People power!

2012-01-10
THE GUARDIAN Newspaper

IN compliance with the directive of organised Labour and its allies, Nigerians yesterday took to the streets to protest removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government, which has led to astronomical increase in the price of petrol.

During the action which paralysed socio-economic and educational activities across the country, Labour leaders and members of civil society organisations spoke vociferously against the removal of the subsidy urging the government to reverse it and work out other strategies to take the country out of the woods.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has said dialogue remains the best option to resolve the deadlock between it and the labour unions over the implementation of deregulation policy in the downstream oil sector.

It therefore appealed to Labour and its affiliate unions to call off the strike and support governments’ effort to move the country forward.

Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku who stated this while reacting to the protest reiterated government’s commitment to civil liberty and protection of human rights of all Nigerians.

He said security agencies have been directed to enforce the fundamental human rights of all.

The Minister assured that the Federal Government would continue to implement policies that will expand the economy in order to improve the social well-being of Nigerians and create more job opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths.

According to him, Nigerians would soon begin to feel the impact of the deregulation policy. Maku urged Nigerians to support government in its determination to return Nigeria to the path of sustainable development and economic growth.

On his part, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi met with independent petroleum marketers in Rivers State yesterday to discuss ways of reducing fuel price and getting the products easily and readily available to end users.

At the meeting were members of the state branch of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) and officials of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) area office/depot.

According to Amaechi’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. David Iyofor, “also as part of the governor’s effort to see how he can bring down the price of petrol in the state below the N141 benchmark, he will be meeting with other groups in the sector.”

“Governor Amaechi will be meeting with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), major oil marketers, oil farm tank and depot owners, between today and tomorrow and to also ensure that the cost of public transportation does not escalate too much.”

In Ondo State, it was total paralysis of social and economic activities in Akure the capital and other major cities. All the major streets in Akure were completely deserted as residents obeyed the stay-at-home order while Labour leaders, rights activists and irate youths who had earlier gathered at the State Secretariat of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) at Alagbaka took to the streets in a peaceful demonstration.

In Kaduna, an unprecedented number of youths, market women, labour and human rights activists came out to the streets to protest. The action which was led by the officials of the NLC, Kaduna branch, was later hijacked by thousands of hoodlums who carried fresh leaves and placards, chanting anti-government songs, just as most residents in the metropolis stayed indoors.

Former Governor of Kaduna State, Abdulkadir Musa Balarabe, human rights activist, Festus Okoye as well as the President, Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria Shehu Sani led the protest to major public places in the city as early as 8.00 a.m.

All public and private institutions in Ekiti State were under lock in total compliance with the directive for strike. The peaceful protest in the state was led by the Catholic Bishop of Ekiti, Felix Femi Ajakaye, who said he had to identify with the people to protest what he called insensitivity of President Goodluck Jonathan in handling the welfare of Nigerians.

The Bishop, who dressed in his cassock, joined other protesters from Ajilosun Area of Ado Ekiti, marched through some major streets in the state capital and stopped at Fajuyi Park where the protesters were addressed

Attempts by security operatives to forcefully open the gate of the Rivers State secretariat in Port Harcourt were resisted by the workers enforcing the strike. Economic and social activities were grounded in Port Harcourt as hundreds of residents took to the streets. Primary and secondary schools that were billed to reopen after the Christmas and New Year holidays could not do so. Officials of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and NLC stormed the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwu, to prevent take-off and landing of aircraft.

In Benue State, all banks, shops, markets and business centres as well as hospitals were shut down. The State Radio as well as FRCN stations that started offering skeletal services at dawn were later shut down by officials of the NLC.

In Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, the protest was total. All shops, markets, business centres and mechanic workshops were completely shut as the streets were taken over by protesters.

But for the timely intervention of armed policemen and other security agents, the NNPC filling station along the Western Bye-pass in Minna, Niger State capital would have been set ablaze by protesters.

Also all billboards with President Goodluck Jonathan’s pictures in Minna and its environs were pulled down and set ablaze by protesters.

Trouble started at the NNPC station when the protesters discovered that the attendants were selling fuel to motorists and immediately ordered them to close business, but the station’s manager resisted as the attendants continue the sales.

Reacting to the nationwide protest, the chairman of the Northern Governor’s Forum, Alhaji Babangida Aliyu, yesterday in Minna said the government had no choice than to listen to the voice of the people over the subsidy removal.

Speaking while receiving members of the NBA who were in the Government House to present their position on the fuel subsidy removal, the Niger State helmsman said what influenced the decision of the 36 governors to support the subsidy’s removal was to stop illegal deductions being made in the name of subsidy by the Federation Allocation Committee.

The protest in Edo State almost turned violent. Some persons sustained various degrees of injuries while at least four persons were rushed to the Central Hospital, Benin City where doctors were seen attending to the victims. Suspected hoodlums infiltrated the ranks of the organisers and ransacked some business premises in Erie along Sakponba and Mission roads.

They also ransacked parts of Third Junction and set bonfires in major junctions across the state capital. But law enforcement agencies drawn from the Army, Police and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, were quickly mobilised to the hot spots.

Governor Adams Oshiomhole expressed solidarity with the labour unions and the civil society groups, saying they have a right to stage peaceful protest against any policy they feel aggrieved about. Speaking during the procession to the Government House, Benin City yesterday by the NLC Chairman, Emmanuel Ademokun and TUC Chairman, Joe Aligbe, the governor who said government feels the pains of the people as a result of the subsidy removal, assured that the issues would eventually be resolved through dialogue.

Over 2,000 non-indigenes were yesterday evacuated from their various places of residence to the State Command Headquarters of the Nigerian Police and the 4th Mechanised Brigade of the Nigerian Army for fear of attacks by suspected hoodlums who seemed to have hijacked the peaceful protest in the morning. Some vehicles as at the time of filing this report were being mobilised to transport these victims to their zones. The Guardian also gathered yesterday that three persons were reportedly shot dead while attempting to loot shopping complexes and business centres.

Workers in Delta State and members of the civil society organisations who started the rallies round the state capital, Asaba at about 7.30 a.m. were joined by market women, motorcycle riders and students. Some traders who had opened shops hurriedly locked up while corporate institutions such as banks and private business outfits as well as public institutions quickly joined in closing their gates, turning back customers.

Some public and private workers in Abia State also protested while some petrol stations and private shops opened for business.

Unlike when the protest first started in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, yesterday’s action over the same issue was peaceful. It was indeed a total boycott of all the socio-political and economic activities in Ilorin.

Despite the protests in Akwa Ibom State, normal business activities were still going on in the state capital.

Besides banks and government offices that were closed, markets, supermarkets and filling stations as well as commuters were seen going on with their normal activities.

Ibom Plaza, which was re-named “Freedom Square” by the protesters, was filled to capacity with workers from both the public and private sectors who attended the rally organised by a coalition of Labour and civil society groups to protest the increase in the price of petrol.

 

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