Nigerians fume as govt hikes fuel prices
LAGOS QUEUES formed at petrol stations, protests broke out and unions threatened to paralyse Nigeria on Monday over a deeply controversial measure that has more than doubled pump prices.
The move announced on Sunday in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer immediately ends fuel subsidies on petrol, a policy that had held pump prices at 65 naira per litre ($0.40, 0.30 euros).
On Monday, prices at many stations had more than doubled to around 140 naira or more per litre in a country where most of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.
Queues began forming Sunday and again on Monday, a public holiday, with drivers hoping to purchase fuel before prices rise further and fearing a strike by tanker drivers will result in a shortage.
In Lagos, the country’s largest city, and in the capital Abuja, an initial rush at stations began to die out later Monday, but there were fears of what would occur on Tuesday when Nigerians return from the Christmas holidays.
Protests of several hundred people broke out in Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s north.
“We have given the federal government 24 hours to reverse this callous and inhuman policy of fuel subsidy withdrawal or face unprecedented riots by students in the city,” said Baraya Garba, head of a student association.
The country’s main labour unions threatened mass action.
“We intend to work with other groups to completely paralyse the government and make the country ungovernable,” said Denja Yaqub, assistant secretary general of the Nigeria Labour Congress, one of the country’s main unions.
“They have pushed Nigerians too far,” he added, saying protests would be organised in coming days.
Protest threats in Nigeria have often fizzled out in the past, but the fuel subsidy issue is one of the few that unites much of the vast country, with widespread popular opposition to the move.
Economists and government officials view removing the subsidy as essential to allowing for more spending on the country’s woefully inadequate infrastructure and to ease pressure on its foreign reserves.
Nigerians however see the subsidy as their only benefit from the nation’s oil wealth.
The government says more than $8 billion was spent in 2011 on fuel subsidies.
Nigeria refines very little of its crude despite being a major oil producer and OPEC member, a situation blamed on corruption and mismanagement, forcing the country to import fuel even while it exports crude.
Subsidies were supposed to keep pump prices low even though fuel is imported at market prices, but there have been serious questions over how the subsidy cash has been paid out.
There have been accusations that much of the money goes to corrupt elites. Fuel was also sold above the set price in many areas outside of major cities.