligans" by the government, the unions say the mass rallies, street protests and general strikes targeting oil production sites, sea and air ports, banks and markets will be peaceful, and have advised ordinary Nigerians to stockpile supplies for their basic needs, including food and water.

The tension is further exacerbated by a presidential declaration of a state of emergency in fifteen locations relating to the long-running conflict with Southern militant group Boko Haram who, since 2009, have been attacking the oil industry and government in the North for many years as they demand more oil wealth is shared with the poor communities. The militants had carried out a bombing campaign recently to mark the end of a three-day deadline which Boka Haram had given for Southerners living in Northern Nigeria to move away, and had caused explosions in the Northern cities of Maiduguri and Damaturu, though there were no casualties. In a separate incident gunmen attributed to Boka Harem shot and killed two people in Damaturu, and on Christmas day they infamously bombed a catholic church in the capital, Abuja.

Community leader Chief Okoro Samson, a community leader in Delta state, said last week that the rising costs come at a very bad time in Nigeria: “Just take a walk around the city and you know everyone is angry. You risk demonstration in this country and protests are breaking out. You can't contain it because the terrorists, the so-called Boko Haram, will take advantage of it and launch their attacks everywhere,” he said.

Protests continued Tuesday in Lagos, which has not experienced the attacks of Boko Haram in the north. For many in the south, the enemy is the government of President Jonathan. Seun Kuti - son of legendary musician, the late Fela Kuti - addressing protesters in the southern city of Lagos said this week "Goodwill Jonathan is Nigeria's only terrorist. We cannot agree to this kind of financial IMF terror. Nigeria cannot pay the same price of petrol as Americans. We don't have American minimum wage".

The London protesters proved to be spirited and focused, and there was a great deal of serious discussion amongst groups at the protest, which was joined by former Nigerian presidential candidate Dele Momodu from the National Conscience Party, who was warmly received as he addressed the crowd to tell them about the immediate deprivations felt back home as a rapid effect of the fuel subsidy cuts.

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