Nigeria braces for fuel strike, shortages

2012-01-08 20:58

Lagos - Nigeria on Sunday braced for nationwide strikes over soaring petrol prices, with protests already having led to confrontations with police while filling stations ran out of fuel as drivers stocked up.

The strikes set for Monday led to a massive security deployment as well as long queues at petrol stations, with several running dry, and warnings from unions that residents should stock up on food.

Protests last week became increasingly volatile, with police firing tear gas and accused of using excessive force to disperse demonstrators.

A union also accused police of shooting dead a demonstrator last week, but authorities denied it and said he was killed by a mob.

Nigeria's House of Representatives began an emergency session on Sunday to debate the government's move to end fuel subsidies on January 1, which caused petrol prices to instantly double in Africa's largest oil producer and most populous nation.

Many lawmakers were calling on the government to halt the move.

Unions vowed to push ahead with Monday's strike despite a last-minute appeal by President Goodluck Jonathan, who sought to win support for the government's move in an address on national television on Saturday night.

Jonathan vowed to reduce salaries for political office holders in the executive branch by 25% as well as to improve public transport, including rail lines, among other areas.

"To save Nigeria, we must all be prepared to make sacrifices," Jonathan said.

Nigerian Labour Congress deputy secretary general Denja Yaqub said "the airspace will be shut down by our people this night, at midnight, as well as the seaports".

Roads leading to the main parade ground in the capital Abuja were closed and guarded by armed policemen as a helicopter hovered overhead.

Fuel stations were starting to run out of petrol in Lagos, with some even closing in the capital Abuja.

One petrol attendant at a usually busy Lagos station said their stock ran out Saturday night and there had been no fresh deliveries since then.

Queues formed at others where motorists were rushing to fill up their tanks ahead of the strike.

Government removed fuel subsidies on January 1 in a move economists see as vital to allow the country to improve its woefully inadequate infrastructure and ease pressure on its foreign reserves.

The government says it spent more than $8bn on subsidies in 2011.

But Nigerians view the subsidies as their only benefit from the nation's oil wealth and lack any real trust in government after years of deep-rooted corruption.

The move saw petrol prices more than double in a country where most of the 160 million population scrape by on less than $2 a day.