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Mass strike shakes Nigeria

By: 
Kevin Brice

February 13, 2012

The mass strike and public protests that swept through Nigeria from January 9 to January 13 were the largest in the country’s history.

The spark for this mass mobilization occurred on January 1, 2012 when Nigerians awoke to the new reality that the fuel subsidy, which most depend on for their basic needs, was scrapped by the government without the consultation of the people. Overnight, prices had inflated by 250 per cent–from the fixed rate of 60 naira/L ($0.37) to 150 naira/L ($0.93). This is in a country where two thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day and where reliable access to electricity is dependent on fuel-based generators. The immediate explosion in the cost of living was too much for Nigerians to bear.

During the week of the strike, the National Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress were effectively able to shut down most of Nigeria’s economy at a cost of $600 million a day. By the end of the week the government seemed to be in no position to negotiate, under the threat of an indefinite general strike, so the People’s Democratic Party conceded–but only partially–to the demands of the people and restored the fuel subsidy at a rate 50 per cent of what it had been originally.

Concessions

Following the concession, leaders of the National Labour Congress called off the indefinite general strike and began the process of demobilizing the movement against the will of many of their member organizations. One of these organizations, the Joint Action Front (JAF), released this statement: “JAF urges Nigerians to continue with the MASS ACTION of street and neighbourhood protests and rallies in the various Freedom Squares created across the country since the commencement of the Strike/Mass Action on January 9, 2012.”

At the same time, the newly founded Occupy Nigeria and other grassroots organizations were holding mass protests on key highways to disrupt traffic while others went from one gas station to another demanding that suppliers not sell above the subsidy level. The government’s violent response to the protests left one dead and hundreds wounded but only served to bring more people into the streets.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, its second largest economy, and although it is the largest exporter of crude in Africa, due to mismanagement and corruption, Nigeria is dependent on foreign imports for its domestic fuel requirements. Because of this it is clear why the people of Nigeria had no reason to believe that this time the money being taken from the fuel subsidy would be reinvested in public infrastructure and not ‘lost’ along the way, only to somehow find its way into the pockets of Nigeria’s and foreign ruling elites.

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