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Journal of African Law. Volume 54, Number 1 (2010), p. 95-118.


Between 1999 and 2007, a popular Labour-led movement led a pro-poor struggle to resist the fuel price hike policy of the Nigerian government. Waged in the context of the poverty in which nearly 70 per cent of Nigerians lived, the operation of powerful incentives to raise fuel prices, and Labour’s extraordinary socio-political leverage, these struggles triggered much government frustration. One of the strategies adopted by the government to legitimize its attempt to repress the movement was to resort to the courts. This article analyses, from a socio-legal perspective, the key cases relating to the validity of the government’s attempts to repress the struggles. The article concludes that, although both pro- and anti-movement trends can be observed in the jurisprudence, the anti-movement tendency having so far prevailed in terms of formal legal precedent, the pro-movement (ie pro-poor) decisions have, as a result of their massive popular legitimacy, actually functioned as the “living law.”

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