Nigerian anger heats up as petrol prices rocket

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ABUJA — Nigerian motorists and unions were venting their anger on Monday at a sudden more than doubling of fuel prices, a day after government subsidies were removed in a sweeping economic reform that could trigger mass protests.

Opposition leaders, unionists and local rights groups have condemned the move by the state’s fuel regulator, which they say will heave up prices in a nation already to expensive for the majority of its citizens living on less than $2 per day.

Many fuel stations in the capital Abuja and main commercial city Lagos were shut on Monday while they waited to figure out how to adjust their prices.

Those that were open were jammed with queues and selling at prices of up to 150 naira per litre, up from a fixed price of 60 naira before.

“This is a bad New Year present from the government,” said David Akpe, a motorist at a pump site in Abuja, as a queue of about 30 cars formed behind him. “What next?”

The measure risks bringing public wrath down on President Goodluck Jonathan, who says it is needed to reform the economy.

“Don’t push us to the street for we went to the street to make you president and would not like to go to the street to remove you as president!” the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, an opposition umbrella group, warned.

Many lawmakers are opposed, and the Senate spokesman said that as far as they were concerned the debate was still ongoing.

The Trades Union Congress and Nigerian Labour Congress called on Sunday for mass action to repeat strikes and street protests that thwarted previous attempts to end subsidies. There was no major organised response on Monday.

Workers in the petroleum sector also rejected the move.

“The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria rejects (it) as totally unacceptable and a crass display of bad faith,” they said in a statement on Monday.

“We therefore urge all Nigerians to . . . begin immediate mobilisation for the struggle ahead.”
Lawmakers have been divided on the subsidy issue, leaving the future of the measure potentially still in doubt.

Senate spokesman senator Enyinnaya Abaribe said in a statement that the Senate had not yet ruled on the subsidy removal, so it was still open to debate.

The subsidies were left out of the 2012 budget, which has yet to be voted on by both houses. To restore the subsidies, lawmakers would have to add them to the budget and find some way of paying for them, probably by cutting expenditure elsewhere.

“While it is true that there was no provision for subsidy in the 2012 budget proposal, the Senate . . . is yet to reach a consensus on the matter,” Abaribe said. Such a decision would “take cognisance of the general mood”, he added.