Angry youths put up a burning roadblock outside luxury enclaves in Nigeria’s commercial capital Tuesday as a paralyzing national strike over fuel prices and government corruption entered its second day.
The flaming tires and debris sent thick, dark smoke over part of Ikoyi Island, home to diplomats and many of the oil-rich nation’s wealthy elite. It also signaled the danger of spiraling violence as protests continue in the country of more than 160 million people. Police shot at least three protesters to death on Monday.
“This is oligarchy, this is not a democracy!” shouted Danjuma Mohammed, as he stood before the fire holding rocks in his hands. “We are no longer afraid of you! We are ready for war!”
The strike started Monday by labor unions upset over high fuel prices in Africa’s most populous nation. Gas prices have risen from $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per liter) to at least $3.50 per gallon (94 cents per liter) since the subsidy on fuel ended Jan. 1 at the orders of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. That spurred a spike in food and transportation prices across a country where most live on less than $2 a day
More than 10,000 people attended one rally in Lagos as the strike started Monday, while tens of thousands more marched in streets across the country. Activists also wore shirts bearing symbols for a loose-knit group called “Occupy Nigeria,” inspired by those near Wall Street in New York.
Anger also extended to government corruption in Nigeria, a nation beset by politicians and military rulers who have stolen billions of dollars in oil revenues over the years.
And protesters said they want a stronger government response to ongoing violence in Nigeria by a radical Muslim sect that, according to an Associated Press count, killed at least 510 people last year alone.
The attacks by the sect known locally as Boko Haram have raised tensions between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. On Tuesday, a mob attacked a mosque and a Quranic school in Benin City, causing some casualties, said Nigerian Red spokesman Nwakpa O. Nwakpa. A mob had tried to burn down a mosque Monday in the city as well.
While most businesses remained closed Monday and Tuesday, some flights continued to leave Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport. Oil production also apparently continued in Nigeria, which produces about 2.4 million barrels of oil a day and remains a top crude supplier to the U.S. However, the unions representing oil workers have promised to also strike.
It is unclear how long the strike will last. The unions have said described it as indefinite, saying they’ll stop only if the government restores the fuel subsidies. Jonathan insists that the subsidies be removed to save the country about $8 billion a year, money he says will go toward badly needed road and public projects.
Those protesting Tuesday morning on Ikoyi Island said they no longer believe in the government, shouting: “They will kill us and we will kill them!”
A convoy of police escorting a member of the country’s elite arrived, with officers loudly loading their Kalashnikov rifles in an attempt to drive the protesters away. Officers put out part of the flaming blockade with an extinguisher, but drove off, leaving the protesters behind.
Another convoy of unarmed officers arrived. They pleaded with protesters for calm but instead they threw stones as the officers put out the flames.