Lagos shows signs of strain amid strike
Lagos, Nigeria: Market stalls and food sellers can only return to the streets at dusk to do business or else risk the wrath of angry demonstrators for breaking the nationwide strike. ATMs are starting to run out of money, and gangs of young men have taken over some highways and overpasses.
As Nigeria's indefinite nationwide strike over spiraling fuel prices enters its fifth day Friday, there are growing signs of strain in Lagos, one of the world's largest cities where most subsist on less than $2 a day.
At makeshift checkpoints, angry youths bring their hands to their mouths in a pantomime of eating, while others simply beat the sides of cars or break out windows to get what they want. Others continue to make do with what they can find as their meager savings begin to be tapped out.
"I've been fasting," wailed one youth sitting on top of an overturned police traffic post on an occupied highway. "I'm not Jesus Christ — I'm suffering."
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, has been paralyzed by a national strike that began Monday after the country's government abandoned subsidies that kept gasoline prices lower for consumers.
Overnight, prices at the pump more than doubled, 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 doubled.
Popular anger over losing one of the few benefits average Nigerians see from being an oil-rich nation, as well as disgust over government corruption, has led to demonstrations nationwide and related violence that has killed at least 10 people.
Tens of thousands have marched across the country, with one mass demonstration in Lagos growing every day. There, organizers have begun handing out water and bread to those who gather there to sustain the protest.
Organizers say they want to keep the strike that started Monday going as long as the government refuses to bring gas prices down. A similar strike in 2003 lasted eight days. But there are limits to such endurance. The rise of gang-run checkpoints and begging at protests grows as the strike continues.
"Some of the Nigerians are going through pains and hardships because they can't go outside their house and source money," said Tony Ashiedu, a spokesman for the Association of Senior Staff of Bank, Insurance and Financial Institutions. "But in all parts of the world, only Nigerians can endure (such) pain."
Protesters themselves are beginning to show a rage that could turn to violence.
Abraham Overare, 49, said without hesitation he would overrun the presidential palace of Aso Rock and attack President Goodluck Jonathan if given a chance. On Thursday, he carried a sign that read: "Go Jonathan or die like Gadafi," referencing the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
"After Friday, it will turn red," Overare said. "The boys are angry."
Some protest organizers have been making a specific point to calm angry crowds. As more than 1,000 demonstrators surrounded the Lagos headquarters of the state-run Nigerian Television Authority on Thursday, they arranged a line of bicyclists to form a human barrier between armed police and the protest.
That protest drew motorcycle taximen who sleep at night on their bikes, as well as one man driving a sleek black Range Rover.
Among those joining was a popular comedian who goes by the stage name Ali Baba. He acknowledged the demonstrations could fade as people grow hungry, but said the protests showed something Nigerian leaders had not seen before.
"Even if the protest fizzles out, the point is made," he said. "The government will know that we can do this. They won't take us for granted."