Nigeria strike unites classes in populist anger

AP News
|
Posted: Jan 12, 2012 1:30 AM
Nigeria strike unites classes in populist anger

The protest first drew Nigerians who live hand-to-trash, scavenging through mountains of garbage to make a living. Now, long lines of cars and expensive motorcycles are parking near a demonstration that is drawing more than 10,000 people angry about life in Africa's most populous nation.

The nationwide strike first began over gasoline prices more than doubling, but now it encompasses criticism of all Nigeria's failings. People shout to anyone that will listen about the country's cratered roads, dilapidated schools and the government corruption that leaves politicians wealthy and the people largely poor in the oil-rich nation.

Protesters say they want a permanent change in Nigeria, a move away from leaders who send their families abroad for schooling and medical checkups while the rest subsist on less than $2 a day.

"They want to cut us off," said Anthony Abang, a 32-year-old unemployed man who helped close down a Lagos highway. "They want to kill our future."

President Goodluck Jonathan removed subsidies on Jan. 1 that had kept gasoline prices low for more than two decades. Overnight, prices at the pump more than doubled, from $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per liter) to at least $3.50 per gallon (94 cents per liter). The costs of food and transportation also doubled.

Jonathan insists the move was necessary to save the country an estimated $8 billion a year, which he promises will go toward badly needed road and public projects. But Nigerians marching through the streets in all parts of the country have seen government promises go unfulfilled before while politicians got richer by stealing funds from planned public work projects. Many Nigerians don't even have electricity and clean drinking water.

That anger has seen some protesters confront police, set burning roadblocks and attack government offices. At least 10 people have been killed. On Wednesday in Minna, the capital of the central Niger state, youths attacked the governor's house, forcing him to flee by helicopter. A mob also killed a police officer.

Attorney General Mohammed Bello Adoke has warned that the government "will not hesitate to bring to bear the full weight of the law" against violent protesters. He also said the strike by major labor unions violates a court injuction.

"Continuing disregard of that order is (dangerous) to the public interest as it constitutes an open invitation to anarchy," Adoke said in a statement Tuesday.

Adoke also told public workers the government will implement a "no work, no pay" policy for those who join the strike. However, public workers already go weeks without pay in Nigeria at times because of corruption and mismanagement.

In Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital of 15 million, several hundred protesters on Wednesday took over a major highway leading to the islands where the wealthy live. One protester carried a signed that read: "We are ready for the civil war."

Fears about violence were heightened as the leader of a radical Islamist sect challenged the authority of Nigeria's president in an online video. The video by Imam Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the sect known as Boko Haram, will aggravate religious and ethnic tensions in this nation of more than 160 million.

Unrest could affect oil production in Nigeria, which pumps about 2.4 million barrels of oil a day and is a top crude supplier to the U.S.

Babatunde Ogun, president of one major union representing oil workers, said Wednesday his group plans to escalate the strike.

"It means in the short term, there will be no export of (natural) gas. There will be no power," Ogun said. "Everything will be at a standstill."

___

Associated Press writers Ibrahim Garba in Kano, Nigeria; Yinka Ibukun in Lagos, Nigeria and Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria contributed to this report.

___

Jon Gambrell can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.