Nigeria warns fuel strike invites anarchy

Nigeria’s government is warning that a paralysing national strike risks “anarchy” in the oil-rich nation, as demonstrations over spiralling fuel prices and government corruption entered their third day on Wednesday.

Attorney General Mohammed Bello Adoke’s comments come as at least nine people have been killed in violence during the strikes over the government removing subsidies that had kept petrol prices low in Africa’s most populous nation.

In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital of 15-million, several hundred protesters took over a major highway leading to the islands where the wealthy live. One protester carried a signed that read: “We are ready for the civil war.”

“We can sleep on the road until daybreak; we are not tired,” said Godwin Bassey (16). “We voted for them.
They need to obey our voice.”

In a statement, Adoke described the strike by major labour unions as illegal, and warned public workers that the government would implement a “no work, no pay” policy for those who join the strike.

But public workers sometimes go weeks without pay in Nigeria, where corruption and mismanagement has plagued government for decades.

“Continuing disregard of that order is [dangerous] to the public interest as it constitutes an open invitation to anarchy,” Adoke said in a statement issued late on Tuesday.

The nationwide strike, which began on Monday, came after President Goodluck Jonathan removed fuel subsidies on January 1 that had kept gasoline prices low. Overnight, prices at the pump more than doubled, from $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per litre) to at least $3.50 per gallon (94 cents per litre). The costs of food and transportation also doubled in a nation where most live on less than $2 a day.

Jonathan insists the move was necessary to save the country an estimated $8-billion a year, which he promises will go toward badly needed road and public projects. But protesters—who joined the strike under the slogan of Occupy Nigeria—say the time has come to end government corruption in a nation where military rulers and politicians have stolen billions.

Tens of thousands have protested across the country since the strike started on Monday. Anger over the government’s action has spurred violence in a country already facing uneasy religious and ethnic divisions. An angry mob attacked a mosque and Quranic school on Tuesday, killing at least five people in the country’s largely Christian south, the Nigerian Red Cross said.

Unrest could affect oil production in Nigeria, which produces about 2.4-million barrels of oil a day and is a top crude supplier to the US. But most fields remain unmanned and offshore oil fields provide much of its capacity.

Babatunde Ogun, president of one major union representing oil workers, said on Wednesday his group planned to escalate their strike.

“It means in the short term, there will be no export of [natural] gas, there will be no power,” Ogun said. “Everything will be at a standstill.”

The strike has closed Lagos’ busy Apapa Port, cutting off cargo shipments. Businesses remain shuttered, while air carriers cancelled more international flights. Organisers say the strike will continue until the government restores the subsidies.—Sapa-AP

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