Leadership (Abuja)

10 January 2012

Nigeria: Fuel Subsidy - 11 Killed in Bloody Protests

Dubbed the "Mother-Of-All-Battles", organised labour, yesterday, damned a court injunction and a resolution from an emergency "special session" of the House of Representatives, restraining it from embarking on mass protests.

Labour, comprising both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), alongside the Organized Private Sector (OPS) took to the streets to protest the zero-subsidy policy of the Federal Government.

The groups made good their threat to embark on mass protests which paralysed socio-economic activities across the country, until government reverts to the previous N65:00 price of the Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) popularly called petrol.

As the anti-fuel subsidy hike protests formally commenced yesterday, crippling business and economic activities all over the country, there are reports that 11 persons were already killed in Kano, Maiduguri, Lagos, and Edo states.

In Maiduguri, six people were reportedly felled by police bullets, just as three more casualties were recorded in Lagos and two others in Kano.

Worried by the harvest of deaths on the first day of the protests, labour, and the OPS have however vowed to press for charges against Jonathan at the World Court.

But President Goodluck Jonathan meanwhile yesterday reiterated his earlier position that removal of fuel subsidy was never an attempt by the government to inflict hardship and pain on Nigerians.

He said it was regrettable the people were unable to enjoy the benefits of subsidy over the period of time the fuel subsidy lasted.

The President, speaking through the Vice President, Namadi Sambo at the Palace of the Lamido of Adamawa, Alhaji (Dr.) Muhammad Barkindo Aliyu Musdafa in Yola, maintained that government cannot deliberately inflict pains on Nigerians who overwhelmingly voted for them.

Reports from the United Kingdom indicated that protesters in London as of yesterday had taken over the Nigerian High Commission there.

But as the protests continue to gather momentum, labour leaders and major stakeholders have called on the Senate to pass a resolution asking President Jonathan to revert back to selling petrol at N65 per litre.

Omar, at the Abuja protest rally, praised the House of Representatives for passing a resolution to that effect while a former House member, Hon Patrick Obahiagbon opined that the Presidency would heed the advise of the Senate.

Omar said, "I must say that in the last few days, we have seen men and women of integrity in this country; in member of the House of Representatives. They defied all instructions, all threats that they must not reconvene.

"But because they are close to the people, they could feel the pinch from the people, they decided they must convene and take a decision and they passed a resolution calling on the Executive to revert to N65 per litre. This is a very patriotic move and we commend the members of the House of Representatives, we also call on the Senate to do the same thing."

But Senate President David Mark's effort to convince organised labour to halt the on-going strike hit the rocks yesterday.

Instead, the NLC and TUC toldhim that it is either the government reverts to N65 per liter or the strike goes on indefinitely.

Rising from the meeting with Mark and some principlal officers of the Senate at his Apo residence, Omar in company of Esele, Isa Aremu, NLC vice president and Owei Lakemfa said while they appreciated the Senate's effort to mediate, they, however, insisted that the strike must go on.

He told reporters that labour's position is clear; "revert to N65 per litre or nothing."

A source close to the Senate told LEADERSHIP last night that the Senate would meet with the President today on the matter. The source said the consensus of the Senate leadership was that the President should suspend the subsidy removal and defer the action till April.

Meanwhile as the labour induced mass protests enter its second day, business activities and governance remained grounded around Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as Nigerians trooped out in thousands in solidarity with labour's call.

Wearing a war-like mood, thousands of combined armed security agents took over the whole city, even as the Presidents of both NLC, Comrade Abdulwahed Omar and TUC, Comrade Peter Esele led the Abuja protesters.

Earlier in the morning at Berger roundabout, the labour leaders and the protesters who gathered at the venue of the protest were not deterred by the presence of the heavily armed security personnel.

LEADERSHIP checks revealed that around Abuja, all government offices, shops, banks and markets were shut down, as workers stayed in-doors except for those who ventured out in solidarity with labour.

The protest which was peaceful was almost stopped at Wuse Market by the police but for surging crowd, numbering over 6,000. At the popular Wuse Market Junction, a police truck with Registration Number: NPF 2185 C was used to barricade the road.

Both the labour and the police officers there later reached a compromise and the protesting crowd was re-routed through the Wuse Market and Aminu Kano Crescent, before it was finally terminated in front of Amingo Super Market in Wuse 2, with a call to Abuja residents to converge today for the continuation of the mass protests.

Those at the protest were: NLC President, Comrade Omar; TUC President, Comrade Esele; NLC General Secretary, Comrade Owei Lakemfa; President Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Comrade Samson Ugwoke; President of Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU), Comrade Kiri Mohammed; Charles Oputa (Charley Boy); President Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Omode Idris; Honourable Patrick Obahiagbon (Igodomigodo); Honourable Dino Melaye; Mr. Taye Olorode and several others.

In Lagos, thousands of Lagosians kept to their promise to support organised labour. They turned out en masse to protest the removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government. The protest brought Lagos to standstill with labour unions, civil society groups, lawyers, bankers, lecturers, students all protesting and calling on the government to revert to the old pump price for fuel of N65 per litre.

In what can be described as the country's fiercest organised civil opposition against government's policy, crowds in their thousands marched from Yaba through Ikorodu Road to Ojota. From the NLC Secretariat, Yaba, labour and civil society leaders led the protests through the popular Ikorodu Road, through Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojoto where several speakers, ranging from musicians, leftist politicians berated the government for bringing more hardship on the citizens.

Apart from policemen and a few soldiers deployed several strategic points, major streets and hotels were deserted. The every busy streets of Lagos were deserted as banks, private companies, government offices, airports and seaports closed shop to observe the protests.

Major roads such as the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Third Mainland Bridge, Carter Bridge, Murtala Mohammed Way and Herbert Macaulay Way in Yaba were also deserted excepted for the few policemen guarding the areas.

Bonfires were lit along Ikorodu road by irate youths during the protest as thugs at Fadeyi disrupted the peaceful protest by throwing stones but the situation was brought under control by policemen assigned to ensure normalcy.

However a sad incident occurred at Ogba area of Ikeja, when a youth, Ademola Aderintan was shot dead by the police during an argument. Another person was also reported killed while three others sustained bullet wounds at Ogba Lagos as police clashed with youths protesting the removal of oil subsidy by the Federal Government.

An eye witness said a group of young men was said to have mounted a road block and playing football at Yaya Abatan Street in Ogba when some policemen arrived from Pen Cinema Area of Agege and attempted to disperse them, but they resisted.

In a bid to disperse them, the police opened fire which led to the death of one of them while three others were wounded.

The remains of the dead victim had been taken away when our correspondent visited the venue of the incident but the three others; Igara Monday, Alimi Abubakar and Egbujor Samuel were immediately rushed to County Hospital in Ogba for treatment.

Mr. Igara Monday who was shot in the leg while narrating the incident to Leadership said: "I was reading paper along the street when I saw people running and I started running as well and they shot me.

The impact of the strike was also felt at both Apapa and Tin Can Island seaports which though opened for business but lacked patronage.

Shopping malls like Shoprite at Lekki and Ikeja Shopping Mall and other business centres were closed for business. Pockets of protests against government's insensitivity to its citizens also held at Obalande, CMS through Broad Street, Lagos Island, Lagos local airport and along Bank-Anthony Way, Ikeja.

Maritime activities were equally grounded in Lagos, as all the three ports, Apapa, Tin-Can Island and the Roll On/Roll Off were shut, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports.

Ships were neither berthing nor leaving the ports. All the offices of shipping companies in Apapa and Tin-Can Island Ports were closed, even as some labour leaders at the ports were at the gates, monitoring compliance with the strike.

Mr Ben Okoh, Zonal Chairman, Traffic Manager's Zone, Apapa, confirmed that there were no activities at the Apapa Port. "This is an indefinite strike, not a warning strike," Okoh said.

At the domestic terminal of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), there was total compliance with the strike. But the situation at the International terminal was different.

As at noon, a Virgin Atlantic flight had taken off for London, while a Kenyan Airways flight landed at about 11.50 a.m.

The airlines were sending text messages to passengers to either cancel their scheduled flights or encourage them to come and board.

Movement was unrestricted around the international terminal, as individuals went about their activities unhindered. Policemen provided security cover.

But air transport union officials warned that they might be compelled to invite officials of organised labour on Tuesday, to enforce total compliance with the strike.

In compliance with the strike order by organised labour, banks and filling stations all over Lagos remained shut.

Thousands of youths in an unprecedented demonstration yesterday staged a peaceful demonstration in Kano to protest the fuel subsidy withdrawal, but it turned out to be violent, resulting to the injury of over 31 people with 18 having gunshot wounds in different parts of their bodies while 13 others were critically wounded.

Police fired at the protesters as sporadic gunshots were heard around the Kano State Government House when protesters attempted to gain access but were prevented by security operatives.

The victims, AbdulMalik Rabi'u Badawa, identified from his business identity card as a staff of Nasiha Communications and Bashir Musa Zango died at the Murtala Muhammad General Hospital, as a result of the gunshots. Six others were taken to the hospital's theatre for immediate attention. It was gathered that people trooped to the hospital to donate blood to the victims as a mark of sympathy to the victims and to further fuel the protests.

The protest which was initially peacefully got out of hands when the youth encountered security operatives manning the Government House who dispersed them with tear gas. This turn out of event, caused the crowd to go violent, as protesters attempted gaining entrance into the Government House.

Parts of fence of the state Government House along State Road were pulled down by the protesters just as the Mobile Police officers guarding the seat of the state government opened fire on the protesters, shooting sporadically at them.

Our correspondent reports that several gunshots were initially fired into the air before it was turned on the protesters who were severally wounded. Another protester who reportedly died was said to have been shot in his chest by the police before he was taken to the Murtala Muhammad Hospital where he died shortly after.

18 more persons were said to have sustained gunshot wounds with 12 being critically injured.

Red Cross Spokesman, Musa Abdullahi confirmed the number of casualties yesterday and said some are still receiving treatment.

Decrying the spate of killings, Omar at the Abuja rally said: "We have just received a bad breaking news that six people who have come out to protest peacefully were killed in Maiduguri, and three were killed in Lagos. Comrades, this is a very sad day, that in a democracy, people who came out to express their grievances peacefully were killed.

"The leadership of labour and civil society organisations have to take this issue seriously. We are going to immediately write the President, they must take drastic action to bring the people, their agents who kill innocent Nigerians to book."

On his part, Esele said labour and the civil society organisations will go ahead to press charges against the President at the World Cup in Hague.

TUC Secretary General, John Kolawole said police should protect the people during the protests and not kill people.

Also, a visibly angry human rights lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, alongside some civil society members during their visit to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport warned Nigerians to shun the airports while the strikes lasted, when they saw two aircraft flying out of the airport.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Omololu Bisi, in-charge of Airport, urged labour leaders to be calm in their demonstration.

Interestingly, the national secretariat of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abuja, was yesterday, a shadow of itself as staff of the secretariat deserted their offices apparently in solidarity with the strike called by NLC.

At about 11a.m when LEADERSHIP visited the offices, it was observed that only the security personnel attached to the secretariat were on duty as offices in the secretariat were completely locked. The few staff who came to work, on meeting the silence at the building, beat a retreat and headed back home.

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