Police battle citizens as subsidy protests spread

  • One dies in Kwara 
  • NLC mulls suit against Kolade panel 
  • May call general strike next week 
  • Plateau bans rallies 

FOR the second day running, Nigerians opposed to the removal of subsidy on petrol took to the streets across the country, meeting with mixed ‘reception’ in the hands of security agencies.

While the protests were peaceful in the main, a man in his mid-20s was killed yesterday in Ilorin, Kwara State where protesters put up bonfires on several roads in the state capital, chanting anti-deregulation slogans.

However, the protest turned violent at the Post Office junction at about 10:30 a.m. when the protesters were tear-gassed by armed security agents, causing pandemonium and forcing businesses to close up for the day.

It was also gathered that there were sporadic shootings by the law enforcement agents, who came to the scene apparently to discourage the protesters from going towards the Government House Area, along Ahmadu Bello Way, Ilorin.

A stray bullet allegedly hit one of the protesters on the chest.

Kwara Police Public Relations Officer, Dabo Ezekiel, however, claimed that the dead man was hit by the protesters for refusing to join in the protest. The Police has recovered the remains of the deceased.

Meanwhile, the Special Task Force (STF) in Plateau State has prohibited any unlawful processions especially in four local councils under emergency rule in the state.

The affected councils are Jos North, Jos South, Barkin Ladi and Riyom.

The reminder came yesterday as some residents were reportedly poised to protest the fuel subsidy removal announced by President Goodluck Jonathan on Saturday, December 31.

In a related development, the battle against the removal of fuel subsidy may shift to the Judiciary as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is set to drag the Federal Government to court over the mandate of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme Board headed by Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Mr. Christopher Kolade.

In a statement signed yesterday by President of the Congress, Abdulwahed Omar, the NLC disclosed that it would seek legal interpretation as to whether any committee has the powers to spend public funds without appropriation by the National Assembly.

The Congress also dismissed the establishment of the Justice Alfa Belgore-led committee to dialogue with Labour as “an after-thought move.”

It also vowed to hold the Federal Government responsible for any protester killed in the course of the subsidy protest, starting with the Ilorin incident.

The NLC also refuted the claim by the government that Labour agreed to the subsidy removal policy, saying the NLC was never a party to the removal of subsidy.

Omar also hinted that organised Labour would take its next line of action over the subsidy removal.

He said: “Tomorrow (today) Wednesday January 4th, 2012, the NLC and TUC will issue a clear directive on the date for a coordinated, nationwide general strike.”

Also, President, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, told The Guardian on phone yesterday: “I am on my way to Lagos from Port Harcourt now for the TUC meeting. We need to meet to strategise on how to organise the strike but it will not happen this week. Certainly next week, it will happen.”

Though the government has moved to open a line of dialogue with Labour, The Guardian learnt that Labour has rebuffed these overtures.

Also yesterday, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) raised the alarm over alleged dangers posed to its officials deployed to monitor filling stations across the country in order to enforce the benchmark set by the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory agency (PPPRA).

Controller (Operations), DPR, Lagos Zonal Office, Olugbenga Koku, told The Guardian yesterday that the oil regulatory agency has begun monitoring filling stations from Monday, but “hoodlums have taken over the stations and are threatening to maim our officials on duty.”

In Lagos, demonstrators yesterday shut petrol stations, formed human barriers along motorways and hijacked buses as they protested the fuel subsidy removal.

More than 1,000 people in the main market area of central Lagos sang, chanted and waved placards reading: “No To Fuel Price Hikes” and “We Demand Living Wages.”

At Ojota in Lagos yesterday, most motorists were forced to turn back after a group of demonstrators set up a roadblock of burning tyres on the highway.

Two Toyota Hilux vans loaded with armed police officers drove into the midst of the protesters at Ojota after arresting two persons for burning tyres on the road.

The angry protesters quickly held the vans hostage, threatening to set them on fire if the two arrested were not released immediately. When the policemen sensed that the standoff could escalate, they released the two suspects and went their way.

But police in riot gear kept watch and the protests were largely peaceful.

“Our struggle is not just against fuel subsidy, it is against bad governance. Jonathan has shown that he can’t be trusted,” Issa Aremu, vice president of the National Labour Congress, said at the rally to demonstrators.

He added: “He said he was engaging in dialogue and all of a sudden he went ahead and increased the price.”

For her part, Mrs. Ganiat Fawehinmi, widow of the late human rights lawyer, said: “The prices of everything will increase, transport, housing, school fees, food, etc. The common man will not be able to survive. We will say no and oppose bad government policies. We will say no and oppose IMF (International Monetary Fund) policies.”

Also, Lokoja, Kogi State capital was brought to a standstill yesterday as protesters took over the Lokoja- Murtala Muhammed Bridge over the removal of oil subsidy.

It was the third time the bridge would be blocked in three months.

The protesters in their hundreds carried placards which read thus, “Jonathan You Are Not A Good Leader,” “Resign Now Jonathan,” “The Nation Is Heading For Anarchy.”

Several vehicles traveling through the ever-busy North-South link road were prevented by the protesters who lighted tyres on the main road.

Mobile policemen deployed to break up the riot had a hectic time and resorted to firing tear gas to disperse the protesters.

Similarly, hundreds of students took to the streets of Kano metropolis in a peaceful protest over the hike in the price of petrol.

In a bid to keep the peace, well-armed policemen and other security agents took positions in strategic parts of the city.

Nine students arrested in the course of the protest were later released.


By Abiodun Fagbemi (Ilorin), Isa Abdulsalami (Jos), Francis Obinor, Dele Fanimo, Olalekan Okusan, Obiora Aduba, Seye Olumide, Isaac Taiwo, Sulaimon Salau and David Ibemere (Lagos), Collins Olayinka (Abuja), Ralph Omololu Agbana, (Lokoja) and Adamu Abuh.

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