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.
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.
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.
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.”
- Nigerian Government Sustain Brutal Crackdown On Subsidy Protesters (ogala.wordpress.com)
- President Jonathan sends troops after protesters, journalists (ogala.wordpress.com)