ABUJA (AFP) – A court issued an order seeking to bar a national strike planned for next week as police blocked protesters on Friday in the capital over soaring fuel prices which have sparked nationwide outrage.
The labour movement has threatened to stage open-ended general strikes, mass rallies and street protests across the country starting Monday if the government does not backtrack on its new policy to remove subsidies on petrol.
Judge Babatunde Adejuwon of the country’s industrial court ruled in favour of the government in an interim order restraining the unions from “embarking and/or inciting the general public …to embark on a general strike.”
He said the government argues that economic activities in Africa’s leading oil producer would be “adversely affected as will the health and safety of the citizenry if the impending strike is allowed to hold.”
The unions, which have threatened to shut down Africa’s most populous country, were not at the court and have vowed to go ahead with the strike.
They laughed over the order saying the government “has purchased a black market injunction.”
“There is no going back on next week’s protests and shutdown,” said Owei Lakemfa, secretary general of the Nigerian Labour Congress.
About 40 protesters tried to march to Eagle Square in Abuja when police blocked the road and prevented them, an AFP correspondent reported.
The police move was one of the latest attempt to stop increasingly volatile protests over the removal of fuel subsidies on January 1, which caused petrol prices to more than double.
On Thursday, protesters in Kano said police fired tear gas and beat demonstrators. They also claim one protester was crushed to death by a police van that ran into the group, an allegation authorities deny.
The protesters are now suing the government for brutally putting down their sleep-in rallies at a downtown square.
“We are demanding 500 million naira (about $3 million) in compensation from the Kano state and the federal government for the injuries sustained by protestors and the killing of one,” spokesman Jubril Suleiman told AFP.
They also want the court to restrain the police and the government from interfering with future protests.
The price hike also fuelled protests in other parts of the country.
Nigeria’s police chief Hafiz Ringim said he met with other security services chiefs on Friday to review the threats posed by the protests and to “re-tune the modalities so far put in place”. He did not give details.
Rights group Amnesty International has called on Nigerian authorities to end what it called excessive use of force against protesters.
Police on Monday fired tear gas to disperse a protest in Abuja and were accused of shooting dead a demonstrator on Tuesday in Kwara state, which authorities denied, saying a mob killed him.
The lower house of parliament has summoned an emergency session for Sunday to discuss the crisis facing one of sub-Saharan Africa’s powerhouses.
Economists and government officials in Africa’s largest oil producer view removing the subsidy as essential to allow for more spending on the country’s woefully inadequate infrastructure and to ease pressure on its foreign reserves.
The government says more than $8 billion was spent in 2011 on fuel subsidies.
Nigerians however see the subsidy as their only benefit from the nation’s oil wealth, and years of deeply rooted corruption have resulted in profound distrust of government officials.