(CNN) -- As the rest of the world rang in 2012, Nigerians awoke to an unpleasant New Year's Day surprise: Their government announced the removal of a longstanding fuel subsidy that had helped to hold down gas prices in the largely impoverished country. Almost overnight, the price of fuel more than doubled, plunging the West African nation into mass unrest and bringing commerce to a standstill.
Nigerians took to the streets on January 3 in protest against the removal of the fuel subsidy, and alleged corruption in the government of President Goodluck Jonathan. The demonstrations swelled a week later, with the backing of several major Nigerian labor unions.
As protests spread to every major Nigerian city, CNN iReporters helped chronicle the unfolding events by telling their stories. In the days after the unrest began, Nigerians observing and participating in the street demonstrations submitted more than 500 iReports.
Their pictures and videos gave CNN a firsthand look at protesters massing in large street gatherings, often holding signs expressing anger at their government. Another ubiquitous sight was the piles of burning refuse demonstrators used to shut down street traffic.
Now, with the protests formally ended but Nigeria reeling from a string of deadly bombing attacks by militant Islamist group Boko Haram, Nigerian iReporters said they wonder what the future will hold for their beleaguered country.
"Hopefully, the protests and conversations are beginning of the 'real' awakening of Nigerians," said Aminat Mohammed, 31, of Boston. A Nigerian citizen by birth, she was in Lagos for a business trip and decided to join the rallies against the sudden increase in fuel prices. "The younger generation is itching for change and willing to demand better."
Mohammed and other iReporters said the mass eruption of protests helped raise awareness among Nigerians of their shared frustrations with the country's overburdened infrastructure and lack of social services.
She said she believes protesters were ultimately failed by the trade unions' compromise with the government, which saw the formal end of the nationwide strike.
Still, Mohammed said she remains optimistic that these protests have sparked a larger movement for democratic change in the country.
That's a sentiment echoed by other Nigerian iReporters, who also expressed frustration over the compromise that saw the partial reinstatement of the country's fuel subsidy. And like Mohammed, they said they view the recent wave of protests as a turning point in their nation's history.
"The protests also served as one united platform for all types of Nigerians," said pharmacist Tai-osagbemi Boma, 24, of Ibadan. "At a time where the country is much divided and (fractured) by sectarian and religious unrest, it also sent a message to the government that the people know their rights and are ready to fight for them."
Boma said he hopes that his children will someday see a more democratic Nigeria and that he'll be able to tell them about the time he went into the streets to protest.
But the country faces many obstacles in the near future, not the least of which are the recent bombings by Boko Haram.
Aliyu Abba Hikima, 27, said he believes the recent protests and violence may end up uniting two of the country's most fractious factions: Muslims and Christians.
During the demonstrations he witnessed in Kano, "People wept when they saw the Christians guarding the Muslims as they prayed, and vice versa," Hikima said. "We believe it is a tremendous steppingstone for Nigerians to unite against their oppressor.
"The protest has also instilled in the heart of uneducated Nigerians the attitude of seeking of political and economic information of the state of the affairs of their country."
Most Nigerian iReporters expressed the shared hope their country is moving in the right direction, slowly but surely.
"It's safe to say that Nigeria is on the right path once again, even if the journey is still slow and seemingly boring," said freelance journalist Eromo Egbejule, 21, of Lagos.
"The protests have kick-started the national consciousness and revitalized the Nigerian spirit of never say never. Bigger things are coming. As a Nigerian proverb goes, 'A clap begins the dance.' "