Nigeria | Fuel to the Fire

Hit hard by the removal of petrol subsidies, Nigerians rise up against graft

01 February 2012
A protester in Lagos criticises President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to allow the removal of a fuel subsidy that had signified a rare instance of social welfare for Nigerians.

IT’S THE FIFTH DAY OF NATIONWIDE PROTESTS in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub and former capital. For five days running, the city (were it a country it’d be Africa’s fifth largest economy) has experienced a shutdown—a friend likened the desolation to something out of a zombie movie. Lagos’ 15 million or so resident-hustlers, who, with their cars and trucks and bikes, help to maintain the state of enduring chaos, are nowhere to be seen. The surreal serenity of Ikorodu Road is broken every now and then by a lone speeding car, or bike, garlanded with leaves as a mark of solidarity with the protesters.

All week, all roads have led to Ojota, a taxi and bus park that on a normal day would be crammed with touts, pickpockets, hawkers, gravelly-voiced bus conductors and travellers impatient to leave the madness of the city behind. Not long ago, the state government opened here a memorial garden for Gani Fawehinmi, lawyer and human rights activist who died in 2009. It is in this park, beneath a statue of Gani, that tens of thousands of Nigerians have been gathering daily, under the banner of ‘Occupy Nigeria’, to protest the New Year’s Day removal of petrol subsidies by the federal government, which drove the price of petrol up by 110 percent.

“During June 12 we never got numbers like this,” lawyer Jide Bello told me on the third day of the protests. “If we had numbers like this, things would have been different.”

Tolu Ogunlesi  is a journalist and writer based in Lagos, Nigeria. His work has appeared in Transition, World Literature Today, The London Magazine and The Lagos Review, amongst others.

Keywords: corruption protests Nigeria Lagos fuel subsidy petrol spending protesters Occupy Nigeria power supply Sean Kuti