Occupy Nigeria Protests: It’s About More Than Just A Fuel Subsidy

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If it were only so simple as hundreds of thousands of people across Nigeria uniting to protest over the recent removal of the fuel subsidy! However, it’s about much more than that. That said, everywhere I look on the internet these days, I’m reading oversimplified, overgeneralized news statements such as We are tracking the alarming situation in Nigeria, where the country has been paralyzed by strike action over high fuel prices…” and that’s all they’ve got to say as far as the causes of the strike. 

However, some (including me) would disagree…


So an important clarification is to say – the protests started immediately as a response to the fuel subsidy removal, but they are a reaction to an overwhelming discontent with the Nigerian government’s performance and inability to move the country forward, despite significant revenues derives from the exportation of crude oil.

The recent removal of the fuel subsidy — which enabled fuel to be sold at approximately 65 Naira/liter (that’s 40 cents) was in fact a major drain on the economy due to huge government expenditures (more than eight billion dollars last year, according to a recent Africa.com article. Unsustainable? Probably.

But this is a country where although the average income is just over three dollars a day, 64 percent of the population live below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. In Nigeria, statistics also say that the richest 20 percent of the population capture half of the country’s wealth while, the poorest 40 percent capture just 15 percent. If the country is interested interested in cutting government fuel expenditures, such a place that hits so close to home for the average Nigerian (the cost of fuel), probably wasn’t the best place to start (Since 2007, Nigeria has consistently been the lead importing country of generators, due to the government’s inability/unwillingness to address the widespread power supply issues; in 1997, generators replaced the power grid as households’ main source of power in the country). This, one of the world’s biggest exporters of oil, is a country where the average person can’t depend on the government to supply electricity or water. If the government is interested in setting fuel at the international market price, perhaps it ought to start with first enabling its citizens to earn international market wages — otherwise, how could the average Nigerian survive?

These protests are about much more than just fuel prices, though. They are about maladministration. Corruption. Widespread unemployment, especially among the youth (many of which are educated, but unable to find jobs). Lack of responsiveness to people’s needs (and lack of citizen voice in politics). For too long, the majority have acquiesced, resigned and accepted the situation as one that was unchangeable. Now, things are changing. We’ll have to see what the outcome will be for the fuel subsidy, but one hugely positive outcome is that this government action has spurred countless thousands of Nigerians — especially youth — to engage themselves in politics, and to find ways, through mass demonstration and protests, to make their collective voice heard.