Fuel Subsidy in Nigeria: Lessons in Leading the People's Side of the Tussle

Each time the Federal Government of Nigeria considers the burden of fuel subsidy too heavy, it attempts to shed a bit of it. Two things often follow: first, the prices of petroleum products and the cost of living instantly go up; second, the organised labour and civil society organisations mobilise the citizens for protest. They assume the leading position among citizens articulating citizens’ side of the tussle in the narratives. In most cases, these protests take place and lead to a downward review of the prices of petroleum products; in a few cases the protests barely take place. In 2012, the protests were widespread and led to significant policy initiatives (especially SURE-P). Since 2015 fuel prices have continuously gone up (once, down) but labour and the activists have not succeeded in getting people out onto the streets. In effect, they seem to have lost the ability and legitimacy to lead the people’s side of the tussle. This has negative implications for the subsidy related contentions that sometimes bring reprieve for citizens, even temporarily. In the study reported here, we examined how labour and others lost that role, and we draw out lessons on how to lead the people’s side of a volatile tussle such as the fuel subsidy issue.