Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Mass protests across Nigeria over fuel subsidies

Mass protests rocked many state capitals and adjoining towns yesterday as Nigerians registered their anger against the removal of fuel subsidy.

The state capitals, including Lagos, Kaduna, Makurdi, Lokoja, Osogbo, Ilorin and Benin, erupted in street protests propelled mainly by angry youths and civil society groups, who insisted that the Federal Government must reverse its decision on removal of subsidy.

The protests, which started in city centres and spread to important locations and streets, occurred in the state capitals 24 hours before the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress, the two umbrella labour bodies in the country, met to take an official position on Saturday's fuel subsidy removal by the Federal Government.

However, while the mass protests have recorded their first casualty in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, with the death of a middle-aged man, commercial and traffic activities were yesterday grounded in many places in the country consequent upon the demonstrations and hike in fares.

Hard hit was Lagos, the nation's commercial capital, where wide public demonstration organised by the Joint Action Front (JAF) against the subsidy removal stretched from Yaba through the long stretch of Ikorodu Road to Maryland and Ojota, the popular exit to other states from the metropolis.

In his speech at the Nigeria Labour Congress Lagos (NLC) office at Tejuoso , Yaba, where the demonstration took off, the JAF President-General, Dr. Dipo Fashina, said their action is a clarion call to President Goodluck Jonathan to rescind the fuel subsidy removal with immediate effect, or face the wrath of Nigerians.

He advised the president not to take Nigerians for a ride by taking a unilateral decision on the controversial issue like the fuel subsidy removal, which affects every aspect of Nigerians.

Thousands of people joined the Lagos rallies yesterday as protesters moved through Yaba, Maryland and Ojota trailed by bonfires on the roads.

The protesters marched from NLC Lagos Headquarters office in Yaba through Ojuelegba junction towards the Ikorodu-Ojota Expressway, chanting solidarity songs and displaying placards with various anti-subsidy removal captions, some of which read: 'Jonathan is worse than Boko-Haram;' 'Jonathan is a traitor;' Jonathan, leave the masses to decide their fate;' 'Goodluck is becoming Badluck now;' 'PDP, ACN, CPC are the same;' Okonjo-Iweala and World Bank, leave Nigeria now;' 'NLC, TUC, declare national strike now,' among others.

The long trek by the protesters caused a gridlock on the stretch of the ever busy Ikorodu expressway and stranded commuters were held up for hours.

Lagos-based lawyer and social critic, Chief Femi Falana, who joined the protest on solidarity note, declined comment, but promised to address the press later.

Other notable Nigerians at the rally include NLC's National Vice-President, Comrade Isa Aremu, wife of the late Gani Fawehmi, Chief (Mrs.) Ganiat Fawehmi, Funmi Iyanda, among others.

Iyanda, in a chat with the press, asked President Jonathan to curb corruption and refurbish the refineries, as well as the rail system to serve as palliatives before removing subsidy on fuel products.

'Fight corruption first; put infrastructure in place to ameliorate the suffering of the people before deregulating,' she said.

On the issue of timing, she said: 'Timing or no timing, people must fight and demand for their right. Nigeria cannot continue this way; we are in the eighteenth century and we must move forward. If the people of Nigeria keep quiet, then we will be dead.

'Therefore, the timing cannot be right until certain things have been put in place. You have to show the people that you care; you have to put certain palliatives in form of infrastructure in place. This is not the time you have to begin to talk of subsidy removal.'

Mrs. Ganiat Fawehinmi, while addressing the protesters at Maryland, Lagos, asked Jonathan to tell Nigerians how the new pump price of petroleum products, especially, Premium Motor Spirit (PMS or petrol) currently at N141 per litre was arrived at.

She called on Nigerians to demand trial of former military president Ibrahim Babangida over the disappearance of alleged N12.8 billion oil windfall Nigeria earned during the Gulf War.

She accused Nigeria's former military leaders of siphoning and squandering the country's monies during their rule over the years at the detriment of Nigerians.

'Nigerians should ask Babangida where is our N12.8 billion oil wind fall. The Nigerian leaders have continued to embezzle our money, which is presently starched away in foreign banks; Abacha, during his tenure, did the same thing, Abdulsalami Abubakar did the same thing, Obasanjo did the same thing. Now, President Jonathan is doing the same thing,' she said.

She stated that, 'This time we all say no to fuel price increase, because with that, food prices will increase, house rents will increase, transport fares will increase, school fees will increase,' adding that the fuel price increase has made nonsense of the minimum wage.

Comrade Aremu commended Nigerians fighting spirit over the raging issue by turning out enmass to reject the subsidy removal, describing the protest as a 'struggle for second independence of Nigerians from the privileged few in power.' He said that Nigerians cannot sit and watch the present administration take them.

The Moment

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