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The Two-Way
11:11 am
Mon January 9, 2012

Nigerians Stage Nationwide Strike After President Scraps Fuel Subsidies

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan is facing a tumultuous backlash over his decision to scrap fuel subsidies. Reporting from Accra in Ghana, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports that major protests and a massive strike are putting pressure on him to reverse course. Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer.

Ofeibea filed this report for our Newscast unit:

"Nigeria's capital, Abuja, and the commercial capital, Lagos, have come to a virtual standstill with similar reports of thousands joining the demonstrations in other parts of the country.

"Enough is enough, read several banners. Another says, soon the only thing left for poor people to eat will be rich people. An 'Occupy Nigeria' movement has emerged as labour leaders warn — 'No retreat, no surrender.' Pressure is mounting on President Goodluck Jonathan to back down on scrapping fuel subsidies, but the government appears to be unwavering. Supporters say the subsidies make no financial sense for Nigeria."

The Guardian and The Telegraph are both reporting that police have shot at least one protester dead and "dozens more were wounded."

The Guardian also puts forward a theory about what's going on. Over the past week, Boko Haram, a radical Muslim sect, has orchestrated a series of attacks, some of them on Christian churches.

The analysts The Guardian spoke to say Jonathan put an end to the fuel subsidy as a ploy to refocus the country one something other than its sectarian conflict.

The Guardian adds:

"'It deflects attention from the Boko Haram violence and unites Nigerians, Muslims and Christians, against what is the lesser evil. But it means the president is battling on many fronts: radical militants and millions of Nigerians at the same time,' said activist Shehu Sani.

"In a small Lagos park, Seun Kuti, the son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, addressed thousands, many waving branches and sporting T-shirts with the slogan 'Remove corruption, not subsidy'. ...

"Every previous government's attempt to remove the subsidy, which funnels a quarter of the £15.5bn annual government budget to a well-connected cartel of fuel importers, has floundered amid mass protests. Many see the subsidy as a rare opportunity to share the nation's oil riches, whose 2m barrels per day industry has failed to lift the vast majority of citizens out of extreme poverty. In 2003, there were eight days of strikes when the government attempted to increase fuel pump prices."

As CNN reports, there is also doubt as to whether there is any economic reason to remove the subsidy.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.