Massive protests have broken out in Nigeria following the government’s announcement that long-standing oil subsidies will be terminated. Reuters has reported that tens of thousands have taken to the streets, and that confrontations with police have left at least five dead.

Thousands gathered outside the labour union headquarters in Lagos and marched to the marina that runs along its wide lagoon. The roads of the normally heaving commercial hub, notorious for its traffic jams, were largely empty.

Oil workers were also on strike and the offices of international companies such as Shell and Exxon Mobil were shut. But Shell and the state oil company said output was unaffected.

Subsidies on imports of motor fuel were scrapped on Jan 1., leaving countless Nigerians without the only welfare program they depend on. With the change, Nigerians will be paying one dollar per liter in a country where most people make less than two dollars per day. People from all walks of life, including novelist Chinua Achebe, have lent support to the nascent movement to oppose this gutting of the Nigerian safety net.

A small, but high-energy crowd demonstrated at the World Bank to stand in solidarity with Nigeria, and to say no to the policies proposed by global institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Here’s a video (catch IPS’er Emira Woods leading the chants at the 0:58 mark):

The government argues that the subsidy program is riddled with corruption, and that this step is necessary to curtail government spending. The rhetoric is eerily familiar. All over the world, states once held the power to create a safety net for their citizens. In today’s political environment, corporations are able to flex their muscle to impede on government taking that role from Wisconsin and El Salvador, to Lagos.

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