President Goodluck Jonathan may have averted a ‘Nigerian Spring’ by announcing the reinstatement of a popular fuel subsidy. But it was the prospect of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), taking strike action that forced the government to capitulate, says Oge Onubogu, West Africa program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy.
The resulting shut down of crude oil production would have crippled the entire economy, with repercussions for the global market.
Nigeria is the world’s eighth-largest exporter of crude oil.
The protest movement grew so rapidly because the removal of the fuel subsidy was symptomatic of a deeper malaise.
Most Nigerians understand that it is no longer sustainable for the government to subsidize fuel and accept that the subsidy has to go. But people were infuriated at the way in which the measures were taken without proper consultation, explanation or time to prepare for a soft landing. The protests show that people will no longer be pushed around by corrupt politicians who implement policies that negatively impact the majority of citizens who struggle everyday just to make ends meet.
While some overzealous youths took advantage of the protests to cause mayhem, for the most part, the protests were largely peaceful and well-organized by the labor unions and civil society.
Some casualties as a result of reckless police officers were reported, but in many instances, surprisingly the police have taken steps to apologize to the people and arrest the guilty officers. This wouldn’t have happened in Nigeria 15 years ago.
The protesters’ resilience was typified by one lady’s placard at a rally here in Lagos, which read “No one can break the Nigerian spirit.”
The dispute has given rise to a growing public debate about the country’s endemic corruption, including who is involved and whether anything viable can be done to curb the problem.
While a minority attacked personalities, it is so refreshing to hear constructive discussions and arguments from civil society, independent media, and the unions.
NED grantees were among the labor union and civil society representatives who with the president, members of the federal executive council, and state governors in efforts to negotiate an end to the crisis. NED has funded the Solidarity Center’s work with PENGASSAN.