Nigerian fuel strike hits fourth day
Lagos - A national strike that has paralysed Nigeria and brought tens of thousands into the streets entered its fourth day Thursday with oil workers threatening to halt production.
The strike and protests in Africa's largest crude producer has put the government under mounting pressure as it also seeks to stop spiralling attacks blamed on Islamist group Boko Haram.
Boko Haram's killing of Christians and retaliatory violence targeting Muslims in the country's south have sparked fears of a wider conflict - with some evoking the possibility of civil war in Africa's most populous nation.
Two police officers were killed on Wednesday when a mob rampaged in the central city of Minna, burning political offices and prompting an all-day curfew, while gunmen attacked a police station in the northeastern city of Yola.
The northeast was also hit by fresh religious violence, with four Christians gunned down on the outskirts of the city of Potiskum by suspected Boko Haram members.
A nighttime curfew was imposed in Yobe state, where Potiskum is located.
Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria with some 15 million people, saw a peaceful crowd of about 10 000 gather at the main protest site on Wednesday.
Pockets of the city, however, descended into chaos with youth gangs burning tyres, attacking police and vandalising neighbourhoods.
A few hundred people began gathering at the main protest site Thursday morning.
"I have been taking part in the protests since Monday and will continue until the government goes back to 65 naira ($0.40) a litre," said Dele Olaniyi, a 54-year-old taxi driver.
Ethnic and religious violence
"The majority of our people are too poor to afford the new price."
He was referring to the petrol price before January 01, when the government ended fuel subsidies, causing the pump price to more than double.
Nigeria's oil workers' unions have upped the ante by threatening to shut down crude production. One of the unions said "we hereby direct all production platforms to be on red alert in preparation for total production shutdown".
Members of Nigeria's senate and house of representatives have sought to broker a way out of the crisis, but no progress has been reported so far. Another meeting was set for later on Thursday.
An official with one of Nigeria's main trade unions said they would not negotiate with President Goodluck Jonathan's administration until it reinstated fuel subsidies, which many Nigerians view as their only benefit from the nation's oil wealth.
"For us to negotiate, the price of fuel must revert to 65 naira," said Denja Yaqub, secretary general of the Nigerian Labour Congress.
Government officials and economists say removing subsidies was essential and will allow the $8bn per year in savings to be ploughed into projects to improve the country's woefully inadequate infrastructure.
Spiralling ethnic and religious violence in various parts of the country has fuelled further chaos in a country roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
Boko Haram has been blamed for scores of attacks, and in recent weeks has claimed responsibility for violence targeting Christians, who have vowed to defend themselves.