Labour unions in Nigeria have threatened to paralyse the country with mass protests and strikes as the price of petrol skyrocketed, a day after the government announced an end to fuel subsidies.
Queues grew at petrol stations on Monday in the capital, Abuja, and in the city of Lagos, where angry motorists paid more than twice the usual price for fuel.
Sign posts at a few gas stations put the price at nearly 94 cents per litre, up from about 45 cents per litre on Sunday.
Many more stations were shut down, while bus and taxi fares had already risen.
“They want to kill the masses,” Mensong Mensong, 33, a motorcycle-taxi driver waiting for his turn amid a cluster of motorcycles, told the Associated Press news agency.
“They are deceiving us here in the name of governing us.”
Nigerian regulators announced the start of the deeply controversial measure to remove fuel subsidies on Sunday, with labour unions warning of protests across Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer.
Economists and government officials’ view removing the subsidy as essential to allow for more spending on the country’s woefully inadequate infrastructure and to ease pressure on its foreign reserves.
Nigerians, however, see the subsidy as their only benefit from the nation’s oil wealth. Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Abuja, said reports from around the country spoke of a hike in the cost of public transport and basic necessities, such as food.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris reports on the fuel crisis from Abuja, Nigeria
“The Nigerian authorities say that continuous subsidy of petroleum and petroleum products is not sustainable.
The government needs those funds to develop other sectors of the economy,” he said.
“The organised labour describes the government move as a declaration of war. They vowed to picket all petrol stations selling the product above the 65 naira per litre prior to January 1, 2012.”
The government says more than $8bn was spent in 2011 on fuel subsidies.
Nigeria refines very little of its crude despite being a major oil producer and OPEC member, a situation blamed on corruption and mismanagement, forcing the country to import fuel even while it exports crude.
Pushed too far
Denja Yaqub, the assistant secretary-general of the Nigeria Labour Congress, one of the country’s main unions, said protests are to be organised in the coming days.
“We intend to work with other groups to completely paralyse the government and make the country ungovernable. They have pushed Nigerians too far.”
The new policy deregulates the sector, though prices will still have to be in line with a benchmark rate to be posted regularly on the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency website.
The rate will be in line with market conditions. President Goodluck Jonathan, along with his highly respected central bank chief, Lamido Sanusi, and finance minister, ex-World Bank managing director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, pushed hard for the subsidy removal.
They have argued that it is one of the keys to unlocking development in a country that has been unable to provide even sufficient electricity to its population despite its oil wealth.
Blackouts occur daily and roads are in deplorable condition in the West African nation.
However, years of deeply rooted corruption and mismanagement have resulted in profound distrust of government officials in Nigeria, which is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most graft-ridden nations.
Residents have repeatedly argued that they do not trust officials when they say the money saved from subsidies will be wisely spent.