Lagos: Unions suspended their nationwide strike yesterday, hours after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan partially reinstated subsidies to keep petrol prices low and deployed soldiers in the streets to halt widening demonstrations.
Union leaders described their decision as a victory for labour, allowing its leaders to guide the country's policy on fuel subsidies in the future while having petrol prices drop to about $2.27 (Dh8.33) a gallon.
However, many protesters joined the demonstrations with hopes of seeing petrol return to its previous price of about $1.70 per gallon, while also speaking out against a culture of government corruption in Africa's most populous nation. Deploying soldiers to the street stopped demonstrators from gathering yesterday. At one point they fired over the heads of protesters to disperse them. But the deployment of troops in a nation with a history of military coups did nothing to cool the populist rage that swept the country in recent days.
"This is a clear case of intolerance and shutting of the democratic space against the people of Nigeria which must be condemned by all democracy-loving people around the world," read a statement from the Save Nigeria Group, which has organised massive demonstrations in Lagos.
The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress told journalists yesterday in Nigeria's capital Abuja they applauded the government's recent promise to explore corruption in the country's oil sector. They described the six-day strike a success.
"We are sure that no government or institution will take Nigerians for granted again," said Abdul Wahid Omar, the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress.
But while Jonathan offered an olive branch to unions with the gas price relief, he used military power to make sure no one protested against the government yesterday. In a rare display of military might, soldiers took over major highways and road junctions throughout Lagos, home to 15 million people, and Kano, Nigeria's second-largest city.