Protesters increase, defy odds

THE PUNCH Newspaper

The determination of Nigerians to press for the reversal of the fuel subsidy removal continued on Tuesday with protesters thronging the Gani Fawehinmi Park in Ojota, Lagos.

There was an increase in the number of artisans, dramatists, artistes, technocrats, students, human rights activists, young and old at the venue on Tuesday.

Many noted that the gathering at the park could pass for an unprecedented singular gathering of Nigerians against any government policy.

On Monday, which was the first day of the rally, the protesters occupied the park with others standing on a stretch of the road. A change was noticed on Tuesday as they not only occupied all the available space within the park, but also spread to the adjoining areas and Ikorodu Road.

Also, the peaceful conduct of the protesters – despite the huge population – impressed the speakers who commended and urged them to continue to exercise their rights to lawful assembly in a calm manner.

Their orderly conduct was particularly impressive considering the various side attractions at the park. As announced on Monday by some members of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress and Coalition of Civil Society Groups, protesters were free to come with their mats and mattresses.

In the same tradition, some of them brought mattresses with which they sat even as many decided to stand throughout the rally which started at 9am. Some trekked to get to the venue.

There were placards with damning inscriptions. Some of them read: ‘‘Corrupt government wan kill innocent citizens’’, Our future is now, we must take it by our own hands, ‘‘Egypt and Tunisian revolutions will be a child’s play,’’ among others.

Besides, there was a white garment pastor who came with a cross and a bell to pray for the protesters and leaders of the rally.

Unlike on Monday when there was much to drink but nothing to eat, Tuesday witnessed the emergence of some local food sellers who were on hand to cater for famished individuals. However, the food was not free but some became their brother’s keeper as they either paid for their meals or drinks.

A group of youths came with a mocked coffin with the inscription: Badluck RIP. Whatever division existed among the masses apparently disappeared at the park.

Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, also commended the crowd for their calmness and resilience. He noted that the protest was the best organised in the history of Nigeria.

He said, ‘‘Our security is already gone. The little that is left of our welfare is what they want to take away and we will not allow it.’’

Pastor Tunde Bakare, who is the convener of Save Nigeria Group, stated that Nigerians would not allow the agenda of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to work in Nigeria.

Also, Chairman of Afenifere Renewal Group, Mr. Olawale Oshun, urged the people to be united in solving the problems confronting the country.

On her part, President, Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, noted that the battle would not be an easy one.

Okei-Odumakin stated, “Because of the insensitive government we have, let’s not think that this battle will be a 100-metre dash; let us be prepared for a long-drawn battle.’’

Apart from the anger that apparently served as the motivation for many of the protesters, the retinue of music idols and Nollywood actors and actresses might have also served as an attraction for the people.

The protesters got a good deal from the Nollywood dramatists and musicians which include Eedris Abdulkareem, Olu Mintain, Salawa Abeni, Nigger Raw, JJC, Fuji act, Wasiu Alabi(Pasuma), Gbenga Adeyinka, Femi Kuti and Desmond Elliot that featured in the rally.

Popular actor Jide Kosoko, Bimbo Akintola, Ronke Oshodi-Oke, and top musicians like Abolore Akande (9ice), Ras Kimono KWAM 1, Femi and Seun Kuti and Omo Baba were all at the rally on Monday.

Apart from speaking against the withdrawal of fuel subsidy by the government, the entertainers took time to thrill the protesters with their known songs which flayed bad governance in the country.

Songs of the late Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo, was intermittently played to the admiration of the crowd. The songs further showed the unending dilemma of the Nigerian state under maladministration and anti-poor policies.

Aside the rhetoric of activists and professionals who addressed the gathering, short speeches made by the artistes provoked the people’s anger against the government.

For instance, hip-hop act, Nigger Raw, in a song obviously composed for the protest, called for a policy that would ensure that children of government officials were made to school in the country for them to know that “khaki no be leather.”

Pasuma hit the nail on the head when he echoed with the people that on N65 per litre the masses stood.

The multiple faces of things shown by the rally have reinforced the belief that there was always something for every class of people who came to the venue. Elliot later expressed his anger on Twitter on Tuesday.

He tweeted on the failure of governance in Nigeria via his Twitter handle @deselliot ‘‘Do we need 36 ministers? Why would our president spend close to a billion on food while close to eighty per cent live on less than a dollar a day? Why should he budget a billion for generators and diesel when he is urging us to believe in his power sector reform? Why does our President need 6 private jets? Why should our politicians keep their salaries when Obama slashed his? Why should we continue to be wasteful when the handwriting on the wall says “danger”? Why should we believe the government when it says the subsidy gain will be properly reinvested? Bad leadership and corruption must stop.

‘‘We have lost everything we met on the land. Cocoa, palm oil, groundnuts, cotton, cashew and rubber have been forgotten and are better produced by nations who came to learn from us. We have lost our moral compass, our society is fractured, our statehood is threatened. Our citizens are in all prisons around the world. Some of them prefer foreign prisons to coming back to Nigeria. Our passport is treated with disdain everywhere you present it. Why should our government be this big with special advisers on cassava and beans affairs? ‘’

As Nigerians continue to ask the government many questions, it is hoped that they will get answers sooner than later especially in the face of their resolve to ‘‘Occupy Nigeria’’ through peaceful rallies across the country.


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