Unrest Over Subsidy Removal Turns Deadly in Nigeria

Protesters clash with police last week in Nigeria. (@hussainijibrin)

Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, was thrown into turmoil on 1 January when regulators removed a subsidy on petroleum products, more than doubling consumer gas prices practically overnight.

The resulting outcry has “united poor market traders and middle class motorists alike,” and led to the deaths of at least 12 protesters and the wounding of many more amid union-led demonstrations that were largely peaceful.

The government claims that removing the subsidy will save $6 billion dollars annually, which could be re-allocated to investment in oil infrastructure and improvements in the job market and the delivery of social services. Many on both sides of the issue agree that decades of subsidies have fueled corruption and allowed the funds to line private pockets.

But a massive number of citizens and activists have spoken out against ending the subsidy. According to RWI’s Nigeria coordinator Dauda Garuba, opponents say the decision does not address the root causes of Nigeria’s widespread corruption or longstanding problems in local refining capacity, and would have been better conceived as a program to trim government operating costs.

Pressure for reforms to the Nigerian National Petroleum Company have increased, says Garuba, since the oil-rich nation first began implementing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, but the NNPC has been slow to change. Furthermore, he says, the sudden shift to a market-set fuel price could effectively “transfer the burden” of weak governance directly onto regular citizens.

The fight between Nigerians and the government underscores the need for legitimate public consultation and the challenges of reform when an oil-rich political class has lost public trust.

Post new comment