Pillars of Occupy Nigeria Protest – Ogechi Ekeanyanwu

By Ben Ezeamalu, Lagos

The recent furore over the Nigerian federal government’s decision to remove subsidy from oil may have quietened, but the spirit of brotherhood the unpopular act foisted upon the citizenry would be interred in the nation’s history.

On January 1st, Nigerians received an unlikely New Year Day present from an even more unlikely source – the federal government.

The present – an over one hundred percent increase in the pump price of petrol – sparked a wave of protests that gradually spread across the length and breadth of the country.

In Lagos, the Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota, served as a veritable meeting point for hundreds of thousands who came out to protest government’s high handedness and penchant for corruption.

Far away in Surulere, Lagos; Ogechukwu Ekeanyanwu was toying with the idea of replicating the gathering at Ojota, in Surulere, where citizens residing in the vicinity could gather and vent their feelings about government and governance.

A flurry of phone calls and marathon meetings later, the ‘#occupyNigeria #Surulere’ was born.

“The protest started because people were aggrieved at the dire situations in Nigeria,” says Ms. Ekeanyanwu, 26.

“It wasn’t about how difficult it was to start the protest, it was about people getting a platform to air their grievances.”

For 14 days, the ‘occupy Nigeria’ protest, a moniker adopted from the US version of ‘occupy Wall Street‘, effectively brought the nation’s economy to its knees.

Soldiers overrun Lagos streets

Soldiers overrun Lagos streets to quell Occupy Nigeria protest

While the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress called for an industrial action; leaders of civil society groups took the path of mass action.

Nigerians crumbled under the resultant severe hardship.

At Surulere, the protesters converged, gradually, at the front of the National Stadium, the meeting point.

Initially in their tens, the crowd grew into hundreds and then thousands as days grew into weeks.

“For me what is important is that man works for the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” says Ms. Ekeanyanwu.

The wave of protests that hit the nation was as unprecedented in Nigeria’s history as it was crippling to the country’s economy.

Both the public and private sectors heeded the call to down tools and stay at home – or come out and join the protesters.

The Presidency’s explanation that the oil subsidy removal was needed to tackle corruption, especially in the oil sector, head on; as well as provide citizens with the ‘dividends of democracy’ was greeted with widespread cynicism.

On the third week of the protests, when news that the labour leaders have suspended the industrial action and called off the protests filtered in; protesters, who were still in the streets, were shocked.

Labour Union Protest Nigeria

PENGASSAN say they will join the strike and protests Midnight Saturday

The Nigerian labour leader, Abdulwaheed Omar, had announced to the entire nation barely 48 hours before that the third week would be witness the “mother of all protests”.

The initial shock from the news of the suspension gave way to disappointment and then to rage as citizens felt short-changed by the labour leaders.

“We let the opportunity to rid our country of corruption and corrupt politicians slip right through our fingers,” says Ms. Ekeanyanwu.

Negotiations between the labour leaders and federal government forced the pump price of fuel down to N97 from the hitherto N141 it was selling after the removal of subsidy.

The federal government may have won by insisting that the pump price of petrol “would never go back to N65;” but the protesters passed across a very clear message – it would no longer be business as usual.

“No life is more important than the other, therefore treat people as you will like others to treat you,” says Ms. Ekeanyanwu.

“This to me, is the only way the world can be a better place.”

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  1. #1 by Toikumo Pete Sofiyea on February 17, 2012 - 13:55

    The president was trying to do right by stopping the importation of Nigerian oil, that way ultimately reducing the price average Nigerians would have to pay at the pump. It makes no sense for Nigeria, an oil producing country to send the oil abroad for refinery and then import the same oil to be consumed at home. This process was making a few people rich at the expense of the populace. Hence a drastic move was taken by the president to stop this situation.

    The president went about it the wrong way, by not preparing average Nigerians about the situation. A radio announcement could have been made to educate the people about the situation, and all of the protest could have been avoided. Nigerians have suffered long enough for the lack of basic life necessities and this new price hike on fuel was the tip of the iceberg, so the people took to the streets.

    Nigeria has several oil refineries and they need to be repaired in order to stop the importation of their very own oil. It is such a shame that in Africa’s giant country, nothing seem to work except for chaos, confusion and corruption in high places. For Nigeria to move forward towards economic/social prosperity all Nigerians have to undergo a conscious revolution. A resolution that taking a public office should not be a prerequisite for one to enrich his or her family but to do right by the people. Nigerians are their own greatest enemy of progress and we have to fix that. So far the protest was a move in the right direction.

  2. #2 by Sara on May 17, 2012 - 14:40

    How can I get in touch with Ms. Ogechukwu Ekeanyanwu?

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