WE writes that the nationwide strike that followed the Federal Government’s removal of petroleum subsidy might have exposed Nigeria as a country of divergent opinions
Second Republic is dead, but the memories of some actions of the politicians and political parties that played active roles during the ill-fated democracy would not be forgotten in a hurry. The slogan of the ruling party then, the National Party of Nigeria was: One Nation, One Destiny.”
However, the last strike and protests called by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress, which was supported by the civil society groups, may have shown that Nigerians, though in one nation, have their different destinies. Agreeably, majority of the people would have thought that the protests, which were occasioned by the removal of subsidy on petrol, would be resisted by people from the six-geo political zones of the country. Such thought, according to Emeka Kalu, an engineer, was further fueled with the fact that Nigerians, no matter their status, region or tribe, patronise the same market to purchase goods. “After all, a musician waxed a record, in which he said this,” Kalu further explained.
It was probably based on such hypothesis that protesters trooped out in large number during the protests in some zones, while in others, sympathisers of government at the centre either stayed indoors or even organised their own protests to show support for the government.
Thus, in the whole of the South-West and the entire four zones in the northern part of the country, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the strike was described as total. Economic and social activities were paralyzed. Rallies were also held to denounce the government’s action. In Lagos, the rallies and the protests assumed a carnival-like dimension as musicians, actors and actresses mounted the stage to add colour to the demonstrations. The entertainers, who hitherto saw President Goodluck Jonathan as the messiah derided him by calling him unprintable names. The convener of Save Nigeria Group, who was also a vice-presidential candidate for the Congress for Progressive Change during the last presidential election, Pastor Tunde Bakare, was visible at the event. His overbearing presence at the rallies made the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, to say that the protesters were members of Bakare’s Latter Rain Assembly Church.
Kuku and those who had such impression must have been stunned when the Muslims leaders led their members to Ojota, venue of the rallies for their jumat prayers. After listening to the sermon, the Muslims, who were supported by their Christian brothers and sisters, then went on their knees, for prayers. In Gombe, Kano, Ilorin, Lokoja, Yola, the situation was almost the same: protesters trooped out in large number to register their displeasure over the government’s action.
But the residents of Bayelsa, the home State of the President, shunned civil society groups’ protest. The civil society groups under the aegis of Civil Liberties Organisation in the state had called for public protest and had even gone ahead to sensitise the public not to sit on the fence but to come out en masse to protest against the Federal Government’s policy, which they considered as “anti Nigerian people.”
While the leaders of the civil society groups in the state blamed the failure of the street protest to hold on the refusal of the police to grant them permit for the rally, a senior police source dismissed the claim as untrue, saying the command even deployed policemen to provide the civil society groups protection, which informed the presence of security operatives at take off point of the rally and other strategic locations in the state capital so as to prevent miscreants from hijacking the process. It was, however, learnt that the President’s men succeeded in infiltrating the rank of the anti subsidy removal camp and the result was the failure of residents to turn out for the rally.
It was not only in Bayelsa State, where ethnicity reason prevailed. The President’s fellow Ijaw man and a former militant, Asari Dokubo, who is from Rivers State, led a peaceful rally of a small crowd, threatening to defend the position of President Jonathan. He said if PENGASSAN carried out its threat to shut oil production, he would rally former militants to take over and ensure that PENGASSAN did not return. In the estimation of the former militant, the move by many Nigerians against the FG was meant to discriminate against the leadership of a helpless minority of Ijaw decent. He ((Dokubo) threatened to personally spearhead the region’s mass protest to defend their son from the arrogant northern majority whom he claimed wanted to make the country ungovernable.
Also, a coalition that called itself Deltans Occupy Niger Delta Resources, in a communiqué, said it would take its resources back, by all legal means available to it. The release signed by Ankios Briggs, President Agape Birthrights and convener of NDONDR reads, “Niger Delta and oil resources found in the Niger Delta belong to Niger Delta people. All resources found in any other region of Nigeria belong to the people of such region. We call on all our Niger Delta people, for the sake of our future to look to our nearest neighbours, the Igbo for immediate and strong alliance, to enable the Niger Delta nations and the Igbo nation to face the obvious change that will come to Nigeria, in strength, justice, brotherhood and truth. If Jonathan, a Niger Delta son, is not good enough to govern Nigeria, the oil in his Niger Delta is not good enough for Nigeria. If the Niger Delta people are not good enough to be part of good governance in Nigeria then our oil and gas of the Niger Delta peoples is not good enough for Nigeria.”
Some ex-militants, who were known to fight on the side of the people before carrots began to drop from the government table, also stormed Yenagoa and protested along the Major Chief Melford Okilo way in total support of the FG’s action.
Before then, some prominent people from the South-South also took sides with government on the matter and even alleged a plot to assassinate the President and some eminent persons in his administration. The Ijaw leaders, under the aegis of South-South Leaders’ Forum, led by Chief Edwin Clark, met with a resolve to queue behind Jonathan on the removal of fuel subsidy while they accused anti-subsidy promoters from other regions of the country of plotting the downfall of their kinsman.
It was however gathered that the people of the South-East were persuaded to stay-off the streets during the protests with the hope that Jonathan would hand over to an indigene of the zone in 2015.
A former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Prof. Tam David-West and the Action Congress of Nigeria however expressed their worry over the ethnicisation of the protests. David-West particularly said that it was wrong for some Ijaw leaders and persons from the Niger Delta to conclude that resistance against fuel subsidy removal was aimed at frustrating and possibly ousting President Jonathan. David-West, who described the fuel subsidy issue as a national one, reminded those who ascribed ethnic meaning to the strike, to recall that the President did not win the April 2011 election with only the votes from the Niger-Delta and the Ijaw. He said, “What they are doing is not good for the image of the President. Those protesting on the basis of ethnicity are merely interested in the money they can make from the president and also seeking relevance. Jonathan is the president of Nigeria and not the Ijaw. Jonathan only got 24 per cent of his votes from the South-South. He is able to occupy Aso Rock because of the votes from other parts of Nigeria. There is a serious need for people to be circumspect at this critical moment.”
The Action Congress of Nigeria, in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, decried those reading ethnic meanings into the protests. The party said it was unfortunate that the President “that was purportedly given a pan-Nigeria mandate only a few months back is now being made to look more and more like a South-South President, who must be ‘protected’ by his ‘supporters and kinsmen’ against failed politicians from the other regions, forgetting that the same President won the last election because of the support of the other regions that are now been demonised.”
Bakare was particularly criticised for leading the protest in Lagos, and it was alleged that the protests he led were sponsored by some individuals. But the non-conformist cleric described the allegation as a misplaced propaganda, adding that it was not the first time that SNG would lead protests against unjust acts in the nation. He reminded Nigerians about the rallies the group staged to protest the denial of Jonathan the opportunity to act as President in 2010, when his late boss then, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua was terminally sick. But the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Prof. Rufai Alkali, said Bakare should no longer be looked at from the angle of being a pastor. “In the past, he belonged to SNG. Today as you know him in the political circle, he has ceased from being the Pastor he was because he was a vice- presidential candidate of CPC, that was defeated in the last general election by the PDP. He is a voice of CPC.” He said the PDP would not sit by and allow failed politicians misinforming innocent Nigerians.