General Strikes over Fuel Subsidy Removal Paralyze Nigeria

  • January 9, 2012
  • Joan Welsh

Shops, airports, offices, and schools across Nigeria were shut down on the first day of an indefinite strike called to protest the Nigerian government’s removal of a longstanding fuel subsidy that more than doubles the price of oil and gas.

The government announced the deregulation of the oil sector on January 1, 2012, and defended its decision a week later. It claimed that the resulting $8 billion savings would be used to improve health care, education, and Nigeria’s sporadic electricity supply. But Nigerians saw the subsidy as their only benefit from the country’s vast oil wealth and feared that the profits would disappear to corruption. Although oil is the source of 80 percent of Nigeria’s government revenues, the wealth has not trickled down to the people. More than 90 percent of Nigeria’s 160 million citizens live on less than $2 a day, according to the International Labor Organization.

The protests have turned violent as police have moved in to quell demonstrations. At least two protesters have died, according to Reuters, and more than two dozen people have suffered injuries in the crackdown.

In a January 4, 2012, joint statement, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) warned that if the government did not reverse its decision, they would direct their affiliates to hold “indefinite general strikes, mass rallies, and street protests across the country” starting on January 9. They dismissed a January 6 court order to stop the planned strikes. “There is no going back on next week’s protests and shutdown,” said the NLC.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) issued a similar statement. The unions say that any negotiations must be tied to improving existing refineries and building new “green” ones, as well as shoring up infrastructures such as roads and railways.