What’s Going On: Fuel price hike in Nigeria, aftermath of protests in Senegal & more

This new column will look into pertinent socio-political headlines from the past week

Our latest column, “What’s Going On” will tally notable news headlines from across the continent — the good, the bad, and the horrible — as a way of ensuring that we all become a more sagacious African generation. With this column, we’re hoping to disseminate the latest happenings in our socio-political climate all over the continent, whilst starting a conversation about what’s important for us to all discuss. From political affairs to socio-economic issues, ‘What’s Going On’, will discuss just that. 

Ever so often, we have to remind developed parts of the world that Africa is not a country. It’s not just because a significant portion of people in those parts are unenlightened, but also because of the continent-wide similarities when it comes to social, political, and economic issues.

For one, Africa is teeming with corrupt and inept leaders—many of them dictators— who have failed to invest in meaningful infrastructure, all while derailing and rejecting systemic change through violent means if necessary. In addition to this, they are fully aided by deeply patriarchal, religion deferring, and ultra-conservative social constructs.

At the same time cross the continent, the current generation of African youth are pushing against these systemic boundaries, in order to continue the arduous work of rewriting the narrative. Even with all of the endeavours, talent and records being witnessed from music to tech, the limitations put in place by the continent’s political landscape still looms large. Every week, disparaging headlines from around Africa make their way to the news, reminding us of the bumps affecting these perceived stripes, and the roadblocks which delay our growth towards more wholesome and enabling societies for all Africans.

New hike in fuel prices in Nigeria

Given that the country hasn’t had a uniform fuel pump price in about a year, since the coronavirus negatively impacted global crude prices, it seems off that in the year 2021, Nigeria’s continued dependence on crude oil as its primary source of income is still a thing. What makes it even more aggravating, is the lack of fully functional refineries, which means that we have to import the bulk of distilled products for nationwide use.

This strange cycle has affected the increasingly expensive consumer prices for distilled crude products, especially petrol (Premium Motor Spirit or PMS), which has exponentially increased in price over the last few decades. Late last week, the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulation Agency (PPPRA) announced that fuel prices had now increased to N212.61/litre, causing uproar on social media, and mild panic amongst citizens for fear of fuel scarcity.

However, Vanguard reported the mean pump price for petrol would remain at around N170, with the PPPRA stating that the government would be paying around N42 as subsidy per litre. At the moment, though, there’s still some uncertainty with regards to the actual price of petrol and the last we left off, the Nigerian government, claims that the information hasn’t been ratified, or even received by the administration. The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, stated that the news of a hike in price is untrue. Petrol stations are currently selling petrol at the mean pump price, although individual discretions means consumers are buying anywhere from N162 to N170.

Protests in Senegal

(TW: Contains sexual abuse allegations)

At the beginning of this month, protests erupted in Senegal following the arrest of opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko for disturbing public order, after supporters had lined up to support him on his way to court due to an ongoing case of rape allegation charges against him. With many already believing that the charges were trumped by the incumbent President, Macky Sall, the arrest led to nationwide demonstrations, which resulted in the Senegalese government pulling out familiar tactics we’ve seen from governments all over the continent regarding protests in the last few months.

Two TV stations were cut off from transmitting after being accused of inciting unrest, while social media use around the country was limited. On ground, protesters were met with brutality by law enforcement, via rubber bullets and tear gas, which led to the deaths of at least 11 young people, including a 12-year old boy in Bignona.

Nearly 600 people were injured, and hundreds more arrested, including well-known social activist, Guy-Marius Sagna. Protests have ceased in the last week, however, the agitations remain palpable, with many seeking justice for the deceased and injured, as well as the freedom of all those arrested during the protests. All of this is exacerbated by the deep distrust in President Sall’s government, which has been accused of deep-seeded, nepotism-fuelled corruption, and favouring alliances with France over the economic growth of its citizens.

Also tragic is the ongoing treament of the sexual abuse allegations against Ousmane Sonko, which has been politicised at the expense of an alleged victim. Since the allegations came out and her identity was revealed, Sonko’s victim has been the target of vitriolic abuse from the politician’s supporters, and even family members, who believe she’s been used as a pawn by the current administration. Just over a year ago, Senegal finally passed a law criminalising rape, giving some hope to victims that they can seek justice through the right channels. However, with the way this woman is being treated, it sends a message about how seriously the justice system takes the safety of Senegalese women.

Bystander killed by police during protests by South African students

For about a month, students at the University of Witwatersrand have been protesting the inability of some students to register for the new academic year, mainly due to financial barriers such as outstanding debt and lack of finance to fund first-time university students. Last Wednesday, local police took to Braamfontein with rubber bullets to disperse protesting students, which killed 35-year old Mthokosizi Ntumba in the process. According to eyewitness accounts, Mr. Ntumba was shot at close range shortly after exiting a nearby clinic and was not part of the demonstrations.

This is yet another case of police brutality being meted out on protesters peacefully and loudly making their concerns known. Following a student protest before exiting office, former President Jacob Zuma adjusted the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) from a student loan program to a free tertiary education initiative for students from financially poor homes. Earlier this month, though, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande declared that the NSFAS didn’t have enough in its coffers to fund new first-time university students, a statement that wasn’t well-received, as the body has been routinely accused of financial and operational irregularities.

With budget cuts to tertiary institutions, South African students might be planning to shut down universities in order to ensure financially inclusive registration measures for the academic year. The Wits university incident has exacerbated students’ response, underlined by the deep distrust in government due to allegations of corruption. Four police officers have been arrested in connection with Mr. Nthumba’s death, at least offering some hope that the perpetrators will be held accountable— something which is somewhat irregular in Africa where the government doesn’t always prosecute physical abuse of power.

Suspected bandits kidnap students in Northern Nigeria

Late last month, Nigerian news publication The Cable estimated that 1,119 students have been abducted in Northern Nigeria over the last seven years, the starting reference point being the abduction of 276 students from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State. That number has only continued to rise, with the latest being the abduction of at least 30 students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna state. The news broke last Friday, with initial rumours that all the kidnapped students were girls, however, Kaduna state commissioner for internal security, Samuel Aruwan, stated that checks indicate “26 females and 13 males” were missing.

On Saturday, horrifying videos of the kidnapped students surfaced online, with the victims asking the government for immediate help. In the video, a student who identified himself as Benson Emmanuel said, “We appeal to the government to come and rescue us, most of us here have been badly injured.” Surrounded by armed men with concealed faces, he goes on to appeal against use of force from the Nigerian government, as their kidnappers have threatened more bodily harm and even death if their requests aren’t replied swiftly. The bandits are seeking a ransom of five hundred million Naira (N500m), which follows the M.O of recent kidnaps from the last few months.

While this is a developing story we will continue to keep our eyes on, it continues to underline the grave insecurity issues in Northern Nigeria. Just yesterday, travellers from Kaduna to Abuja were urged to turn back or find alternative routes, as the main road passage is rumoured to have been taken over by armed bandits. Meanwhile, President Buhari has issued a warning through a statement conveyed by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, saying that the federal government won’t tolerate the destruction of the country’s school system by bandits and “would-be” terrorists.