Nigerian president pleads with public over fuel subsidy removal

With unions planning reprisals concerning petrol prices, the president has pleaded with the Nigerian public not to strike on a nationwide scale.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

With unions planning an indefinite strike starting from today, President Goodluck Jonathan has pleaded with the Nigerian general public to support financial measures -- rather than strike on a nationwide scale.

The planned removal of fuel subsidies has caused outrage among the Nigerian community. In a last-ditch attempt to stall the nationwide strike, President Jonathan has pledged to cut government salaries to try and stem the anger of Nigerian people who have already been hit with crippling petroleum prices.

Petrol prices have escalated, rising to 150 naira ($0.93) per litre, causing widespread fury and protests. However, an organised, nationwide strike will without doubt paralyze the nation. Considering most Nigerian people live on less than $2 a day, cheap fuel is one of the few benefits they receive from living in a state abundant in crude oil.

Due to this, living standards are expected to lower further. Oil prices are simply the latest addition to basic necessity costs escalating, such as food, rental, and medical bills.

Africa's largest oil exporter ended the subsidy on Jan 1, as part of a campaign to cut government expenditure and remove corruption within the industry. Members of parliament requested that the president reconsider the move, however he believes it is 'economically unsustainable' to do so.

Nigeria produces around 2.4 million barrels of crude oil on a daily basis but imports roughly 70% from countries abroad, due to its refineries left inoperative through years of neglect and corruption.

Ahead of the movement, reminiscent of past U.K petrol strikes, motorists waited patiently in line to stock up on fuel.

Up to 8 million Nigerians are expected to refuse to attend work today as part of the strike. A court order has been put in place to try and prevent it, but unions insist they will still go ahead. Other officials believe that many Nigerians will carry on as usual.

The president made a television appearance over the weekend in an attempt to defend the subsidy removal and other cutback measures.

"The truth is that we are all faced with two basic choices. Either we deregulate and survive economically, or we continue with a subsidy regime that will continue to undermine our economy and potential for growth, and face serious consequences."

Deregulating the oil industry, he insisted, is the best means in which to promote the future of the Nigerian economy and encourage more foreign investment in local refineries. The president also insists any pain the general public currently feel will be 'temporary'.

Government officials in the 'executive' sector will be forced to take a 25 per cent pay cut, and foreign trips will be reduced, according to President Jonathan. However, the cuts do not include members of parliament, whose salaries result in one of the largest figures of government spending.

The government estimates it will save 1 trillion naira ($6.21 billion) this year by eliminating the subsidy.

(Photo credit: Dalapo Falola/Flickr)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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