January 6, 2012 / 2:50 PM / 6 years ago

Nigerians protest fuel price ahead of planned strike

* Subsidy removal more than doubles fuel price

* Government says it will save $6 bln this year

* No major impact expected on oil exports from strike

By Camillus Eboh and Afolabi Sotunde

ABUJA, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Nigerians angered by the government’s decision to remove fuel subsidies protested in the capital on Friday, showing determination to follow through with a nationwide strike planned for next week.

The government has said it will not budge on a decision to deregulate petrol importation, which has more than doubled the pump price to 150 naira ($0.94) per litre from 65 naira, prompting a series of demonstrations across the country.

Hundreds marched the streets in Abuja carrying banners saying “no to fuel increase” and “we subsidise government, they want to deregulate us”. They were supported by some former government ministers and flanked by soldiers.

“We will continue to fight this government until it does what is right,” Nasir el-Rufai, minister of the federal capital territory between 2003-2007, told Abuja protesters.

“What is right is that they should cut down on their expenses and ensure that our refineries work, so that we can buy petrol not at 65 naira but 40 naira (per litre).”

The protests mirror similar demonstrations this week in cities around Nigeria, where most people live on less than $2 a day and view cheap fuel as the only benefit they get from living in an oil rich state.

Trade unions have threatened to begin an indefinite general strike from Monday, including by workers in Africa’s largest energy sector. Industry sources do not expect strikes to significantly impact crude exports.

Nigeria produces more than 2 million barrels of crude oil per day but has to import nearly all its fuel because its refineries are in disrepair due to decades of mismanagement and corruption.

Nigeria’s fuel regulator announced the end of the subsidy on Sunday as part of efforts to cut government spending and to weed out corruption in the downstream oil industry, which it hopes will encourage more foreign investment in local refining.

Economists say the subsidy encouraged corruption and waste and handed over billions of dollars of government cash to a cartel of wealthy fuel importers.

The government estimates it will save 1 trillion naira ($6.21 billion) this year with the elimination of the subsidy.

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