Nigerians defy order to end strike
Lagos - Tens of thousands protesting Nigerians defied an order to end a three-day-old strike on Wednesday as a union threatened oil production and deadly religious violence sparked talk of a looming civil war.
The double crisis of protests and spiralling violence in Africa's largest crude producer has left the global oil market watching anxiously and President Goodluck Jonathan facing his toughest challenge since he was elected last year.
Despite a government order late on Tuesday that labelled the strike over soaring petrol prices illegal and threatened to withhold pay, protesters took to the streets as gangs of youths burnt tyres and harassed drivers for cash.
Pockets of Lagos, the largest city in Africa's most populous nation, descended into chaos, including one upscale neighbourhood, with gangs attacking a police car with sticks and ripping down signposts.
The main groups of protesters in Lagos, however, remained peaceful, with some 10 000 people at one of the largest demonstrations dancing and singing anti-government songs.
Some vowed they would begin camping out there.
"I am here with my water and toothbrush because we are not leaving this arena until our demand for fuel at 65 naira is met," said Akinola Oyebode, a 23-year-old at the main protest in Lagos, referring to the price of a litre of petrol before government subsidies were scrapped from January 01.
"We shall not be intimidated by the police because our protest is legitimate and constitutional."
Smaller protests took place in other parts of the city, including one calling itself "Occupy Nigeria" after the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States.
In Kano, the largest city in the north, a massive crowd thought to be in the tens of thousands marched through the streets.
Protesters and police clashed in Kano on Monday, leaving at least two people shot dead, but Wednesday's march started off peacefully.
Oil production has so far not been affected by the strike, but workers threatened action if the government does not respond to their demands.
"We are contemplating shutting down oil production," said Tokunbo Korodo, Lagos head for oil workers union NUPENG.
"We are just waiting for the outcome of discussions between labour and government today. The outcome of that meeting, if not favourable, will lead us to shutting down oil production."
Tens of thousands have turned out this week for protests nationwide over the government's move to end fuel subsidies, which caused petrol prices to more than double in a country where most people live on less than $2 per day.
At least six people were killed on the first day of protests, including one person allegedly shot by police in Lagos.
Local media reported that three others were killed in southwestern Ogun and Osun states on Tuesday, including one by a police officer, but authorities have not confirmed the deaths.
Meanwhile, spiralling ethnic and religious violence in various parts of the country has fuelled further chaos amid warnings of a wider conflict in a country roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
Sixteen people were killed in three separate incidents in the latest such violence.
An Islamic school was torched in the south on Tuesday and Islamist group Boko Haram was blamed for gunning down eight people, including five police officers, in a pub in Potiskum in the northeast.
Boko Haram has been blamed for scores of attacks, and in recent weeks has claimed responsibility for violence targeting Christians, who have through their leaders vowed to defend themselves.
Amid the sectarian and social turmoil, Nobel literature prize laureate Wole Soyinka, one of the country's most respected voices, warned the nation was heading toward civil war.
In addition, a statement signed by Nigerian writers, including renowned novelist Chinua Achebe, author of the novel "Things Fall Apart", warned that the attacks were "precursors to events that could destabilise the entire country".
"Clearly, the sophistication and deadly impact of the terrorist attacks suggest an agenda to create widespread fear and, possibly, to foment anarchy or war," it said.