“It shows that Nigeria is now coming together as one family,” said Abdullahi Idowu, 27, as he prepared to wash himself before Friday prayers.
Labor unions, meanwhile, announced Friday they would halt their five-day strike for the weekend, allowing families stuck largely inside their homes to go to markets and rest. Union leaders also plan to meet President Goodluck Jonathan and government officials on Saturday for new negotiations, just ahead of a promised labor shutdown of Nigeria’s oil industry.
Nigeria, which produces about 2.4 million barrels of crude a day, is the fifth-largest oil exporter to the U.S. While the country has a several-week stock of oil ready for export, the threatened shutdown Sunday could shake oil futures as traders remained concerns about worldwide supply.
The strike began Monday, paralyzing the nation of more than 160 million people. The root cause remains gasoline prices: President Goodluck Jonathan’s government abandoned subsidies that kept gasoline prices low Jan. 1, causing prices to spike 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 largely doubled in a nation where most people live on less than $2 a day.
Anger over losing one of the few benefits average Nigerians see from being an oil-rich country, as well as disgust over government corruption, have led to demonstrations across this nation and violence that has killed at least 10 people. Red Cross volunteers have treated more than 600 people injured in protests since the strike began, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday.
“Over 4,000 persons have also been temporarily displaced there as a result of the strike and communal tensions,” said Mamadou Sow, the deputy head of the committee’s delegation in Nigeria. “Most of them have now started to return to their homes.”
Protesters say they will not accept anything other than a full restoration of the estimated $8 billion in subsidies the government spends to keep gas prices low. On Friday, the president of the Nigeria Labor Congress said the government offered a slight subsidy to lower prices during negotiations on Thursday night. However, Abdulwaheed Omar said labor organizers rejected it, saying they wanted a full return of the subsidy.
At the mass demonstration in Lagos, Pastor Tunde Bakare called in Nigeria to reject a government that “is working hard to remove the crumbs the poor people survive on,” while not providing adequate clean drinking water and electricity.