Violence feared as fuel subsidy axed in Nigeria

Irate drivers in Nigeria were faced with doubled petrol prices yesterday after the government removed a long-cherished subsidy, prompting fears of unrest.

The change – announced over the weekend and taking effect immediately – caught people by surprise and sparked outrage that could threaten the fragile peace in the oil-rich nation.

In some remote areas, there were reports that prices had increased three-fold, with complaints that taxi and bus fares have seen similar rises already.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The government has said removing the subsidy will save the country billions, some of which will be dedicated to much-needed infrastructure projects. It maintains the subsidy removal will help the economy and eventually benefit the poor.

But yesterday lines grew at petrol stations in Lagos as prices more than doubled to the equivalent of about £2.32 per gallon and many outlets shut down.

Small protests were held, with reports that 200 people had gathered in the capital, Abuja, to oppose the change.

Nigeria’s main unions – the Trades Union Congress and the Nigerian Labour Congress – issued a joint call for a strike to protest against the move, which it said was “callous, insensitive and is intended to cause anarchy in the country”.

The labour unions also pre-emptively warned police and security forces “not to accept any order to shoot Nigerians or attack them for publicly resisting these evil hikes in fuel prices”.

“They want to kill the masses,” said Mensong Mensong, 33, a motorcycle-taxi driver. “They are deceiving us here in the name of governing us.”

Another taxi driver, Tomi Esan, said: “The price of everything will go up. Fares will go up and food will go up too.”

Gasoline powers Nigeria’s generators because the national electricity supply is sporadic at best.

Previous attempts to tamper with the subsidy over more than two decades have been met with nationwide protests, compelling even heavy-handed military governments to reduce it instead.

The country consumes more than nine million gallons of fuel per day, according to a report from the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, which announced the subsidy removal on Sunday.

The government said consumers were “assured of adequate supply of quality products” at “competitive” prices.

But there was widespread anger at the move, which many see as the government removing one of the few benefits afforded the country’s population.

“There’s going to be big wahala [trouble],” Mr Esan added.

The taxi driver said he didn’t want to lose customers by doubling his rates, so said he would be forced cover some of the additional cost himself.

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

Potential unrest over the subsidy removal would add to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s security woes. On Saturday, he declared a state of emergency in parts of the country affected by a growing Islamist insurgency fuelled by widespread poverty in the arid north.

The country, an Opec member nation that produces about 2.4 million barrels of crude oil a day, is a top supplier of oil to Western countries including America, but virtually all of its petroleum products are imported after years of mismanagement and violence at its refineries.

The International Monetary Fund had previously urged the Nigerian government to scrap the subsidy.

The government has argued the move will allow money to be used to tackle poverty and for investment in other sectors of the economy.