Nigerians defy order to end strike, religious attacks flare


Tens of thousands protesting Nigerians defied an order to end a three-day-old strike Wednesday as a union threatened oil production and deadly religious violence sparked talk of a looming civil war.
The double crisis of protests and spiraling violence in Africa’s largest crude producer has left the global oil market watching anxiously and President Goodluck Jonathan facing his toughest challenge since he was elected last year.
Despite a government order late Tuesday that labelled the strike over soaring petrol prices illegal and threatened to withhold pay, protesters took to the streets as gangs of youths burnt tyres and harassed drivers for cash.
Pockets of Lagos, the largest city in Africa’s most populous nation, descended into chaos, including one upscale neighbourhood, with gangs attacking a police car with sticks and ripping down signposts.
The main groups of protesters in Lagos however remained peaceful, with some 10,000 people at one of the largest demonstrations dancing and singing anti-government songs.
Some vowed they would begin camping out there.
“I am here with my water and toothbrush because we are not leaving this arena until our demand for fuel at 65 naira ($0.40, 0.30 euros) is met,” said Akinola Oyebode, a 23-year-old at the main protest in Lagos, referring to the price of a litre of petrol before government subsidies were scrapped from January 1.
“We shall not be intimidated by the police because our protest is legitimate and constitutional.”
Smaller protests took place in other parts of the city, including one calling itself “Occupy Nigeria” after the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States.
In Kano, the largest city in the north, a massive crowd thought to be in the tens of thousands marched through the streets.
Protesters and police clashed in Kano on Monday, leaving at least two people shot dead, but Wednesday’s march started off peacefully.
Oil production has so far not been affected by the strike, but workers threatened action if the government does not respond to their demands.
“We are contemplating shutting down oil production,” said Tokunbo Korodo, Lagos head for oil workers union NUPENG.
“We are just waiting for the outcome of discussions between labour and government today. The outcome of that meeting, if not favourable, will lead us to shutting down oil production.”
Meanwhile, spiralling ethnic and religious violence in various parts of the country has fueled further chaos amid warnings of a wider conflict in a country roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south. Sixteen people were killed in three separate incidents in the latest such violence.
An Islamic school was torched in the south on Tuesday and Islamist group Boko Haram was blamed for gunning down eight people, including five police officers, in a pub in Potiskum in the northeast.