Riot police fire on fuel protesters

Added by on January 9, 2012

Armed officers reportedly opened fire in a poor suburb of Lagos, Nigeria – the commercial capita – as crowds on a a nationwide strike refused to break up their protests. Up to 50 others were injured on other cities across Africa as the country was brought to a standstill as a result of strikes.

Demonstrators are upset at the cancellation of a government subsidy that kept the prices of gasoline, kerosine, and diesel at about US$0.42 per liter. Prices shot up to US$0.90 per liter overnight, spurring the protests affecting Nigeria’s poorest people, many of which live on less than US$2.40 per day.

“This government is supposed to be there to protect us, to allow us to make business, to feed and clothe and educate our children, and now they are here shooting us,” said a civil servant who joined one rally in Lagos.

Several protestors described how riot police repeatedly hit people with batons before fired into the air as the crowd, angered by the beatings, surged forward.

“They fired up, then they fired down, that’s when people were hurt badly.”

President Goodluck Jonathan made the cancellation of the fuel subsidy a key part of his economic reform program. The subsidy costs about US$8 billion a year, estimated to be a quarter of government’s expenditure, plus there have been allegations that large parts of the subsidy have been siphoned by corrupt cartels.

“Subsidies should be subsidies for production and not for consumption,” said Lamido Sanusi, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

“If we are going to borrow, it is better to invest that borrowing in infrastructure, power, production or in subsidizing productive capacity like refineries.”

Hannah Waddilove, sub-Saharan analyst for AKE Group in London, which analyses political risk said the Nigerian government’s defended its move in an effort to eradicate powerful groups that benefited from the subsidy.

“Money spent on Nigeria’s fuel subsidy is unlikely to be the real cost of importing fuel,” commented Waddilove.

The Foreign Office in London warned of possible disruptions to flights to and from Nigeria, and warned Britons in the country that they “may wish to consider stocking up on food, water, fuel and cash”.

President Goodluck is unlikely to backtrack by reinstating the subsidy for fear of showing inconsistency and weakness that could scare off international lenders and investors, analysts said.