LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Normally bustling streets were empty as labor unions began a paralyzing national strike Monday in oil-rich Nigeria, angered by soaring fuel prices and decades of government corruption.
The strike's power became clear as the sun rose Monday in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos, where typically clogged roads stood mostly empty as trade unions set up informal roadblocks. Local gang members attacked cars of those still driving in spite of the strike.
More than 1,000 protesters gathered at a public park ahead of planned mass demonstration, waving placards bearing an effigy of President Goodluck Jonathan with devil horns and fanged teeth and showing him pumping fuel at a gas station.
Gas prices have risen from $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per liter) to at least $3.50 per gallon (94 cents per liter) since a government fuel subsidy ended on Jan. 1 at the orders of Jonathan's administration. That spurred a spike in prices for food and transportation across a nation of more than 160 million people, most of whom live on less than $2 a day.
While lawmakers on Sunday rebuked the president's decision, the unions said they would continue their strike.
Bola Adejobi, 53, said she's protesting against more than just fuel costs. For her and many others in Africa's most populous country, the strike represents anger that much of the nation remains without electricity and clean drinking water after more than 50 years of oil production.
"It is high time to take Nigeria into our hands," Adejobi said. "It happened in Egypt. It happened in Libya."
Two major unions have said they will carry out the indefinite strike despite a restraining court order. A similar situation occurred in 2003, when strikers over eight days attacked shops that remained open, took over air traffic control towers and caused a drop in oil production in a country vital to U.S. energy supplies.
Organizers have called for peaceful protests, but gang members already began stoning vehicles and harassing motorists in Lagos. Some riot police stood on hand at the demonstration site Monday. They quickly became outnumbered by protesters.
The strikes comes as activists have begun a loose-knit group of protests called "Occupy Nigeria," inspired by those near Wall Street in New York. Their anger extends to the government's weak response to ongoing violence in Nigeria by a radical Muslim sect that, according to an Associated Press count, killed at least 510 people last year.
Famous Nigerian authors, including Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie, issued a statement Monday saying they support the strike, and warning that if left unattended the violence by the extremist group could sweep the country.
"The country's leadership should not view the incessant attacks as mere temporary misfortune with which the citizenry must learn to live; they are precursors to events that could destabilize the entire country," their statement read.
The government has so fair failed to calm public anger over the spiraling gasoline costs. The government has promised that the $8 billion in estimated savings a year from the end of the fuel subsidies would go toward badly needed road and public projects.
One protester in Lagos held his protest sign upside down.
"Our life is already turned upside down," he told a reporter. "It is not how it's supposed to be."
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.