The protests have all but stopped in Lagos. And reports of protests dying down in the rest of the country have divided the public. Some are happy to return to normality, but many in the country are bitterly unhappy with the compromise the labour unions have made with the government.
The removal of the oil subsidy, on January 1, made oil prices more than double at the petrol stations from 0.40$ to 0.90$ per litre. A side-effect of this was a hike in the cost of food and public transport. On Monday, Jonathan partially reversed the removal, cutting the prices from 0.90$ to o.60$ per litre. And in return, the key labour unions -the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) – called for an end to the strike.
Unfortunately, the inflated prices of food and transport have not fallen in line with the petrol concession. The consequence for most of the country, already living on the breadline, will be a deeper fall into poverty.
For many who sought a return to the original pre-2012 price of 0.40$ per litre, the cut is not deep enough. NLC President Abdulwahed Omar, and TUC President Peter Esele, have been accused of receiving bribes from the government, although there has been no evidence to back up these claims.
Earlier in the week, reports from protesters seemed to paint a picture of a growing campaign – both in strength and numbers. Tosin Agbetusin, 33, an account manager, was protesting at one of the main sites in Lagos. Describing the turnout he said: “as the days went by, the numbers of protesters increased. By Friday we had thousands out on the streets. People from all walks of life were out here.”
The government is yet to provide clear, detailed and public plans for how they intend to use the saved subsidy revenue to improve desperately lacking infrastructure in the country. Tosin would rather have the subsidy: “we don’t want any promises about what they will use the money for. Nobody believes it anyway. Just give us our subsidy back.”
The government has argued that some of Nigeria’s neighbours, like Cameroon, have previously benefited from the low-cost petrol by smuggling the oil across the borders and selling it on for profit. Debo Ogunwo, 28, a petroleum geophysicist, says that this is a security issue. “Why must the public suffer because of that? The government are failing to protect life and property, even across the border. Why can’t they make the borders more secure?”
As the country tries to get back on its feet after a week-long standstill, people are still asking questions like these. People are asking why the government spends so much on government officials’ salaries and expenses. Many are wondering why the refineries are not being brought up to standard; and some would like to ask why the subsidy removal was not implemented gradually, over a defined period of time. Why the rush?
One thing’s for sure – the protest made some impact. It may have not been the victory that some were hoping for, but it did send a clear message to the rulers and the elite. With the dubbed ‘year of the protester’ just behind us, a growing population savvy with social media, and possessing an increasing political consciousness, the message seems to be that there are certain lines not to be crossed.