Last week, Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck unleashed a firestorm in Africa’s most populous country when he announced the removal of fuel subsidies that kept fuel prices in Nigeria artificially low. Though Nigeria is Africa’s largest exporter of oil, the country’s oil refineries are mostly inoperable so it imports most of its fuel from outside. In the past the government subsidized the high cost of these fuel imports to help Nigerians who on average make less than $6 a day.
But the fuel subsidy took up about one-quarter of the GDP and President Goodluck wanted to divert that money to building Nigeria’s notoriously dilapidated infrastructure. The removal of the fuel subsidy didn’t go over well and millions of Nigerians – mostly union workers – took to the streets to protest, burning President Goodluck in effigy and in some instances burning tires and destroying property. More than 13 people died during the week of strike protests and domestic airline traffic was completely halted while international travel was interrupted.
Our team had to scramble to get out of Lagos before it descended into chaos. But not before we join with our Nigerian brothers and did a story for a international newspaper.
It was quite the experience going out with “David,” our Lagos guide who agreed to drive us around while we interviewed people about the fuel strike. We thought at first he would serve as a local translator and guide us through the protesting workers, ensuring our safety. But David turned out to be quite the journalist. Asking questions of people on the street and even coaxing reluctant sources into to talking on the record.
It was illuminating to stand side by side with David and see how quickly he picked up the desire to give his Nigerian countrymen a microphone to the world.
“Don’t you want to tell the world what you think,” he asked a man talking with his friends at a local bus stop. “You’re talking with them why not talk to us so that we can tell the world what you think…”
David did not agree with the fuel subsidy removal and we had to discuss with him about getting differing opinions, talking to people who did agree. He seemed not thoroughly convinced.
“They don’t speak for the majority of the people,” he protested.
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean their opinion isn’t valuable,” we shot back.
In the end we got an amazing story and we did it together.
This experience shows how important it is to work side by side with citizen journalist. To be able to have these kind of discussions on the fly and continue on with the work.
The experience in Lagos says an instructor/trainee story field trip to complete a story is a must addition for our training program. It was quite fun.