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Nigerians credit social media for raising consciousness, fostering unity and increasing accountability in the nationwide protests that erupted earlier this year in response to the government’s removal of the fuel subsidy. The government has also been using social media to communicate plans and promises, though some say this is a flimsy guise for meaningful solutions.

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by Temitayo Olofinlua     Reporter, Monday - March 5, 2012

LAGOS, NIGERIA – Suleiman Babatunde, 40, is a truck driver in Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city. Sitting on a bench, he waits for a phone call before he drives to meet his next client. He says he is one of the many Nigerians affected by the nationwide hike in fuel prices this year.

Nigeria recently ended weeks of protests after the government removed the fuel subsidy at the beginning of the year. Babatunde says that the resulting rise in fuel prices has affected his job.

“Fuel that we used to buy per liter for 65 naira [$40] is now 141 naira [$90],” he says. “If you were working for someone and asked for 50,000 naira [$320] before, now if you asked for 65,000 naira [$410], how will you explain that?”

He shakes his head.

Nationwide protests by Nigerian citizens pressured the government to resume partial subsidizing. This brought the cost of each liter down to 97 naira ($62) and the protests to an end. But Babatunde appeals to the government to fully revive the subsidy to return the cost of fuel to the former price.

“Everything is with the government,” he says. “We can only fight for our rights. But if they can reduce it again to the former price, that's when it can favor us.”

He arranges some marbles on the table in front of him, as if playing a game of draught.

"No oh, this one is not draught,” he says. “I am counting these things to measure burglary.”

He explains in his native Yoruba that when there are no driving jobs, he fixes burglaries for people as an extra source of income for himself. With the new price of fuel, he says he’s going to need it.

“Everyone is tired,” he says. “It is hard for us.”

Nigerians say social media raised consciousness, fostered solidarity and demanded more accountability during nationwide protests earlier this year in response to changes in the fuel subsidy by enabling them to increase and quicken communication. Beyond the fuel subsidy, Nigerians urges the government to address corruption and high unemployment. President Goodluck Jonathan has promised increased fiscal responsibility and transparency, as have various ministers via Twitter. Wary of government efforts, citizens say fellow Nigerians must continue to unite in order to push for real change.

Earlier this year, Nigerians responded to the original increase of more than 100 percent in fuel prices after the initial removal of the government subsidy with outrage. Labor unions and civil society coordinated a nationwide Occupy Nigeria protest.

Despite being an oil-rich nation, Nigeria imports most of its gasoline because it lacks the mechanism to refine its oil itself. The government spent 3.7 trillion naira ($1.56 billion) on fuel subsidies from 2006 to August 2011, according to the Ministry of Finance. There was a 160-percent increase from 2006 to 2010, with unprecedented increases in 2011.

When the hikes were announced, Nigerians were quick to use social media to amplify and insert citizen voices into the issue.

Japheth Omojuwa, an active blogger who also has more than 20,000 followers on Twitter, called social media extremely significant in the protests.

“It was, in my opinion, the most useful tool for the protests,” he wrote in an email.

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