Nigeria has been hit with some bad violence in the past few weeks, more so than usual. The government has cordoned off certain northeastern districts where the group terrorist group Boko Haram is active, declaring a state of emergency and sealing its borders after attacks on churches, public buildings, and other areas where people gather.
The current government is focusing on trying to show the sole problem of Nigeria is this terrorist group and that's why instability has spread recently. However Nigeria also has substantial economic issues- despite rich oil reserves and other resources, it is estimated most of the population (total population is 160 million people) lives under an average of $2 a day. Despite the presidency having been occupied by both Muslim and Christian ethnic groups in the past, it has not resulted in much improvement though the perceived preferences of one government to certain ethnic group fuels tensions.
Recent government actions at attempting to 'address' economic issues resulted in the withdrawal of certain fuel subsidies which hit the poor population hard. This has resulted in unrest among the populace and mass strikes and protests by the people. The government and economists overseas say this is necessary to divert funds to other operations and ease pressure on foreign oil reserves (that is, ensuring Nigeria is selling more oil rather than consuming it domestically). The government however is continuing to hold up the bogey of Boko Haram in the northern districts, going so far as President Goodluck Jonathan now saying that there are suspect individuals in high positions in the government who have sympathies if not ties to Boko Haram while calling on the demonstrators and unions to stop.
The population of Nigeria is poor and there is unrest. It is not as simple as a nutty, violent Islamist group in the north escalating its operations. The terrain is favorable- unemployment, poverty, and divisions on both class and ethnic lines. The latter is particularly volatile, since the largely Muslim north is 'underdeveloped' compared to the southern coastline, fueling suspicions among that populace that they are all in all worthless in the eyes of the current government. In the ongoing fuel protests, there are fatalities reported in the northern city of Kano.
The economic situation has fueled the growth of a violent group like Boko Haram, though most of the populace has simply taken to the streets to protest and join in strikes. Discontent with corruption and disparity of wealth has exploded into the streets, all the while as Boko Haram, benefiting from the same terrain, continues to operate in the cordoned zones. This could have the potential to become one of important events in that country's history since the recent transition out of a military government. I am waiting to see if the government has done what Syria and Yemen have done- accuse the terrorists of either masterminding protests or infiltrating them to cause chaos.
I chose an eternity of this
6th January 2005
Aside from the already widespread protests and sit-ins happening across the country, worker's unions are now threatening to shut down oil and gas production if the government doesn't reinstate fuel subsidies. Nigeria's economy is pretty much entirely reliant on fossil fuel production. Some statistics: Nigeria is the 12th largest producer of petroleum worldwide, but the 8th largest exporter - and when you consider it has two thirds the population of all the other OPEC members put together, it becomes obvious why the population is not content with the amount of oil staying in the country. 40% of the country's GDP is tied to fossil fuel, as is 80% of government income. It's unsurprising that the government prefers exporting their precious oil to wealthy customers rather than selling it for a discount to their own, poor population. The oil industry in the country has a history of disruptions due to discontent about the way it is managed, but this time they appear to have gone too far.
Nigerian oil & gas worker's union"We are herby notifying the Federal Government of Nigeria ... that PENGASSAN (The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria) shall be forced to go ahead and apply the bitter option of ordering the systematic shutting down of oil and gas production with effect from ... 00:00 hours on Sunday Jan 15," the union said in a statement.
There is a great deal of trouble, probably from years of complacency on the part of the government and its oil business partners, with regards to the existing infrastructure and refineries. Still though, it's probably appalling to the people with the natural wealth they have, they don't see much of it showing some effect in the country.
Though with Boko Haram doing what it's doing, the government may have something to fall back on if they can't get what they want out of negotiations. Appeal to national solidarity or whatever.
And just to expand on that bit that Karst posted, the unions have put a 'hold' on the protests and other demonstrations while they negotiate with the government over the subsidy. Of course this doesn't mean that people themselves can't go out in the streets - they just won't be seeing the participation of the unions unless negotiations break down.