- Demonstrators converge on Nigeria House London, demand president speaks to them
- We hear you loud and clear, says acting president
Tobi Soniyi, Kasim Sumaina in Abuja, Chiemelie Ezeobi in Lagos and Ademola Babalola in Ibadan
Nigerians from all works of life trooped out in major cities in the country to protest against poor governance and the economic policies of the federal government, which they blamed for the widespread poverty and hunger in the land.
The protest was not limited to Nigeria alone as demonstrators in Britain joined their compatriots back home when they converged on Nigerian House, London, demanding that President Muhammadu Buhari appears in person and address them, following reports from the presidency on Sunday that he had extended his stay in the United Kingdom indefinitely for health reasons.
Responding to the demonstrations, which the Nigeria Police initially tried to stop, acting President Yemi Osinbajo told the protesters that the federal government was aware of the sufferings of Nigerians, adding that they have every right to demand for a better economy.
He promised that the administration under Buhari was determined to make it happen.
In Lagos, however, given the heavy publicity it had generated with the accompanying withdrawal of one of its chief promoters, Nigeria’s music star Innocent Idibia, better known as Tuface, the nationwide protest in Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre witnessed a very poor turnout.
Irrespective, the low turnout did not prevent the organisers – Enough is Enough (EiE) Coalition and One Voice Nigeria – from having a good outing as they succeeded in registering their grievances despite the heavy police presence.
The protest which was billed to hold at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, kicked off at about 9 a.m. with notable faces like Charly Boy; popular comedian, Seyi Law; Sahara Reporters’ publisher, Omoyele Sowore; Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), Gbenga Sesan; and the founder, Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, leading the way.
There was heavy police presence at the National Stadium preparatory for the expected protesters, just as security measures were taken to ensure that the protest was not hijacked by miscreants.
But before the protest started, there was some mild drama between the police and protesters, which was averted by the management of the stadium before it snowballed into a crisis.
Without any instruction from the command headquarters, policemen who were deployed to the stadium had initially blocked the entrance, prohibiting early comers from entering the stadium for the protest.
It took the intervention of the stadium’s management to get them to remove the barricades, given that they were not just blocking the protesters but also regular users of the stadium.
Once the barricades were removed, the protesters trooped in carrying placards that read: “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”, “food, medicine, everything is three times more expensive but salaries have not increased”, and “there is enough in Nigeria for all of us to chop belleful”, among several others.
By 11.30 p.m., the stadium was as silent as a graveyard after the protesters departed for the National Theater to continue their protest.
At the theater, the protesters rallied in front of the edifice and were addressed in turns by the organisers and supporters.
After being addressed by Charly Boy and Seyi Law, the crowd dispersed under the watchful eyes of the police, who were on alert to dispel any violence.
But before the crowd dispersed, the organisers commended the police for providing security, which prompted the protesters to unanimously give three hearty cheers to the police.
In Abuja, protesters anchored by different human rights activists converged on the Unity Fountain in Maitama early monday for a procession march to the Presidential Villa to make their grievances known to the Buhari-led administration.
Led by the immediate past Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Mr. Chidi Odinkalu, the protesters said nothing was bigger than trying to rescue the country.
Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Odinkalu said: “We are trying to make sure that Nigeria works for everybody. We came here as poor ordinary Nigerians armed with our national plan.
“They (police) have been sent here to do what they don’t want to do, we know they are part of us.”
Pointedly addressing the heavily armed policemen and operatives of the Department of State Service (DSS) at the barricaded gate of the Presidential Villa, he informed them “we are here to say enough is enough”.
He added: “We are giving this government till May 29, 2017 to fulfill the promises they have made. Today, we are here with a yellow card, on the 29th of May, if things are not better, we will come with a red card.
“We don’t know what is happening to our president, we don’t know the whereabouts of Mr. President.
“We are fed up with these old pictures of our president and those being currently passed up as new ones. We are fed up with the lies and deceit.
“We are here with major demands: we want transparency in governance, we want to know how much the states are getting, we want to know what happened to the bailout funds, how much the federal internal revenue is collecting, how much the Nigeria Customs Service made, how much the Nigeria National Petroleum Company is making, and how our government is spending it.
“We want to know how many children of persons in this administration have been hired by NNPC, CBN, INEC and all the big offices across the country.
“We want to know how much the grass cutter stole in order to make our internally displaced persons (IDPs) go hungry. We don’t want the grass cutter to hire the president as his lawyer.
“The life of all Nigerians must count. We don’t want any Nigerian’s life to be dismissed; every Nigerian must have a name.
“Corruption has not gone away. It has gotten worse. The president told us that he is going to fight corruption and not defend people who are accused of being corrupt.
“He told us that he is going to protect our interest and not the interest of the grass cutter. We say enough is enough.
“The current energy minister, my good brother, Mr. Raji Babatunde Fashola told us during the 2015 general elections campaign that a serious administration can fix power within six months.
“But, today, we are over 20 months into this administration and there is still darkness in the land.
“Poverty is getting worse, we cannot buy bread, we cannot buy food and we can’t find jobs. We are asking government to fix energy, give us transparency and be accountable. And protect every Nigerian irrespective of where they come from and where they live. These are our demands.
“We also want to reiterate that we are gathered here to protest that our political leaders have failed us, the elected leaders have failed us.
“They are not keeping to their election promises, they are not following their manifesto. We are here to demand for proper leadership.”
Speaking to THISDAY also, the National Coordinator, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Mr. Emmanuel Onwubiko explained that the protest was an excellent expression of the people’s determination to change a system that is not working.
“The economy is not working and the political climate is not working. So, Nigerians, no matter how little they are in number have come out to to be heard by the government and tell it that enough is enough,” he said.
Speaking also, one of the leading members of the Bring Back Our Girls Group, Mrs. Aisha Yesufu said the purpose of the protest was to demand for good governance.
“Citizens are tired of the state of affairs in the country. A lot of people are hungry,” she said.
Similarly, protesters in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, defied the orders of the security agencies not to go ahead with the planned demonstration against the federal government’s policies yesterday, as they shutdown activities in some areas of the city for about four hours.
As early as 7 a.m., human rights activists drawn from the labour movement, student bodies and unemployed graduates, as well as civil society organisations (CSOs) converged under the banner of Oyo Voice at the University of Ibadan gate, demanding good governance from Nigerian leaders and catalogued the woes of the suffering masses.
They were unequivocal about the task before the suffering masses to prepare to salvage the country from the hands of “wicked and selfish leaders who are running the country the way they like”.
Their protests resulted in traffic snarls around the city, despite the attempts by the police to ensure vehicular movement.
Those who led the protest included Ibadan-based social commentators, Mr. Femi Aborisade and Abiodun Bamgbose and former University of Ibadan Students’ Union Presidents, Tokunbo Salako and Babatunde Badmus, among others.
Reacting to the demands of the protesters, Osinbajo said that the federal government was aware of the sufferings that the people are going through.
He also said that the protesters have the right to demand for a better economy and that the present administration under Buhari was determined to make it happen.
Speaking while hosting a consultative forum of Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) in Abuja yesterday, Osinbajo assured the protesters that government would not relent in its efforts to change the country for the better.
He said: “We hear you loud and clear.”
He said that the deterioration of the years gone by could not be reversed overnight.
According to him, the present administration was taking its duty of reviving and setting the economy on the right path seriously.
He noted that Nigeria was indeed in a very precarious situation, but that the government was not unaware of the sufferings of citizens in the country.
Osinbajo quoted the president’s comment a few weeks back when he said: “I know how difficult things are. All my adult life I have always earned a salary. I know what it is like when that salary is not enough.”
The acting president added: “We are in a serious economic situation and the president is particularly concerned about the lot of the common man. And I quote him, ‘For some, the recession today means not being able to pay school fees, for others not being able to afford the high cost of rice and millet, and for most of our young people the recession means joblessness.’
“I for one, have been across the states and even today some people are out on the streets protesting that things are difficult. What we are saying to every Nigerian is that we hear you loud and clear, and we are determined to turn around the economy.
“You have a right to demand for a better economy and we are committed to see it happen.
“Years of deterioration cannot be reversed over night. Again it has to be said that it’s our business, it’s our duty to ensure that we put the Nigerian economy on the track of recovery.
“For the past 18 months, we have had to intervene three times in states to enable them have enough resources to pay salaries and the last intervention was in December when we paid the Paris Club refund to the states.
“These are funds that the federal government owed the states since 2005. This was to enable states pay their workers and we tend to believe that this is what is being done.”
Osinbanjo also spoke about the half a trillion social intervention fund which includes the payment of N5,000 a month to the poorest citizens in the country, the homegrown feeding programme which has started in several states, and the provision of credit facilities to 1.6 million traders and artisans, among others.
However, in his remarks on the protest, the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Bola Tinubu said protests would not solve the problems of the country.
Addressing some youth who visited his Bourdillon residence in Ikoyi, Lagos monday, Tinubu admitted that there is hardship in the land, but pointed out that the damage of the last 16 years could not be repaired “overnight”.
He admitted that the current government was a “product of protest”, but appealed for understanding.
“What we are going through now will be resolved. We are going through the historic phase of a country that is promising,” he said.
“In every political situation, you have the twists and turns, it cannot be straight all the time. We are all victims. You are carrying placards… I have been a placard carrier since when? This government is a product of protest.
“But there is a leadership in the land, and you have to live with that for now. Protest won’t solve the problem, will it?”
Asked what the solution was Tinubu harped on “re-planning; being responsive; being able to engage the people so that we will see what the challenges are”.
“We are not denying the fact that Nigerians are suffering and have the right to protest, but the party and economy must be returned to shape.
“We are two years into this administration. To make those changes effectively and positively eventually, we have to be patient; we have to have hope.
“If there was no bad administration then, you wouldn’t have voted for us. The damage of 16 years cannot be solved easily. You cannot get water out of dry land. To fetch water out of a rock, you have to endure. Be patient. Let’s have faith in our leaders.
“We sold APC to you, so please hang on to it. There is nothing more effective that can drive you than hope and belief,” he said.