More than 700 people took to the streets in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Thursday to protest against the government’s economic policy in a sign of mounting public anger in the oil producing nation grappling with recession.
Africa’s largest economy is mired in its first recession for 25 years as low oil prices have hit the public finances and foreign reserves while driving up annual inflation to almost 20 percent.
President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on pledges to diversify the economy and fight corruption. But critics say he has made little progress, with Nigeria still heavily dependent on crude exports whose price has halved since 2014.
The 74-year-old former military ruler is currently on medical leave in Britain.
Protesters from labour unions marched on the streets of Abuja singing solidarity songs.
“At the heart of this challenge is the near absence of good governance, accountability, transparency and the rule of law. Any system that does not have those ingredients of good governance in place then certainly the first group of people that will suffer is the working class and their families and other citizens and that is why today we are marching to canvas for good governance and also to lend our voice to say that the fight against corruption must continue,” said Ayuba Wabba, a labour union and protest leader.
The protesters marched to the presidential villa to try to see Vice President Yemi Osinbajo but it was not immediately clear whether a meeting took place.
“If you don’t say I’m here, nobody will say you are there and so we are out as Nigerians to speak very loudly and in clear language to tell those in government that we are Nigerians, we voted them, we did not vote them that they will pauperise us, we did not vote them that they should come and punish us, we voted them to provide good governance,” Ayoeribe Emmanuel, a union leader said.
Ismail Bello, Deputy General Secretary of the Textile Workers Union, said the country was yet to feel the change Buhari’s government promised.
“We are feeling the pain of lack of good governance; we are feeling the pain of corruption; we are feeling the pain of joblessness; we are feeling the pain of decline in real wages; we are feeling the pain of non-payment of salaries to public servants; we are feeling the pain of factory closure; we are feeling the pain of non-payment of pensioners’ pensions. So that’s the pain that we feel and that’s why we are demanding that things must work and work for ordinary people,” said Bello.
There was also a smaller demonstration in the commercial capital Lagos.
Buhari has been in Britain since mid-January for treatment for an unspecified medical condition and, with no indication of when he might return, many Nigerians suspect his health is worse than officials admit.
Hundreds of people had already staged a similar protest on Monday in Abuja and other cities.