Protests spread in Nigeria over hike in fuel prices

Abuja: Protesters clashed with riot police today in different parts of Nigeria for the third straight day, amid rising anger over a controversial decision of the government to hike fuel prices. "There would be no retreat no surrender in the struggle to liberate Nigeria. In the protests scheduled for next week the entire state shall be grounded as all groups — both professional and artisans — shall be involved in the grand protest," said Dr Ademola Aremu in the Oyo state capital.

He vowed to make it uncomfortable for President Goodluck Jonathan. The ending of fuel subsidies by Africa`s top oil producer on Sunday has hiked prices of petroleum, caused a litre of the product to cost USD 0.96 against a previous USD 0.4. Citizens see the fuel subsidy as a key benefit in the major oil producing African country.

In southern city of Ibadan, activists held a minute prayer for Mustapha Muyideen Opobiyi, a man who died during a similar protest in north-central city of Ilorin on Tuesday. The police and the protesters are still trading accusation over the killing of Opobiyi. In another southern city of Benin, a pressure group under the aegis of Coalition to Save Nigeria (CSN) paralysed commercial activities.

The coalition, which is made up of over 200 civil societies groups and non-governmental organisations such as professional bodies barricaded all major streets chanting anti-government slogans and carrying a mock coffin. Riot police clashed with protesters in northern city of Bauchi as hundreds of youths marched through the major streets of the State capital in a mass demonstration.

In a bid to prevent the anti-subsidy protest in the state capital, heavily armed mobile policemen were deployed in various places considered as hotspots across Bauchi. State Police Commissioner Ikechukwu Ayo Aduba said in a statement that "the warning became necessary due to the impending rallies over the removal of fuel subsidy and the strong resolve of the command at ensuring that the rallies and procession don?t take place in this state."

But hundreds of placards carrying youths ignored the warning and carried out their protests in a peaceful manner though closely monitored by the police and other security agencies. In large northern city of Kano, protesters who stayed overnight at a popular stadium were dispersed today on Thursday as they protested but they hung around the periphery of the stadium waiting for the police to go.

However, activists said hundreds of them were wounded while several were arrested as police fired teargas at them. In the economic capital of Lagos, lawyers numbering about 30 marched along major streets in protest as they called on the government to revert to the original price. Riots erupted in various parts of Nigeria Monday amid rising anger over a controversial decision of the government to hike fuel prices.

Government ministers met on Wednesday and said there was no going back on the subsidy removal but announced some palliative measures which included importing thousands of transport vehicles to ease the burden of road travels. Jonathan said his government spent more than USD 8 billion on the subsidies in one year alone as he warned that the country may go bankrupt if the subsidy continued.

He promised to use the amount saved from subsidy removal to improve infrastructure. However, critics fear corrupt elements in the government may embezzle the money. Labour unions have said they would begin their own protests next Monday. Nigeria is Africa`s top oil producer with an average production of 2.4 million barrels per day. Over 70 per cent of refined products are imported due to lack of refineries but major marketers boast they would build refineries after deregulation.