Government: Ongoing Nigeria strike invites anarchy

January 11, 2012 - 5:35 AM
APTOPIX Nigeria Fuel Subsidy

A angry youth protest in front of a burning barrier following the removal of a fuel subsidy by the government in Lagos, Nigeria, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 201. Angry youths erected a burning roadblock outside luxury enclaves in Nigeria's commercial capital Tuesday as a paralyzing national strike over fuel prices and government corruption entered its second day.(AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's government is warning that a paralyzing national strike risks "anarchy" in the oil-rich nation, as demonstrations over spiraling fuel prices and government corruption entered their third day Wednesday.

Attorney General Mohammed Bello Adoke's comments come as at least nine people have been killed in violence during the strikes over the government removing subsidies that had kept gasoline prices low in Africa's most populous nation.

In Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital of 15 million, several hundred protesters took over a major highway leading to the islands where the wealthy live. One protester carried a signed that read: "We are ready for the civil war."

"We can sleep on the road until daybreak; we are not tired," said Godwin Bassey, 16. "We voted for them. They need to obey our voice."

In a statement, Adoke described the strike by major labor unions as illegal, and warned public workers that the government would implement a "no work, no pay" policy for those who join the strike.

However, public workers sometimes go weeks without pay in Nigeria, where corruption and mismanagement has plagued government for decades.

"Continuing disregard of that order is (dangerous) to the public interest as it constitutes an open invitation to anarchy," Adoke said in a statement issued late Tuesday.

The nationwide strike, which began Monday, came after President Goodluck Jonathan removed subsidies on Jan. 1 that had kept gasoline prices low. Overnight, prices at the pump more than doubled, from $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per liter) to at least $3.50 per gallon (94 cents per liter). The costs of food and transportation also doubled in a nation where most live on less than $2 a day.

Jonathan insists the move was necessary to save the country an estimated $8 billion a year, which he promises will go toward badly needed road and public projects. However, protesters — who joined the strike under the slogan of "Occupy Nigeria" — say the time has come to end government corruption in a nation where military rulers and politicians have stolen billions.

Tens of thousands have protested across the country since the strike started Monday. Anger over the government's action has spurred violence in a country already facing uneasy religious and ethnic divisions. An angry mob attacked a mosque and Quranic school on Tuesday, killing at least five people in the country's largely Christian south, the Nigerian Red Cross said.

Unrest could affect oil production in Nigeria, which produces about 2.4 million barrels of oil a day and is a top crude supplier to the U.S. However, most fields remain unmanned and offshore oil fields provide much of its capacity.

Babatunde Ogun, president of one major union representing oil workers, said Wednesday his group planned to escalate their strike.

"It means in the short term, there will be no export of (natural) gas, there will be no power," Ogun said. "Everything will be at a standstill."

The strike has closed Lagos' busy Apapa Port, cutting off cargo shipments. Businesses remain shuttered, while air carriers canceled more international flights. Organizers say the strike will continue until the government restores the subsidies.

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Associated Press writers Yinka Ibukun in Lagos, Nigeria and Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria contributed to this report.

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Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.