The Bishop of Lagos has called upon the President of Nigeria to convene an all-party, all-ethnic congress to negotiate the future of the West African nation in the wake of a week-long general strike that followed the government’s lifting of price controls on fuel.
On 16 January 2012 President Goodluck Jonathan capitulated to union demands and partially restored the state-subsidy on fuel. The week of civil strike saw the military deployed in the streets of Lagos and most major cities.
President Jonathan conceded that the “government appreciates that the implementation of the deregulation policy would cause initial hardships” and agreed to subsidize the price of fuel.
Under a deal brokered with union leaders, the price of gasoline in Nigeria will drop from £.60 per litre to £.39, or from $3.50 to $2.27 per gallon. Before the government lifted price controls fuel prices averaged £.29 per litre or $1.70 gallon.
The International Monetary Fund and the country’s economic advisers had pressed the government to eliminate the fuel subsidy. While Nigeria is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil producer, the country’s four refineries are incapable of meeting consumer demand.
Approximately 85 per cent of Nigeria’s refined petroleum must be imported from abroad, with the federal government spending an estimated £4.5 billion to subsidize fuel purchases.
Successive Nigerian governments have kept diesel prices low as most small businesses and many private homes rely on generators to provide electricity as the national power grid is antiquated and unreliable. For the vast majority of Nigerians subsidized fuel prices were one of the few benefits they received from the country’s oil wealth.
Church and union leaders had urged the government not to life the fuel subsidies, and when the government refused to compromise a national strike was staged that led to mass protests, riots and outbreaks of communal violence across the country.
The Bishop of Lagos West, the Rt. Rev. Peter Adebiyi said it made no sense for President Jonathan to send the army into the streets of Lagos in response to the strike.
Lagos State had “recorded an unprecedented number of votes during the last presidential elections [for President Jonathan], despite the fact that the state is being governed by one of the opposition parties. It is instructive that from the pattern of voting in other elections, the people of Lagos State voted the President as a person and not the political party he represents”
The bishop was amazed that the candidate “Lagosians voted massively for, turned around to militarize the state in the face of simple and peaceful demonstration against government policies that affected citizens of Nigeria. Are we at a war,” the bishop asked.
“It is rather shameful and unbelievable seeing military personnel brandishing guns and armour tanks in the early hours of Monday 16th of January, 2012 as if we are at a way”, the bishop said, whereas “simple dialogue and sense of reasoning would have prevailed instead of the military option.”
Christians and Muslims, Yoruba and Hausa were united in opposing the fuel increases, the bishop said. “Going by the overwhelming presences of dignitaries that attended the rallies in Lagos against the removal of fuel subsidy, despite their differences in party and religion affiliations, attests to the fact that government must always do what pleases the people,” he said.
Bishop Adebiyi called upon the government go convene an all-party Sovereign National Conference “where different ethnic groups in the country will come together in a round table and decide how they should be governed.” For as it stands now, Nigeria is not working, the bishop said.
This article first appeared in the January 20, 2012 issue of the Church of England Newspaper on page 6.