LAGOS, Nigeria – Labor unions ended a crippling nationwide strike Monday in Nigeria after the country’s president partially restored subsidies that keep gasoline prices low, though it took soldiers deployed in the streets to stop demonstrations in Africa’s most populous nation.
Union leaders claimed a victory for labor, saying this would allow its leaders to guide the country’s policy on fuel subsidies in the future. But the newly agreed price of about $2.27 a gallon is still more expensive than the previous price of $1.70 per gallon, putting additional economic strain on those living in a nation where most earn less than $2 a day and few see the rewards of being a major oil exporter.
And to force the compromise and stop popular protests, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered soldiers to take over security in the country’s major cities, something unseen since the nation abandoned military rule for an uneasy democracy in 1999. The move raises new questions about freedom of speech in a nation where government power still appears absolute.
“This is a clear case of intolerance and shutting of the democratic space against the people of Nigeria which must be condemned by all democracy-loving people around the world,” read a statement from the Save Nigeria Group, which has organized massive demonstrations in Lagos.
The six-day strike began after fuel prices more than doubled to at least $3.50 per gallon following a Jan. 1 decision by Jonathan’s administration to end the government-sponsored subsidies.
Many protesters also joined the growing demonstrations to speak out against a culture of government corruption in a nation where lawmakers earn pay packages of $1 million a year and states have budgets larger than neighboring countries. The Nigeria Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress told journalists on Monday they chose to abandon the strike “in order to save lives and in the interest of national survival.” They met with Jonathan late Sunday night, who made the same claims about security concerns.
“We are sure that no government or institution will take Nigerians for granted again,” said Abdulwaheed Omar, the president of the Nigeria Labor Congress.
That did not appear the case as soldiers and armored personnel carriers moved in overnight to occupy a park in Lagos where tens of thousands had gathered to protest. Soldiers also took over major highways and road junctions throughout Lagos, home to 15 million people, and in Kano, Nigeria’s second-largest city.