05 January 2012, Sweetcrude, KANO – Police fired tear gas to break up a sleep-in protest at a traffic roundabout in northern Nigerian city of Kano early Thursday, as tensions mounted over spiraling gasoline prices in oil-rich Nigeria.
Trade unions have called for a nationwide indefinite strike to begin Monday, and more protests are expected across Africa’s most populous nation in the coming days.
The overnight protest in Kano shows how far anger already has spread across Nigeria about the government suddenly removing subsidies on gasoline prices. For more than two decades, those subsidies had kept fuel cheap in a nation where few see any direct benefits from Nigeria’s oil wealth.
Protesters said officers had detained dozens of people in Kano, the major city of Nigeria’s Muslim north.
The protests began there on Monday and reached a pinnacle Wednesday as demonstrators camped out in a major traffic roundabout in the city, stalling traffic.
The protesters made plans to remain in the roundabout overnight, sleeping on donated mattresses. About 1 a.m. Thursday, protesters say police moved into the roundabout, firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.
One protester, Audu Bulama Bukarti, wrote a text message from inside a police station to The Associated Press, saying that police had threatened “to kill us inside the cell.” He said other protesters had been taken to a local hospital after suffering injuries as police moved in.
Local police spokesman Magaji Musa Majiya acknowledged police broke up the protest, but denied that any protester had been detained.
“It was late in the night drugs addicts and hoodlums took advantage … to burn tires,” Majiya told the AP.
The spokesman said people could continue to protest if they coordinate their activities with police. However, on Thursday, security forces had increased their presence around Kano.
Authorities used radio to air public announcements against the continuing protest, saying that officers would combat any illegal gathering or rally not permitted by the state police commissioner.
Nigeria’s government announced Sunday that it would stop paying a gas subsidy to gas importers effective immediately and invest part of the $8 billion in savings for much-needed infrastructure upgrades and social programs to improve the quality of life of Nigerians.
Few, though, have seen any benefit from the country’s vast oil wealth over decades of production, and a culture of distrust of government permeates Nigerian society. Most residents subsist on less than $2 a day and the subsidy removal saw gas prices rise from $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per liter) to at least $3.50 per gallon (94 cents per liter).
Nigeria, an OPEC member nation, produces about 2.4 million barrels of crude oil a day, and is a top supplier to the United States, but virtually all of its petroleum products are imported after years of graft, mismanagement and violence at its refineries.
The National Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress, two major labor groups in the country, said they plan to begin a nationwide, indefinite strike Monday over the government’s actions.