In recent months, Nigeria has been buzzing with crises, bombings, strikes, protests and other security issues with women at the center of all of them.
On 1January Nigerians were shocked by the removal of the fuel subsidy, immediately doubling the pump price of fuel (gasoline). The cost of a litre of fuel shot up from 65 Naira (40 cents) to at least 141 Naira (86 cents) virtually overnight. The increase was particularly traumatic for those who had travelled long distances by road to spend Christmas and New Year with their families and could barely afford the return journey to their homes.
The increase in fuel prices more than doubled the price of foodstuff, transportation, goods and services and increased the already high cost of living. The reactions from Nigerians were protests and strikes, which cost the economy hundreds of billions of Naira and allegedly 13 lives were lost. People took to the streets to protest the action of the government and for eight days, the country was at a stand still.
Women were a big part of the street protests because as one woman said, “We are the ones who bear the brunt of this price increase because we go to market; we buy the food and we worry about how to feed the entire family. How can we buy food and feed our families when the money available was not even enough during the old prices? Now the price of everything has doubled!” The situation was most distressing because the increase in the price of gasoline was not accompanied by an increase in salaries.
Some of the issues were resolved when the fuel subsidy was restored and the pump price of fuel was reduced ending the worst of the crises. Palliative measures were also put in place by the government to ease the hardships experienced by the people, a move which some described as “medicine after death”. Investigations are also currently taking place into allegations of massive corruption in the oil industry.
But the resolution, or at leas partial resolution of the fuel crisis has not resolved security issues in the northern part of the country. For years, bombings, shootings and bank robberies have been lead by the Sect Boko Haram. Boko Haram, which loosely translates from the local Hausa language as “Western education is forbidden”, first came to prominence in 2009 when hundreds of its followers were killed when they attacked police stations in Maiduguri. Its founder was arrested and died in police custody. In 2010 the group started to stage drive-by shootings on the police and government targets in revenge for his death.
Boko Haram has since carried out scores of increasingly lethal attacks, mainly in northern Nigeria, which have left more than 1,000 people dead since mid-2009, many women anc children. It claimed responsibility for an August suicide attack at the UN headquarters in the capital Abuja that killed at least 23 people and a bombing at a Catholic Church close by that left more than 35 dead. The bloodiest attack occurred on January 20 in Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, with a series of coordinated bombings and shootings. Authorities confirmed 185 dead, while others said the toll may be as high as 250. As in the other attacks many were women and children. The unrest has resulted in the displacement of many families. They’ve lost their homes and sources of income.
The sect had initially claimed to be fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in northern Nigeria but its aims and structure have since become less clear. Many analysts have said that deep poverty, corruption and frustration among youths in Nigeria have helped feed the violence but the reality is that such a level of violence against innocent people is inexcusable. A bid to hold indirect talks between the government and the Islamist group to end the violence earlier in March appears to have collapsed. Efforts are currently being made to provide compensation to families that were victims of the Boko Haram attacks through donations by government agencies and philanthropists.
Religious and political leaders in Nigeria as well as Non-Governmental Organisations and concerned individuals have continued to call for dialogue and peaceful coexistence and to condemn the violent attacks. Women’s groups have been particularly vocal, calling for peace by staging walks, rallies and round table discussions. Hopefully their efforts will not be in vain and the violence will end soon.