Nigerian police and protesters clashed in parts of the country yesterday as tens of thousands demonstrated nationwide over fuel price hikes, with at least eight people shot, one fatally.
The protests came as a nationwide strike virtually shut down the country, though officials said oil production was not affected in Africa’s largest crude producer.
Tensions ran particulary high in Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s north, when thousands converged on the state governor’s office, prompting police to push them back as they fired tear gas and shot into the air.
Also in Kano, two vans were set ablaze and protesters tried to torch the home of Nigerian central bank Governor Lamido Sanusi, but police stopped them.
A Red Cross official said an initial count showed seven people were being treated for gunshot wounds and seven others suffered a range of other injuries.
Protests appeared mainly peaceful in the economic capital Lagos, the largest city in Africa’s most populous nation, but a union leader accused police of shooting dead a demonstrator there.
Bonfires made of tires burned along main roads in the mega-city as protesters marched past, with an estimated 10,000 or more converging at a designated location for a rally.
Speakers denouncing the fuel price hike in Lagos included Femi Kuti, son of late musical icon and harsh government critic Fela Kuti, while prominent rights activists also took part.
Protest leaders in Lagos were keen to avoid provoking police, with tensions running high after authorities were accused of using excessive force against demonstrators last week and shooting dead one person.
Some people threw stones after they believed police were seeking to turn them back. Police later pulled back and calm returned.
While the main group of protesters was largely peaceful, youths on the margins of the march set bonfires and threw bottles.
Some yelled “Bad Luck Jonathan,” in reference to Nigerain President Goodluck Jonathan.
“This is a peaceful demonstration,” said Ishola Adebayo, a 38-year-old teacher. “They cannot break our resolve to compel government to drop this anti-people policy.”
The strike was widely observed, particularly in Lagos, where the usually chaotic streets were empty apart from protesters, with shops and other businesses shut for the day.
Several thousand protesters also attended a rally in the capital Abuja despite massive security.
The strike came after the government’s deeply controversial move to end fuel subsidies on Jan. 1, which caused gasoline prices to more than double in a country where most of the 160 million population lives on less than US$2 a day.
Transport costs have followed suit, sharply increasing the price of commuting and further effects were feared, especially on the cost of food.
Much of the country has been united in anger against the abandoning of fuel subsidies despite a strong push from Jonathan and his respected economic team to make their case for the move.
Nigerians view the subsidies as their only benefit from the nation’s oil wealth and lack any real trust in government after years of deeply rooted corruption.
The House of Representatives held an emergency session on Sunday and approved a measure calling on the government to reinstate fuel subsidies to allow for further consultations on the issue.
The government however made no sign it would back down.