Nigerians yesterday braved the odds to stage an anti-government protest that resonated across major cities of the country. They agitated for better living conditions for the citizens.
Tagged ‘One Voice Nigeria’, the IStandWithNigeria and #EnoughIsEnough campaign, which began on a low key due to the conflicting reports of police’s advice against the much-publicised protest, later gained momentum.
The protest was greeted with intimidating security presence across the states, particularly at the National Stadium and the National Theatre, both in Surulere, Lagos State.
The rallies indicate Nigerians’ growing impatience with the current administration that has failed to improve the economy and lot of the citizens almost two years after coming to power.
But at the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja, another group of protesters who are in support of President Muhammadu Buhari, gathered at the Unity Park, to counter the anti-government protest, which also took place at the same venue, before both groups marched to the Presidential Villa.
Despite the opposition to the procession by the police, over 100 youths marched along the Shehu Shagari Way, Central Business District chanting protest songs. The youths mostly dressed in different shades of green and carrying placards and banners with various inscriptions, caused traffic gridlock on the busy road, while a Department of State Services (DSS) team in a patrol van was seen providing security for the protesters.
The pro-government group said it was out to sensitise the populace to the achievements of the All Progressives Congress (APC) government. But Prof. Chidi Odikalu, former chairman of the Human Rights Commission, who is on the side of those protesting against the current economic situation, said he was at the Unity Fountain to demand good governance.
In Benin, Edo State capital, youths also took to the streets to decry what they described as ‘biting hunger’ owing to alleged bad government policies. Members of the group marched to the secretariat of the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), under the aegis of Concerned Youth Leaders, carrying placards with various inscriptions which read: ‘Give Us Jobs’, ‘What happened to Our Economy?’ ‘Where is the change we voted for?’
‘Rescue Us from Recession’ and ‘Stop Herdsmen Attack’, among others.
The Spokesperson for the group, Dr. Carl Oshodin, said the growing hunger occasioned by bad government policies had pauperised many Nigerians with no hope in sight to revamp the economy.
The Lagos protest, which commenced around 8:30a.m. at the National Stadium, ended around 12:20p.m. with a march to the National Theatre, which according to the organisers “are two national icons that epitomise our decline as a nation.”
To many of the protesters, the low morale that greeted the heavily publicised rally was connected with the last-minute withdrawal from the planned protest of music star, Innocent Idibia, popularly known as TuFace.
That notwithstanding, celebrities like comedian Seyi Law, Charley Boy, publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), Gbenga Sesan and founder, Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumaki, were present.
As early as 6:00 a.m., policemen had blocked the entrance to the stadium but reopened it after people coming for their routine exercises revolted. The management of the stadium contacted the Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, who directed his men to reopen the stadium and concentrate on ensuring a peaceful protest.
Two Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and over 20 patrol vehicles were deployed at the venues. Anti-riot policemen, operatives of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) and officials of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) were also seen at strategic locations.
At first, the early comers felt discouraged by the poor turnout, but as soon as Odumakin arrived with her entourage and band, the crowd became enlivened. However, the excitement was short-lived as the Odumakin-led group marched their crew and headed towards the Freedom Park, Ojota, instead of the National Theatre. But other organisers marched towards them and both groups reunited midway before heading to the National Theatre at Iganmu.
They had placards with inscriptions such as ‘I will no longer be quiet’, ‘Invest in infrastructure, create jobs’; ‘People die daily from lack of basic and affordable healthcare’; ‘There can’t be a set of rules for the poor and another set for the rich’; ‘There’s enough in Nigeria for all of us to ‘chop belleful’’; ‘Food, medicine, everything is three times more expensive but salaries have not increased…”
“Two years ago, we elected a new government because the previous one was corrupt, but we don’t see any change, it’s even worse now. Everything is very expensive today: the price of food, the price of gasoline have increased. We suffer but politicians do not care,” one of the protesters, Elias Ozikpu, said.
Owoseni, who was on ground, said the heavy presence of policemen was for the maintenance of law and order. “We are here to ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order. The Nigeria Police is never brutal because the cardinal philosophy of the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, is the respect of human rights of every citizen,” he said.
Yesterday’s protest extended across international borders, as Nigerians in the United Kingdom besieged the premises of the Nigerian High Commission in London to demand the appearance of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The protesters demanded audience with President Buhari for only five minutes after the presidency had insisted Buhari was not on admission in any London hospital but vacationing at the Nigerian High Commission.
The Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, in his reaction, yesterday said Buhari had heard the cries of Nigerians “loud and clear.”
According to Osinbajo, Buhari, who is currently on medical vacation, has promised that the current administration would ensure that all Nigerians get a fair deal.
The acting president spoke at a consultative forum on the economic recovery and growth plan held at the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Contrary to wild speculations making the rounds that President Buhari is dead, Osinbajo reassured Nigerians that the president is hale and hearty.
In an interview with State House correspondents, he said he spoke with the president, adding that they both had a long conversation.