Nigerian strike continues amid oil production threats

2012-01-12 11:31

Lagos – A national strike that has paralysed Nigeria and brought tens of thousands into the streets entered its fourth day today 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 yesterday 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 yesterday.

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 this morning.

“I have been taking part in the protests since Monday and will continue until the government goes back to 65 naira (R3,24) a litre,” said Dele Olaniyi, a 54-year-old taxi driver.

“The majority of our people are too poor to afford the new price.”

He was referring to the petrol price before January 1, 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 today.

Government officials and economists say removing subsidies was essential and will allow the $8 billion per year in savings to be plowed into projects to improve the country’s woefully inadequate infrastructure.

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