Nigeria, protesters stop petrol stations from selling fuel

Nigeria, protesters stop petrol stations from selling fuel
Published: 03 January 2012 (1208 Views)
Angry mobs of protesters stopped petrol station owners from selling fuel while others lit a bonfire on a major highway in protest against the Nigerian government's removal of subsidies that had kept petrol affordable for more than two decades.

A rapidly growing group of protesters were going from station to station, telling owners not to sell petrol at the spiked prices of about $3.50 (£2.50) a gallon. That is more than double what consumers paid only days ago for the fuel needed to power the generators that keep many businesses running.

On one major highway in Lagos, protesters yelled: "Occupy the express", as the bonfire that was lit forced scores of drivers to turn around.

The government's quiet announcement over the long holiday weekend that the subsidy was being ended has led to organising in major cities across the country. Previous attempts to change the subsidy over the last two decades have been met with protests nationwide.

Nigeria's government maintains the country will save $8bn – money that can be invested in much-needed infrastructure projects.

President Goodluck Jonathan announced on Monday that he has set up a committee to ensure that the savings will be invested effectively to improve the quality of life of Nigerians.

Few, though, have seen any benefit from the country's vast oil wealth over decades of production, and a culture of distrust of government permeates Nigerian society.

"This new year 'gift' by the presidency is callous, insensitive and is intended to cause anarchy in the country," said a joint statement by two unions who said they were planning general strikes and protests in the coming days. "We shall neither surrender nor retreat."

The unrest over rising petrol prices is only further adding to Nigeria's security woes: Jonathan already declared a state of emergency over the weekend in parts of the country hit by a growing Islamic insurgency that is fuelled in part by widespread poverty.

And the fuel price hike is likely to result in even higher prices in the north, as Nigeria's refined oil is mainly imported through ports in the country's south.

On Monday afternoon, police officers dispersed a protest in the capital, Abuja, using teargas and arrested five people including a former lawmaker. And at one bus stop in Lagos, a conductor pushed a police officer trying to board his bus for free, saying that the hike meant that even uniformed officers would now have to pay.

Already the price of petrol has risen to at least $3.50 a gallon (94 cents a litre) – just over double Sunday's morning price of about $1.70 a gallon (45 cents a litre).

While that's cheap by American standards, most Nigerians subsist on just $2 a day and the rising petrol prices are expected to force food prices to spiral as well.

"I don't want to lose customers by doubling my rates, so I'll have to bear some of this cost myself," said Yomi Esan, 31, a driver for a taxi chain. "My biggest worry is losing my customers because this is how I feed my family."

Nigeria, an Opec-member nation producing about 2.4m barrels of crude oil a day, is a top supplier to the US, but almost all of its petroleum products are imported.

The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency announced on Sunday it was stopping the subsidy on fuel to petroleum importers.

An executive with a top petrol station owner said the move would push companies to be more efficient so they can cut costs and sell at more competitive prices.

But for Nigerians, the subsidy was a rare government perk and one they don't want to lose.

Esan, the taxi driver who is afraid to raise his prices, is despondent about his financial future if he stays in Nigeria. He has already started immigration procedures for three other countries.

"I had been saving to buy my own car, but with this, I just want to leave this country," he said.

- AP

Tags: Nigeria, fuel, protest,
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