Fuel Fury As Nigerians Battle Jonathan

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From Lagos to Abuja, Benue to Kano, Bauchi to Kwara, Oyo to Kogi – the story is the same: A groundswell of mounting protests, like a bushfire, has continued to ravage the country, a fallout of Federal Government’s subsidy removal.

The protests, interestingly, took a new turn in Lagos, as protesters from an unlikely quarter – the Nigeria Police, also joined in the protests.?

Following the Federal Government’s January 1, 2012, decision to remove subsidy on petroleum, pockets of protests have continued to spread, crippling socio-economic activities in the country.

While protests continue to underscore the government’s move nationwide, the Petroleum Products Pricing regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and oil marketers yesterday held a stakeholders meeting with a view to resolving grey areas surrounding the benchmark price of fuel given by the agency, following subsidy removal.

LEADERSHIP gathered that the meeting was convened to deliberate on the regulatory agency’s benchmark price for fuel to reach an agreement on whether or not it is sustainable.

The PPPRA’s benchmark price on its website as of December 29, 2011, was N141 and this price is expected to be valid until two weeks after publishing, after which it would be subject to review based on international market variables.

But reports across the states show that some marketers presently sell above this price, an indication that it is not favourable to them, or they are just being exploitative.

Efforts to reach the? Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) boss, Mr. Aminu Abdulkadir yesterday to comment on the outcome of the meeting proved abortive as his phones were switched off.

When contacted, the executive secretary of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Mr. Femi Olawore, said he could not give details of what was resolved at the meeting because he left before the close of the meeting.
He said: “I didn’t wait till the end of the meeting, so I cannot an answer to that question now. I had to rush away when I heard that Lagos was on fire.”???

Also, several efforts to reach the General Manager, Corporate affairs, of the PPPRA, Mr. Wole Adamolekun, to comment on the matter proved unsuccessful, as phone calls made to his phone were unanswered even as a text message to him on the subject matter was not responded to as at press time.

Meanwhile in Lagos and Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, residents hurriedly shut down business and commercial activities. Although casualties were not recorded in these two states; even as protesters, surprisingly, found a willing ally in some officers of the Nigeria Police, who curiously joined in the protests, in parts of Lagos State.

The Lagos protest march was led by Ganiat, wife of late fiery human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who was assisted by a former President of the West Africn Bar Association (WABA), Chief Femi Falana, under the auspices of the Joint Action Front (JAF), led by Dr. Dipo Fashina, who was at a time, National President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

In Ibadan, youths in some parts of the city, very early in the morning, took to the streets to protest the action, but not without some brushes with officers of the Nigerian Police.
A pressure group in Bauchi State, the Bauchi Citizens Patriotic Front (BCPF) joined other protesters in the country to protest what it described as the “anti-people policy” of the Federal Government.
Achaba Riders in Kano through their association, the Amalgamated Transport Owners and Riders Association of Nigeria (ACOMARAN) also kicked against the sudden withdrawal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government, describing the measure as unpleasant to common man.

The Achaba riders were joined by other angry youths who defied the biting harmattan of the early hours of yesterday, assembled at the Kofar Naisa playground where they mobilised others to join in the protest.

Demanding for the immediate resignation of Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, her counterpart in the ministry of information, Mr. Labaran Maku and the CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the youths, comprising more of students, marched in town, chanting anti-subsidy songs.

The commissioner of police, Kano State Command, Mr. Ibrahim K. Idris was seen patrolling the city to prevent the collapse of law and order. Police drafted to provide law and order had at the initial stage arrested nine of the protesting youth but later released them after they were taken to the police headquarters in Bompai.

One of the students, who do not want his name published, said they were arrested and asked by the police to take an oath that they will not partake in any protest in future before they were released after they had made the commitment.

But unlike Lagos, Oyo, Bauchi, Kano, Benue and some other states, the protest march in Kwara State harvested a casualty.

Irked at the turn out of events there, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday said President Jonathan must fish out the killers of a protester, allegedly killed by the police in Ilorin, Kwara State, during a peaceful protest against deregulation.

NLC President, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, in a statement said the National Executive Council (NEC) of the both TUC and NLC will meet today, to deliberate and give further direction on the general strike.

He said, “It is with a heavy heart that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) announces the murder of an anti-fuel price hike protester, who was shot dead by the police, Tuesday, January 3, 2012.

“The victim was shot dead around the Post Office Area in central Ilorin, Kwara State.

“The perpetrators of this crime were armed policemen from the Area A Division, close to UBA Ilorin and the State Police Command along Sulu Gambari Road, Ilorin.”

Youths in Benue State numbering over 2000 under the aegis of Benue Youth (BY), also took to the streets of Makurdi, the Benue state capital yesterday, to protest what they described as the? “unnecessary removal of fuel subsidy.”
In Lokoja, Kogi State capital, the situation was a bit chaotic yesterday, following the demonstration embarked upon by hundreds of youths, to protest the subsidy removal from petroleum products by the Federal Government.

The protests in Kaduna, funny enough, took a slightly different form. Youths under the aegis of a non-governmental organisation, “Occupy Nigeria,” converged at the entrance of the Murtala Square, Kaduna where a register was opened for people to register their grievances against the fuel subsidy removal.

The angry youths, who were ready to take to the streets, were, however, prevented by the well armed men of the police who barricaded the gates and denied them access to the main bowl of the Murtala Square.

As early as 8:15 am, a massive crowd had gathered at the former headquarters of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Yaba, from where they made their way through the popular Ikorodu Road to the now popular, Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Square, located very close to Ketu area of the state.

The long procession was intermittently joined by other vehicle owners who sometimes offload their passengers who promptly joined in the march.

Chanting various anti-government songs, and denouncing the action as barbaric and insensitive, the protesters also flaunted placards with various inscriptions denouncing the government.

In sympathy with the protesters, Policemen numbering about 300 who were sighted along Oregun Road in Ojota, Lagos, joined the crowd to chant anti-government refrains.

LEADERSHIP gathered that business and commercial activities did not take place apparently in response to an earlier notice given by the organisers to residents to stay off their businesses while the protests lasted.

Some businesses, which opened very early had to urgently close shop for fear that the protest may be hijacked by hoodlums.
Though peaceful, the protest, LEADRERSHIP gathered, was devoid of any major incident. Bonfire was, however, set up by the protesters in different parts of the state to prevent vehicle owners from having a thorough fare along the road.

In Fadeyi, some irate youths descended on a service personnel attached to the Nigerian Army whom they inflicted some injuries on due to what sources said was his “unguarded utterances” about the protest. The victim was later rescued by organisers of the rally who prevailed on the charged crowd from killing him.

At Maryland Junction, the atmosphere became charged when some of the protesters attempted to block some parts of the road, but had to succumb to the force of police men attached to the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) who broke through it.

Pockets of protests were also recorded around other parts of the state such as – Ikorodu road around Ojuelegba in Sululere, Mushin and Idi-Oro among others.

At the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park, speakers took turns to carpet the Federal Government whom they accused of acting in bad faith over the subsidy removal.

Ganiat Fawehinmi said the government lacked justification for the action as it has not in any way convinced the people that it means well. She noted that the rot in the petroleum sector must be dealt with before any of such actions could take place.

Maintaining that the action would further pauperise Nigerians, she added that the only option left for the Federal Government was a policy reversal, failure of which the people would seek redress by themselves.

Like the Lagos protest, protesters in Ibadan were peaceful in most parts of the state capital. It was gathered that police officers attached to the state government had to hurriedly float a security outfit code named “Operation Burst’’ which fired teargas canisters at the protesting crowd at Olorunsogo area to disperse them.

From Mokola Round-About, the youths in their thousands, passed through Sango, before diverting to Bodija, from where they headed straight to the state secretariat to “deliver their message of displeasure to the President through the state governor.”

On getting to the state secretariat, they were denied access by security personnel who told them to wait for Governor Abiola Ajimobi who later addressed them when the gates were finally opened by the security operatives.

After listening to the leader of the group, the governor promised to dispatch their letter to President Goodluck Jonathan without delay.

The Bauchi protest began from the palace of the Emir of Bauchi, Alhaji Rilwanu Suleiman Adamu and it had on its train, a large crowd.
Addressing journalists after the protest, the coordinator of the group, Usman Adamu, said the government’s action was “grossly ill-timed, deceptive and detestable, considering the condition of living of the average Nigerians.”

Stressing that the action was totally hypocritical because the president has not done anything tangible with the resources at his disposal since his inception that will justify his request for more money, Adamu queried, “How true and justifiable is the colossal amount of over N1 trillion alleged to being spent annually as subsidy?” Continuing, he questioned, “Whose pocket has this huge subsidy funds been diverted to? In fact, those in government were the ones embezzling the money,” he concluded.
President of the Achaba Riders in Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sani Hassan, said, “The association totally objected to and rejected the removal of fuel subsidy in whatever form.”

Sani Hassan noted that members of the association numbering over two million had heard of enough promises from the government but was always disappointed and its failure to meet all its pledges is “making us become doubtful of government’s sincerity of guaranteeing judicious spending of the proceeds.

“We have heard a lot and seen a lot, but end up with only bad roads, power failure, unemployment, poverty as well as insecurity threat and medical health care deterioration,” Hassan said.
The Benue Youths said they had to take to the streets because the latest development was causing untold hardship to the masses in terms of high prices in the sale of fuel and its attendant hike of transportation fare.

LEADERSHIP witnessed some of the protesters carrying placards with broadly written inscriptions, such as: ‘’Jonathan has failed,” “Removal of fuel subsidy unnecessary” and “We shall not accept The Uhuru,” “Jonathan is worse than Boko Haram” among others.

The protest which lasted about seven hours began at about 11.45. Several of the youths staged a peaceful walk around major streets in Makurdi. The youths who divided themselves into three groups, dispersed to as far as Gboko and Otukpo towns to stage their demonstration.

The youth were accompanied by riot mobile police men who guided them in a bid to avert the situation from being hijacked by other interests. Aside the anti-riot mobile men who provided cover for the protesters, officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) were also on hand to avoid accidents and traffic jam on the roads.

Addressing the youth, Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam regretted the untold hardship the subsidy removal had caused but said, if progress must be achieved, there must be very painful sacrifices which he said would not last for forever.

Suswam posited further that the inconveniences which the masses are passing through due to the removal of fuel subsidy were not deliberate but that they were developments meant to further guarantee the brighter future of the younger generation.

The Lokoja protest, which commenced at about 7.30 am, saw the placard carrying youths blocking the Lokoja-Abuja highway, thereby creating chaotic traffic situation on the ever busy road.

Motorists coming from the northern and southern parts of the country were stranded for hours, as the protesters used burnt tyres to block all the major roads within the metropolis, leading to the highway.

The development, which took the residents of the state capital, and security agents unawares, created panic in the ancient town, as civil servants who had wanted to resume work, hurriedly returned to their homes.

Although nobody was reportedly killed while the incident lasted, LEADERSHIP however, reliably gathered that one Yaro Abdullahi was shot in the leg by security agents.
At the Kaduna protest centre, the youths, who were determined to press home their demands, remained by the gate where the register was made available for people to append their signatures against the subsidy removal.

One of our correspondents who visited the scene of the protest, confirmed that over 5,000 had appended their signatures.

The national president of Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN) Mr. Tajudeen Oladoja, who was among those who came to register their protest, said, “The youths of Nigeria are all here under the auspices of an NGO, ‘Occupy Nigeria,’ devoid of any political, religious, ethnic colouration, in our thousands to frontally attack the policy of President Goodluck Jonathan, the act of illegality he has committed by unjustifiably and unlawfully removing the fuel subsidy.”

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