By Nick Loomis
Nigerians are protesting their government’s decision to end a fuel subsidy at the first of the year. The demonstrations could further strain Nigeria’s already shaky security situation.
After months of planning, the government made its move to end the subsidies that it says were wasteful and discouraged investment in the oil sector. At a news conference in Lagos before the implementation, the minister of petroleum resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke, tried to sell the changes to the public.
“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,” Allison-Madueke stated.
But that argument is not sitting well with the average Nigerian, who earns less than $2 per day. Many have taken to the streets to protest fuel costs, which have more than doubled in a few days and have led to other cost-of-living increases.
Chief Okoro Samson is a community leader in Delta state. “Just take a walk around the city and you know everyone is angry. Transport fares have increased by 150 percent. By the time everything will rise up. It’s called devaluation of minimum wage,” he said.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of oil, and the $7.5-billion subsidy was the only tangible benefit for most people there. But a lack of investment in refineries means that most of the country’s oil is exported, and the government says that it can no longer afford to subsidize refined fuel. It spent more than $16 billion to import fuel in 2011.
President Goodluck Jonathan says that money can be better spent on infrastructure and social programs.
Community leader Samson says the rising costs come at a bad time in Nigeria.
“You risk demonstration in this country and protests broke. You can’t contain it because the terrorists, the so-called Boko Haram, will take advantage of it and launch their attacks everywhere,” Samson 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 is the son of musician Fela Kuti. He addressed protesters in the southern city. “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,” he noted.
Gas prices now have exceeded 150 naira per liter. That is nearly $1 per liter — up from about $0.36 per liter on December 31.