20 January 2012

Nigeria: Jonathan's Battles


The drum of war against President Goodluck Jonathan's increasingly embattled administration was loud and clear last Thursday.

"Tear gas would not stop us, we know that we are dealing with a full blown civilian dictatorship, a government that cannot protect its people against terror, a government that cannot hold on to one terrorist, who was arrested and kept in police custody, now has the guts to mobilise armed troops and tear gas defenseless citizens," Mr. Yinka Odumakin, spokesperson of the Save Nigeria Group, SNG said at a press briefing ahead of what he promised would be a major confrontation with the Jonathan administration tomorrow.

The briefing called to sensitize the populace of the resumption of the demonstrations against the Jonathan administration which tailed off last Monday after organized labour called off the six day national strike that was about bringing Jonathan administration to its knees.

The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and the Trade Union Congress, TUC called the strike which commenced on January 9 in response to the removal of the alleged subsidy in the price of petrol. They perhaps may not have bargained for the success that followed the strike.

Nigerians from across the country put aside their differences to stand together against what many described as the administration's attempt to burden the populace at the expense of the ruling class and a privileged few.

Moved by the bond tied between various strands of the society during the six day protest, erstwhile military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida was to remark in a statement his pride in "seeing our Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters express such uncommon love and solidarity during the protest."

Indeed as the administration remained unmoving in its position on not restoring the original fuel price of N65 per litre, many Nigerians frustrated with the seeming lack of compassion from the administration expressed their determination to continue with the strike.

However, the continuing strike and national shut-down was reportedly becoming a serious threat to national security and if not, to the nation's democracy.

It was as such not surprising that as the labour leaders entered the presidential villa last Sunday night for the last series of talks with administration officials the survival of the nation's democracy was being used as a trump card by government.

Government officials reportedly alleged that the strike and demonstrations across the country had been taken over by political opponents of the administration who it was feared were prepared to use the crisis to undermine the survival of the Jonathan administration.

Lagos and Kano, the two hotbeds of the protests were themselves mainstays for the political opposition. Lagos is the base of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN while Kano even if now controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party, remains a strong base of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC.

Indeed when organised labour called off the strike last Monday, protesters in Kano were unwilling to end the strike as they pledged to sustain their own protest.

Indeed Odumakin's posturing and political proclivities were part of the persuasion used by administration officials to push for the cancellation of the protests.

Those sympathetic to the administration had pointed at the prominence of Odumakin, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and Pastor Tunde Bakare, all of whom are members of the CPC as an indication of the fact that the demonstrations had taken a political colouration.

So when labour called off the strike other elements sympathetic to the cause, notably the civil society partners were at a loss. Not even the deployment of soldiers was enough reason in the eyes of some for the protests to be called off despite the administration's reduction of the petrol price from N140 to N97.

Now despite the deployment of troops to Lagos and other flash points during the strike, SNG is now vowing to resume the protests. It is a confrontation that Jonathan perhaps would not have bargained for.

Tomorrow's scheduled demonstration according to Odumakin would also include some celebrities including Nigeria's only Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka.

"Why we are not afraid is that the Nigerian people have won against full blown military dictatorship under General Sani Abacha. So, a civilian government that is using military police is no match for the Nigerians people. We have passed through this road before and this one too shall come to pass. So, on Saturday, we are going ahead with our programme as scheduled, leaders from across the country will be there," Odumakin said.

As Odumakin gave an outline of his own plans for tomorrow, a group of elder statesmen including Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, Rear Admiral Ndubisi Kanu among others were tear-gassed as they made an approach to lead a demonstration in Lagos.

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