The idea is that of Innocent Idibia, aka 2Face, who later called off the protest, but that does not stop protesters from going to the streets to express their displeasure against the current state of the economy in the country and extracting assurance from the government that it will working tirelessly to fix things
| By Olu Ojewale | Feb 20, 2017 @ 01:00 GMT |
MONDAY, February 6 and Thursday, February 9, will go down as very significant days in the life of the current Muhammadu Buhari administration. On the two days, Nigerians from different walks of life thronged the streets of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, and other major cities across the country to protest against government policies that have impoverished the country and make life so difficult.
The protest was planned to coincide with the day that President Muhammadu Buhari was to resume work. The public protest against hardship was the idea of Innocent Idibia, aka 2Face, a hip-hop artiste. He said he was organising the protest to highlight the failure of the Buhari government to tackle several issues facing Nigerians.
But following a Police report that the protest was going to be hijacked by hoodlums, Idibia on Saturday night, announced the cancellation of the exercise, citing security reasons. However, various organisations who had identified with the cause still went ahead with the plan.
The development did not go down well with the likes of Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate, who criticised the Nigerian Police for planning to stop the anti-government protest. Soyinka said that the cancellation by Idibia was a deep embarrassment and a national shame “triggered by the state’s attempt to water down the criminal code against corruption” and that the police reversed the hands of the democratic clock.
The laureate, in a an article on Saharareproters, disclosed that he had written a letter to Ibrahim Idris, inspector-general of Police, through Fatai Owoseni, commissioner of Police, Lagos State, demanding that the protest be allowed so as to respect and safeguard the constitutional rights of Nigerians. Hence, there were protests and no record of any disruption or casualty.
The most recent of the protests were held on Thursday, February 9. On that day, it was the turn of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, to lead the organised labour in the protest and after which the organised labour posted a message to the President Muhammadu Buhari government to either fix the nation’s ailing economy or quit office.
The labour leaders delivered the message during mass protests against rising cost of living in Nigeria, which attracted thousands of government workers and other Nigerians from all walks of life, in Lagos, Abuja and other major cities. The protest was tagged, “National day of action against corruption and for good governance.
In Abuja, the organised labour took the protest to the National Assembly and seat of power, the Presidential Villa.
Ayuba Wabba, president of the NLC, said the group was also protesting against the delay in the upward review of minimum wage amid increasing cost of living in the country. Wabba said: “We are here to demand good governance and express our support in the fight against corruption. More importantly, we demand respect for rule of law, greater accountability and transparency in governance.”
He expressed worry that Nigerian workers had been the major victims of the fallout of corruption and bad governance. Wabba said: “Today, the dollar rate is N500 to one dollar and the salaries of Nigerian workers have remained the same. Therefore, we are here to urge the National Assembly to play an important role to ensure that life is made better for Nigerians. We cannot succeed if the fight against corruption does not succeed.
“We appreciate the efforts by the National Assembly to ensure financial autonomy for the local governments and this must be sustained because money meant for the local governments does not get there.”
The NLC president further expressed concern that in spite of the bailout funds to states, meant for workers’ salaries, “the living conditions of workers have not been improved because many are not paid.”
Besides, he charged that pensioners in the country were owed up to seven months and called on the National Assembly to synergise with other arms of government to pay them.
In his speech, Bobboi Kaigama, TUC president, said the inflation rate in the country was growing astronomically and therefore, urged the governments at all tiers to go back to the drawing board to revive the country’s economy.
“Whatever it takes, we must review the structure of our economy. If we must have to kill corruption, the laws have to come from the National Assembly. Nigerians are hungry, the cost of living is high; no houses, no light and factories have gone comatose,” Kaigama said.
In his response, Bukola Saraki, Senate president, said it was time to go into action towards addressing the numerous challenges confronting Nigerians. According to him, “it can’t continue this way. The exchange rate is high; costs of things in the market have gone high, but only the workers’ salaries remain the same. By the next time we will meet, I will tell you what the National Assembly has done to improve the living condition of Nigerians.”
An attempt by the protesters to access Presidential Villa was blocked by security personnel. But later, selected members of the labour group were allowed to meet with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to register their protest.
At the meeting, Osinbajo was given an 18-point agenda, demanding improvement on economy, wage increase, and demands that public office holders forfeit assets they refused to declare, among others.
Osinbajo told the union leaders that the Buhari administration inherited an economy where 22 states were owing salaries up to six or eight months and had to offer bailout three times, at a time it was losing 60 percent revenue on account of restiveness in the Niger Delta.
Osinbajo, who lauded the labour leaders for taking up the campaign on behalf of Nigerians, said a democratically elected government must constantly report to the people and be accountable to them, hence the reason he was receiving unions. He gave assurance that government would take action on the many demands raised.
He, however, said Nigerians must endure the pains of a biting recession if the country would be better, as there was no gain without pain.
The acting president noted that some Nigerians were averse to the anti-corruption fight, which would help the government save up its resources.
He said: “Every time you fight corruption, the way we are trying to fight corruption, there is a major fight back, because corruption in this country is wealthy, powerful, influential and it is in every aspect of our lives. It is practically in all institutions, including religious institutions.
“The social media campaign of ‘#bringbackcorruption’ is an orchestrated one. Nobody that is suffering can say bring back corruption.”
He encouraged Nigerians to speak up against corrupt officials and those trying to derail the course of justice.
In Lagos, the workers marched from Yaba through Ikorodu Road, Maryland, Ikeja to Alausa Secretariat, seat of Lagos State government, carrying placards and chanting solidarity songs. Addressing workers before launching out from the NLC office in Yaba, Lagos, Amaechi Asugwuni, NLC vice-president, who led the Lagos protest, said Nigerians were tired of sufferings inflicted on them through bad governance. “This rally is long overdue and I can assure you that prolonged protest is on the way because Nigerians have ears; they can hear; they have eyes; they can see and you can hear from people on the street that they are hungry. The turnout here is not a joke; it is a clear message that Nigerians are sending to the government: if they don’t know what to do, let them leave,” Asugwuni said.
The labour leader said the rally was necessitated by the outcry of people who were worried about the increasing cost of food, goods and services.
Charles Oputa, a music icon popularly called Charly Boy, joined the protesters at Ojuelegba end of Ikorodu Road, in Lagos. In his address, Charly Boy charged the government to restore the nation’s economy and make lives easier for the common people.
Similarly, he urged Nigerians to watch out, in the next two months, for the mother of all rallies, noting that the country would be shut down.
At the office of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State in at Alausa, the protesters were joined by Femi Falana, SAN, human rights lawyer, who commended the NLC and the TUC for organising the protest. He noted that the demonstration of the people to defend their rights was a clear message that Nigerians have not seen the change promised.
“The change is fake. The administration is almost half time and Nigerians have continued to suffer. Buhari should know that his honeymoon is over. Let us get organised. Enough is enough,” Falana said.
On Monday, February 6, similar protests were held in various parts of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, among others. In Lagos, the protest march was led by the likes of Charly Boy, Sheyi Law, a comedian, and Omoyele Sowore, publisher, SaharaReporters, Sowore led the pack at the Lagos end. Now christened #iStandWithNigeria, the protest against the Buhari government in Lagos, started at about 9.00 am when protesters gathered at the National Stadium from where the protest kicked off. To ensure a trouble free protest, there was a heavy presence of Police security at strategic locations in various parts of Lagos. More than 100 policemen had been stationed at the National Stadium, Surulere, as early as 7 am. Owoseni, the Police boss, personally led the team of Police, Lagos State.
The Police commissioner who was at the National Stadium, with about 15 vehicles and one Armoured Personnel Carrier, APC, later ordered that the main entrance to the stadium, which was initially locked, should be opened for the public use. Other locations in Lagos metropolis with heavy police presence were the Gani Fawehinmi’s Freedom Square, Ojota and the National Theatre, Iganmu.
Yemi Adamolekun, executive director, OneVoiceNigeria, while speaking with newsmen at the venue said that the coalition was not discouraged by the last minute cancellation of the protest by Tuface.
She said the protest was not about Tuface Idibia, but about Nigeria. Tuface had called for nationwide protest against what he claimed as the worst economic crisis in the country which saw the costs of goods and services skyrocketing, with many families struggling to survive.
Although the protesters were not able to meet with the acting president as the labour group, Osinbajo acknowledged them saying on Monday, February 6, that the federal government was addressing Nigeria’s “serious economic situation.” And to those who protested, he said: “We hear you loud and clear.”
Recalling a similar remark by President Buhari a few months ago, Osinbajo said he had gone round the country and the complaints of the people on the economy were similar to what the protesters complained about. He blamed the situation on the rot of many years inherited by the government.
But he assured that the government remained committed to turning around the trend and placing Nigeria on the path of growth.
That, indeed, is what the organisers of the two protests would be looking out for. They have assured the government that failure to fix the economy would lead to many more protests across the country. It would be interesting to know how the government is able to meet the populace demands and avoid further protests.