Burning roadblocks mark second day of Nigeria fuel strike

Angry youths erected a burning roadblock outside luxury enclaves in Nigeria’s commercial capital on Tuesday as a paralysing national strike over fuel prices and government corruption entered its second day.

The flaming tyres and debris sent thick, dark smoke over part of Ikoyi Island, home to diplomats and many of the oil-rich nation’s wealthy elite. It also signalled the danger of spiralling violence as protests continue in the country of more than 160-million people. Police shot at least three protesters to death on Monday.

“This is oligarchy, this is not a democracy!” shouted Danjuma Mohammed, as he stood before the fire holding rocks in his hands. “We are no longer afraid of you! We are ready for war!”

The strike started on Monday by labour unions upset over high fuel prices in Africa’s most populous nation. Petrol prices have risen from $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per litre) to at least $3.50 per gallon (94 cents per litre) since the subsidy on fuel ended on January 1 at the orders of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. That spurred a spike in food and transportation prices across a country where most live on less than $2 a day.

More than 10000 people attended one rally in Lagos as the strike started on Monday, while tens of thousands more marched in streets across the country. Activists also wore shirts bearing symbols for a loose-knit group called Occupy Nigeria, inspired by those near Wall Street in New York.

Anger also extended to government corruption in Nigeria, a nation beset by politicians and military rulers who have stolen billions of dollars in oil revenues over the years. Protesters also said they want a stronger government response to ongoing violence in Nigeria by a radical Muslim sect that, according to an Associated Press count, killed at least 510 people last year alone.

While most businesses remained closed on Monday and Tuesday, some flights continued to leave Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport. Oil production also apparently continued in Nigeria, which produces about 2.4 million barrels of oil a day and remains a top crude supplier to the US. However, the unions representing oil workers have promised to also strike.

It is unclear how long the strike will last. The unions have described it as indefinite, saying they’ll stop only if the government restores the fuel subsidies. Jonathan insists that the subsidies be removed to save the country about $8-billion a year, money he says will go toward badly needed road and public projects.

Those protesting on Tuesday morning on Ikoyi Island said they no longer believe in the government, shouting: “They will kill us and we will kill them!” A convoy of police escorting a member of the country’s elite arrived, with officers loudly loading their Kalashnikov rifles in an attempt to drive the protesters away. Officers put out part of the flaming blockade with an extinguisher, but drove off, leaving the protesters behind.

Another convoy of unarmed officers arrived. They pleaded with protesters for calm but instead they threw stones as the officers put out the flames. — Sapa-AP

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Jon Gambrell
Jon Gambrell works from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I am the Gulf and Iran news director for The Associated Press (@AP) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, by way of Egypt, Nigeria, Arkansas and many points between. Jon Gambrell has over 46736 followers on Twitter.
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