Violence erupts in Nigeria over petrol prices

 

Protesters furious over spiralling petrol prices started fires on a motorway and at least one person was killed in the unrest after Nigeria's government scrapped a subsidy that had kept fuel costs down for more than 20 years.

One union leader described the government's hugely unpopular move as "immoral and politically suicidal" and urged Nigerians to resist "with everything they have". But yesterday's protest showed that, once unleashed, the pent-up anger of the masses could be hard to curtail.

Angry crowds vandalised petrol stations, intimidated owners into keeping their pumps unused and attacked a soldier, showing how easily the fragile peace in Africa's most populous nation could lead to chaos.

One man threw cans of engine oil off the racks at a petrol station and tried to damage pumps. After union leader and chairman of the Joint Action Front, Dipo Fashina, asked the man to stop vandalising the station, he did, but later started one of the first bonfires of the protest in the middle of the motorway.

Other activists marched to the protest songs of the late Afrobeat pioneer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who fought against the injustices of military rule in Nigeria. His musician son Seun walked shirtless among the demonstrators, as his father used to, and also made attempts to keep things civil.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene in Lagos said the protest had started with activists wielding signs and walking down a major route, but before long angry protesters lit bonfires and vandalised at least three petrol stations.

In the central city of Ilorin, another violent protest where policemen fired tear gas left a man dead. The National Labour Congress accused the police of shooting the "anti-fuel hike protester".

But Kwara state police spokesman Dabo Ezekiel said the man was stabbed by motorcycle-taxi drivers angry because they believed he was against their cause. Mr Ezekiel could not say what triggered the attack.

The Nigerian government's quiet announcement over the long New Year weekend that the popular subsidy was being ended triggered a wave of protests in Africa's most populous nation of 160 million.

The government says it will use £5.1 billion in savings to make much-needed infrastructure improvements, but previous attempts to even tamper with the subsidy have been met with nationwide protests.

Yesterday the rapidly growing group of Lagos protesters were going from petrol station to station, telling owners not to sell fuel at the increased prices of about £2.24 a gallon (60p a litre).

That is more than double what consumers paid only days ago for the fuel desperately needed to power the generators that keep many businesses running in Nigeria, where the national electricity supply can be described as sporadic at best.

President Goodluck Jonathan announced on Monday that he had set up a committee to ensure that the savings from the subsidy's end would be invested effectively to improve the quality of life of Nigerians.

Few, though, have seen any benefit from the country's vast oil wealth over decades of production, and a culture of distrust of government permeates Nigerian society.

And the unrest over rising petrol prices is only further adding to Nigeria's security woes. Mr Jonathan already declared a state of emergency over the weekend in parts of the country hit by a growing Islamic insurgency that is fuelled in part by widespread poverty.

And the petrol price hike is likely to result in even higher prices in the landlocked and violence-plagued north, as Nigeria's refined oil is mainly imported through ports in the country's south.

The new petrol price is just over double Sunday's price of about £1.08 a gallon (29p a litre). Most Nigerians subsist on just £1.28 a day and the rising petrol prices are expected to force food prices to spiral as well.

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