Category Archives: CIVIL SOCIETY

Statements and contributions of civil society

Gov Fashola opposes deployment of soldiers against protesters in Lagos

BABATUNDE FASHOLA, Governor, Lagos State: Not a military affair

On 16 January, the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, expressed strong objection to the Federal Government’s deployment of soldiers on the streets of Nigeria’s economic mega-city, Lagos, to prevent protests against the government’s removal of subsidy on gasoline.

The soldiers were deployed across Lagos metropolis on the night of 15 January, especially at the open spaces where protesters had gathered for mammoth rallies all through the previous week. The soldiers had said they were doing routine security duties, but they effectively prevented protesters from gathering in large numbers at the rally venues.

In a broadcast, Governor Fashola noted that the citizens who had gathered for the protests in several parts of Lagos had “largely conducted themselves peacefully, singing and dancing while they expressed their displeasure” at the way government had taken decisions on issues that affect them.

He said “majority of these people, who represent diverse interests, had not broken any law”; and that even if they had done so, “it is the police that has the responsibility for restoring law and order if civil protests threaten the breach of the peace”.

Recalling that all those currently occupying high elective offices once “danced and sang before these same people when we were seeking their votes”, the governor said there was “no justification for sending out soldiers to a gathering of unarmed citizens”.

Describing the presence of the troops on the streets of Lagos as “disquieting”, Fashola urged President Goodluck Jonathan to reconsider his decision to deploy them and to direct their withdrawal.

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BROADCAST BY LAGOS STATE GOVERNOR, BABATUNDE FASHOLA, OBJECTING TO THE DEPLOYMENT OF TROOPS AGAINST PROTESTERS IN LAGOS, ON 16 JANUARY 2012

BABATUNDE FASHOLA Governor, Lagos State

Dear Lagosians,

For the past few days, I have monitored the developments related to the public protest against the increase in the pump price of petrol.

During that period, I have, at the invitation of my colleagues in the Governor’s Forum responded, to an invitation from the Presidency.

My role, since last Monday till date, has been to find a ground of compromise that stabilizes the polity, protects our democracy and prevents any loss of lives.

Inspite of these efforts, we were not wholly successful in preventing the loss of the life of a young Nigerian, Ademola Aderinto, who was sadly shot.

I am truly saddened by that ugly development. While I condole with his family, I pledge the commitment of our Government to bring the alleged perpetrator to justice.

I have decided to address you today, in view of the very disquieting developments that occurred overnight especially the deployment of soldiers across Lagos.

I have the highest respect for members of our military, especially because they have made a contract with all of us, that they will willingly lay down their lives whenever it becomes necessary to do so, in order to protect us.

This covenant is instructive, because soldiers did not sign up to stop us from expressing our grievance about things that we are displeased about.

It is not disputable that the citizens who have gathered in several parts of Lagos like Falomo, Ikorodu and Ojota, to mention a few, have largely conducted themselves peacefully, singing and dancing while they expressed their displeasure at the way that we have taken decisions that affect them.

That, in my view, should not offend those of us in Government. The majority of these people, who represent diverse interests, have not broken any law. If they have, it is my opinion that in a constitutional democracy, it is the police that has the responsibility for restoring law and order if civil protests threaten the breach of the peace. This is not justification for sending out soldiers to a gathering of unarmed citizens.

Every one of us, or at least majority of us who hold public offices, danced and sang before these same people when we were seeking their votes. Why should we feel irritated when they sing and dance in protest against what we have done?

For me, this is not a matter for the military. The sooner we rethink and rescind this decision, the better and stronger our democracy will be.

If anything, this is a most welcome transformation of our democracy, in the sense that it provokes a discussion of economic policies and this inevitably may result in political debate.

I therefore urge the reconsideration of the decision to deploy soldiers and implore the President and Commander-in-Chief to direct their withdrawal from our streets. I must also emphasize that the rights of free speech and protest are not absolute. They impose the duty not to break the law, breach the peace, endanger human life or destroy property, whether public or private.

They also impose the duty to respect the rights of others not to support our protest, and indeed to support what we oppose. At the end of the day, it is a contest of ideas in which the most persuasive will get the endorsement of the majority of the people we serve.

I am convinced that our democracy is mature enough to accommodate this. We must do our best to ensure that it does.

God bless you all.

Nigerian labour leaders end strike, but say new fuel price was government’s unilateral decision

NLC President, ABDULWAHEED OMAR and TUC President, PETER ESELE

On 16 January, leaders of Nigeria’s two major umbrella workers’ unions, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), ended the nationwide strike they started on 9 January. The strike had been called in protest against the government’s January 1 removal of the subsidy on gasoline which had hiked the price of motor fuel – and several other goods and services – by more than 100 per cent.

The unions had declared the previous day (15 January), that they were suspending street protests but continuing the strike until the government reverts to the pre-January 1 pump price.

Their decision to effectively end the strike, less than 24 hours later, followed an early morning broadcast by President Goodluck Jonathan in which he lowered the pump price from the 141 naira announced on 1 January to 97 naira. This reduction amounted to a 31 percent cut in the price since January 1, but still left a 49 percent increase over the price before the subsidy was removed.

In his broadcast, the president had blamed labour leaders for the failure of talks towards a mutually-acceptable price. He had charged that “other interests beyond the implementation of the deregulation policy have hijacked the protest” and were seeking to “promote discord, anarchy and insecurity, to the detriment of public peace”.

He had also read the riot act to the labour leaders, warning that “Government will not condone brazen acts of criminality and subversion”, and vowing he would take necessary steps to ensure public order.

Six hours later, at a mid-day press conference in the federal capital, Abuja, addressed by NLC president, Abdulwaheed Omar, and TUC President, Peter Esele, the labour leaders said the new price announced by Jonathan was a unilateral decision by the government, not an agreement by both parties.

They said their decision to “suspend” the strike was informed by “wide consultations” with branches of their unions across the country, some civil society groups and other stakeholders. They also said the decision was “in order to save lives and in the interest of national survival”

The labour leaders declared that although they had not achieved their demand of a reversion to the pre-January 1 price, the strike and protests had recorded some achievements. These, they said, included forcing the previously inflexible government to announce a price reduction to N97.

They said the strike and protests had also forced the government to “adopt the policy to drastically reduce the cost of governance” and to “decisively move against the massive and crippling corruption in the oil sector”. They added that a related success was that of getting the government’s commitment to “bring to justice all those who have contributed, in one way or another, to the economic adversity of the country”.

They said they would “take advantage of the Government’s invitation to further engage on these issues”.

The labour leaders demanded the release of all those detained in the course of the strikes, rallies and street protests. They also reiterated their demand that those who perpetuated violence against unarmed protesters should be brought to justice. They were however silent on any definite steps they planned to take in pressing these demands.

STATEMENT BY NIGERIAN LABOUR UNIONS ON “SUSPENSION OF STRIKE AND MASS PROTESTS AGAINST HIKE IN FUEL PRICE” ON 16 JANUARY 2012

In the past eight days, through strikes, mass rallies, shutdown, debates and street protests, Nigerians demonstrated clearly that they cannot be taken for granted and that sovereignty belongs to them.

In the last twenty four hours, the Labour Movement and its allies who had the historic responsibility of coordinating these mass actions have had cause to review the various actions and decided that in order to save lives and in the interest of national survival, these mass actions be suspended.

We note the major successes Nigerians scored in these past days, in which they rose courageously as a people, to take their destiny in their hands.

First, the Federal Government that chorused continuously that its decision to increase petrol (PMS) price to N141 is irreversible and irreducible, was forced to announce a price reduction to N97. We however state categorically that this new price was a unilateral one by the Government.

Secondly, Government has been made to adopt the policy to drastically reduce the cost of governance.

A third major success Nigerians recorded is to get the Federal Government to decisively move against the massive and crippling corruption in the oil sector. While until now Government has seemed helpless to tackle corruption, the mass action of the people has compelled it to address accountability issues in the Sector. In this wise, President Goodluck Jonathan has told the nation that the forensic audit report on the NNPC will be studied and proven acts of corruption will be sanctioned.

He also promised that accountability issues and current lapses in the oil sector will be speedily addressed including the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

A related success of the mass action by Nigerians is the vow of Government to bring to justice all those who have contributed, in one way or another, to the economic adversity of the country.

The Labour Movement commends Nigerians for their resolve to change the country for the better and we shall take advantage of the Government’s invitation to further engage on these issues.

This is in line with Labour’s resolve that the oil industry is too important to be left in the hands of bureaucrats, and that we have the patriotic duty to ensure that Nigerians get the best from this natural resource.

The least we owe our compatriots who have become martyrs in the patriotic struggle to reassert our sovereignty and ensure good governance is to remain steadfast and unbowed. Labour reiterates its demand that those who perpetuated violence against unarmed protests should be brought to justice.

With the experiences of the past eight days, we are sure that no government or institution will take Nigerians for granted again.

In view of the foregoing, Labour and its allies formally announce the suspension of strikes, mass rallies and protests across the country. We demand the release of all those detained in the course of the strikes, rallies and street protests.

We thank all Nigerians, especially market men and women, artisans, youths, students, the Nigeria Bar Association, the Nigeria Medical Association, the National Assembly, Civil Society Organisations, faith-based organizations, artistes and Nigerians in Diaspora, for their invaluable support and active participation during the strikes, mass rallies and street protests.

ABDULWAHEED I. OMAR, President, NLC

PETER ESELE, President, TUC

President Jonathan reduces fuel price, blames labour for failed talks, vows to ensure public order

GOODLUCK JONATHAN President of Nigeria

On 16 January, President Goodluck Jonathan announced a reduction in the pump price of petrol, following a paralyzing week-long strike by Nigeria’s labour unions and mass street protests by citizens.

In a televised early morning address to the nation, rescheduled from 9pm the previous night, the President said the product will now sell at N97 per litre. President Goodluck was to address the nation at 9 pm yesterday, 15th January, but the broadcast was postponed without any explanations.

The new price is N44 down from the N141 announced by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) on 1 January, but still N32 higher than the pre-January 1 price of N65. The labour unions had demanded a reversion to the January 1 price as a condition for calling off the strike and ending the protests. Talks between the government and the labour leaders failed to agree on a compromise.

The President, in his broadcast, blamed the failure of the talks on the labour leaders. He said: “It has become clear to government and all well-meaning Nigerians that other interests beyond the implementation of the deregulation policy have hijacked the protest. This has prevented an objective assessment and consideration of all the contending issues for which dialogue was initiated by government. These same interests seek to promote discord, anarchy, and insecurity to the detriment of public peace”. He warned ominously that “Government will not condone brazen acts of criminality and subversion”.

The President stated that: “Government will continue to pursue full deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector. However, given the hardships being suffered by Nigerians, and after due consideration and consultations with state governors and the leadership of the National Assembly, government has approved the reduction of the pump price of petrol to N97 per litre. The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) has been directed to ensure compliance with this new pump price”.

Jonathan said the Federal Government had already started implementing projects under the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment (SURE) scheme, including a “government – assisted mass transit programme and job creation for the youth”.

The government, he said, was also working hard to reduce recurrent expenditure, in line with current realities, and to cut down on the cost of governance.

The President vowed to tackle corruption in the petroleum industry, as well as other sectors of the economy, pledging “all those found to have contributed one way or the other to the economic adversity of the country will be dealt with in accordance with the law”. He said the report of the forensic audit carried out on the government-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was being studied “with a view to implementing the recommendations and sanctioning proven acts of corruption in the industry”.

The President further promised that: “The legal and regulatory regime for the petroleum industry will be reviewed to address accountability issues and current lapses in the Industry. In this regard, the Petroleum Industry Bill will be given accelerated attention”.

BROADCAST BY PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN ON STRIKE AND PROTESTS FOLLOWING THE REMOVAL OF FUEL SUBSIDY, ON 16 JANUARY 2012

Dr GOODLUCK JONATHAN President of Nigeria

Dear Compatriots,

1.  This is the second time in two weeks I will address you on the deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector. In the last seven days, the nation has witnessed a disruption of economic activities.  Although, the economic imperatives for the policy have been well articulated by government, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) went ahead to declare a nationwide strike.

2.    There was also near-breakdown of law and order in certain parts of the country as a result of the activities of some persons or groups of persons who took advantage of the situation to further their narrow interests by engaging in acts of intimidation, harassment and outright subversion of the Nigerian state. I express my sympathy to those who were adversely affected by the protests.

3.    At the inception of the deregulation policy, Government had set up the Justice Alfa Belgore Committee to liaise with Labour and other stakeholders to address likely grey areas in the policy, but despite all our efforts, Labour refused the option of dialogue and also disobeyed a restraining order of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.

4.    However, following the intervention of the Leadership of the National Assembly, and other well-meaning Nigerians, Labour accepted to meet with government, but this yielded no tangible result.

5.    It has become clear to government and all well-meaning Nigerians that other interests beyond the implementation of the deregulation policy have hijacked the protest. This has prevented an objective assessment and consideration of all the contending issues for which dialogue was initiated by government. These same interests seek to promote discord, anarchy, and insecurity to the detriment of public peace.

6.    Government appreciates that the implementation of the deregulation policy would cause initial hardships and commends Nigerians who have put forth suggestions and credible alternatives in this regard. Government also salutes Nigerians who, by and large, conducted themselves peacefully while expressing their grievances. Let me assure you that government will continue to respect the people’s right to express themselves within the confines of the law and in accordance with the dictates of our democratic space.

7.    Government will continue to pursue full deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector. However, given the hardships being suffered by Nigerians, and after due consideration and consultations with state governors and the leadership of the National Assembly, government has approved the reduction of the pump price of petrol to N97 per litre. The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) has been directed to ensure compliance with this new pump price.

8.    Government is working hard to reduce recurrent expenditure in line with current realities and to cut down on the cost of governance. In the meantime, government has commenced the implementation of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment projects: including the Federal Government- assisted mass transit programme which is already in place, and job creation for the youth.

9.     Furthermore, the legal and regulatory regime for the petroleum industry will be reviewed to address accountability issues and current lapses in the Industry. In this regard, the Petroleum Industry Bill will be given accelerated attention. The report of the forensic audit carried out on the NNPC is being studied with a view to implementing the recommendations and sanctioning proven acts of corruption in the industry.

10. Let me assure Nigerians that this administration is irrevocably committed to tackling corruption in the petroleum industry as well as other sectors of the economy. Consequently, all those found to have contributed one way or the other to the economic adversity of the country will be dealt with in accordance with the law.

11.  My dear compatriots, I urge you to show understanding for the imperatives of the adjustment in the pump price of petrol and give government your full support to ensure its successful implementation. I further appeal to Nigerians to go back to work and go about their normal duties as government has made adequate arrangements for the protection of life and property throughout the federation.

12.  Government will not condone brazen acts of criminality and subversion. As President, I have sworn to uphold the unity, peace and order of the Nigerian State and by the grace of God, I intend to fully and effectively discharge that responsibility.  Let me add that we are desirous of further engagements with Labour. I urge our Labour leaders to call off their strike, and go back to work.

13. Nigeria belongs to all of us and we must collectively safeguard its unity.

14. Thank you. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Nigerian Government, labour fail to reach agreement, but threat to halt oil production still on hold

Protesters in Lagos

On 14 January, talks between the Federal Government and labour union leaders, seeking to end the nationwide strike and street protests sparked by the government’s removal of petrol subsidies, failed to produce a deal, but a threat by workers to halt oil production was put on hold.

Labour officials said the talks could continue as early as Sunday 15 January, but also warned that the strike would continue on Monday if the negotiating parties failed to reach an agreement.

Comments by Senate President David Mark, who had been acting as a mediator, as well as some negotiators on both sides, suggest the Saturday talks made some progress, but stopped short of an agreement. Mark said the two parties were on the “right path”. The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Abdulwaheed Omar said: “The meeting is not deadlocked, but we have not reached a compromise”.

In a more sober assessment, the NLC secretary general, Owei Lakemfa, told the news agency, AFP, that the meeting “did not go well for Nigeria because we did not reach an agreement … because the country is bleeding”.  He said while unions were demanding a return to the pre-January 1 pump price of 65 naira per litre, the government was insisting on negotiating on a price above that.  

Earlier in the day, the executive councils of the two main labour unions, the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), had met and decided to stick to their demand for a return to the pre-January 1 price.

However, both parties appear keen on ending the strike and avoiding further hemorrhage to the economy. The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), which had threatened to start shutting down production platforms if a deal was not reached on Saturday night, said it was staying action to give the talks some more chance.

A statement issued by the PENGASSAN spokesman, Babatunde Oke, said the workers expected further talks on Sunday morning, but added they would “execute the systematic shutdown, if the negotiation process breaks down”.

Fuel subsidy protests halted for 2 days, after Government-labour talks paused

Unprecedented protests in Ojota, Lagos

On 12 January, negotiations between President Goodluck Jonathan and labour leaders, over the government’s removal of subsidy on petrol, reported some progress but produced no agreement. Labour leaders said the nationwide strike started on 9 January will continue, pending the outcome of another meeting on Saturday 14 January. But they halted public rallies and street demonstrations for the weekend.

The meeting between Jonathan and the labour leaders was the first since the strike began. The President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Abdulwahed Omar told newsmen that: “We have not concluded discussions yet, but we have had very fruitful discussions. We have to continue on Saturday afternoon… Until we conclude the discussions, we maintain the status quo”.

 The government had come under increasing pressure to make concessions. Over the past four days, tens of thousands of protesters, led by an alliance of labour leaders and civil society activists, had been on the streets of the nation’s major cities, demanding government’s restoration of the subsidy.

The turnout of protesters had grown by the day, with unprecedented crowds massing in several cities, notably the commercial capital, Lagos, and the usually serene federal capital, Abuja. Many said they would continue the protests until the government reverts to the pre-January 1 pump price of 65 kobo per litre.

Earlier in the day, the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), which represents about 20,000 workers, had threatened to shut down output as from Sunday, if the government did not reinstate the subsidy. NUPENG president Babatunde Ogun said if oil and gas fields were shut down, it could take several months to restart them. Meanwhile, a shutdown of natural gas supply would also cripple the nation’s electric power grid.

The strikes and protests had also taken a heavy toll on the economy, as commercial activities had been paralyzed in Lagos and other major cities, all week. Domestic airports had been completely shut and international flights seriously disrupted. The Central Bank governor, Sanisu Lamido Sanusi, told Reuters the strikes were costing the economy more than N100 billion a day.

In some instances, the protests had witnessed incidents of violence: hoodlums had attacked innocent citizens and public property; security operatives had killed at least 10 people – protesters and hoodlums – injuring many more, in Lagos, Kano and Benin.

As at 12 January, the Nigerian Red Cross said it had given first aid treatment to over 300 injured protesters across the country since the strike began. It said it had also provided basic health services to about 4,000 persons temporarily displaced by protest-related violence in Benin City, Edo State.

The two-day pause in public rallies and street demonstrators for the weekend followed pressures on labour leaders and other protest organizers to ease off the lock down, without compromising on the core demands of the protesters and other citizens. With banks and other commercial houses shut for the past four days and ATMs running out of money, many citizens had run out of supplies and cash.  Many demanded that the rallies and demonstrations be suspended for a few days, to enable them re-stock.

Announcing the suspension of the protests at a rally in Abuja on 13 January, NLC President Omar said: “We want to make sure that on Saturday and Sunday people will relax”;  but he quickly added that on Monday morning, “it is going to be the mother of all crowds”.

Some civil society activists warn that the suspension of rallies should not be misread as a weakening of their resolve on the fuel subsidy issue. They insist that unless the government reverts to the old pump price, street protests will continue next week, even if labour calls off the strike.

Fuel subsidy strike and protests: At least 3 killed, over 30 wounded, in Lagos and Kano

Protesters in Lagos

On 9 January, Nigeria’s labour unions and civil society groups started a paralyzing strike and street protests in several cities across the country.  The protests initially appeared largely peaceful, but there have been reports of at least three protesters shot dead and over 30 others wounded in clashes with police in Lagos and Kano.

The striking workers and activists are demanding that the federal government reverse its 1 January decision which ended the subsidy on motor fuel and hiked pump prices by over 100 per cent overnight. That hike spurred further increases in prices of food, transportation and other goods and services nationwide. In a country where about 70 per cent of the 167 million population live on less than two US dollars a day, these sharp and sudden price increases have stung people really hard, fuelling angry protests.

The strikes and protests are being driven by two major unions – Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC). The unions are supported by a loose network of activists called “Occupy Nigeria”, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York.

ABUJA

In the federal capital, Abuja, there were reports that youths camping in the city’s ceremonial parade ground, Eagle Square, were cleared out overnight, by police using tear gas. By morning, thousands gathered under tight security, some in cars and waving NLC flags. Banks and other commercial houses were shut. The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport was also closed, preventing flights from landing or leaving.

LAGOS

In Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital, thousands of people gathered outside Labour House in Yaba, waving NLC flags. Others waved placards challenging President Goodluck Jonathan’s record and bearing an effigy of the president with vampire teeth and devil horns. From there, they started marching and chanting “Solidarity forever”, closely followed by armed anti-riot police.

In most parts of the metropolis, roads and streets that are typically clogged on Monday mornings were empty, except for protesters on their way to rallies and police patrols maintaining public order. Shops, banks and offices were all shut. Riot police were on stand-by at the demonstration sites, though vastly outnumbered by the protesters. In some areas, protesters blocked roads with burning tyres and local hoodlums harassed motorists, stoning the cars of those still driving in spite of the strike.

Protesters and police clashed briefly in the Ogba suburb of the city, with one person killed and at least three others suffering gunshot wounds. Residents said the man was shot dead when the police fired to disperse a crowd. A statement by the NLC also said the protester was shot dead by police, but there is yet no police report on the incident.

KANO

In Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria, protesters set two vans ablaze and also reportedly set ablaze the office of the Secretary of the State Government (the third highest officer in the executive arm of the state government), damaging it seriously. They also tried to torch the home of the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, but police stopped them. Protest organisers said the security personnel killed at least one person, when they fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse a crowd. A Red Cross official reported 30 injured people, including 18 with gunshot wounds. A hospital source later reported that two of those injured had died.

OTHER CITIES

The strikes and protests recorded mixed results in several other cities.  In Kaduna, the streets were quiet, with all shops closed amidst a heavy police presence. In Jos, the military task force, Operation Safe Haven, outlawed all forms of street protests, in view of the volatile security situation in and around the city and some parts of Plateau State, since 2010.

Across the Niger Delta, the protesters were also restrained by heavy security presence. In Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State, police prevented them from marching on the streets. In Port Harcourt, Rivers State, hundreds gathered but were largely confined to the Isaac Boro Square. In Calabar, Cross River State, most workers did not comply with the strike order and went about their normal work or business.

FAILED EFFORTS TO STOP THE STRIKE

The government had made spirited efforts to prevent the strike but failed. It had made strenuous efforts to justify its elimination of the subsidy, arguing that with the subsidy, fuel was much cheaper in Nigeria than neighbouring countries, encouraging the smuggling of the product abroad.

It had also promised that the 8 billion US dollars in estimated savings a year from scrapping the fuel subsidies, would be channelled towards improving health, education and the highly erratic electricity supply. But after so many failed promises in the past, nobody believes these new promises.

On 6 January, the National Industrial Court gave a late evening (5.30 pm) ruling, declaring the then proposed strike illegal. The labour leaders said they were not served any copies of the ruling. Many other protesters said they were not bound by the ruling as it was specific to the labour unions.

On 7 January, President Jonathan made a televised broadcast defending the removal of the subsidy. He insisted that the deregulation of the petroleum sector was the best way to curb corruption and ensure the survival and growth of the economy. He also announced a 25 per cent cut in the basic salaries of political officers in the executive arm of government, reduction of foreign travels in 2012 and plans to trim the over-bloated federal bureaucracy. Many analysts said the address offered too little too late.

On 8 January, President Jonathan inaugurated a mass transit scheme with 1,600 buses, as one of his government’s palliatives to cushion the effects of the hike in fuel and transportation costs.

The federal House of Representatives, in a rowdy and sometimes comical session in Abuja, also tried to stop the strike. Its members passed a motion calling on Jonathan to reconsider his action, but also calling on the unions to stop the strike and allow more time for consultations. Union leaders thanked the lawmakers for their intervention, but said the strike would go ahead as already planned. There was also no sign the government would back down.

Speaking shortly before the strike was due to officially commence, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told the BBC’s Network Africa that she expected a low turnout. She said: “Everybody is going to work – that’s the information I got from the governors…Even in Abuja… most people are going to work. In Lagos, a lot of associations and schools say they’re going to carry on business as usual”.

Judging by the large turn-out in Lagos, the minister was grossly mistaken. Said one commentator: “That shows you just how totally disconnected these people are from the real heartbeat of the Nigerian people”.

The protesters say the action will continue indefinitely. Many citizens say the government needs to find a quick and satisfactory response, in order to prevent further damage to the country’s economy – and her image.

Achebe, Soyinka and Bekederemo-Clark oppose reprisal attacks, demand national conference and better security efforts

Soyinka, Achebe and Bekederemo-Clarke

On 8 January, three Nigerian literary giants, Professors Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and John Pepper Bekederemo-Clark, issued a joint statement urging Nigerians not to retaliate the attacks by the militant Islamist sect widely known as Boko Haram and also demanding better protection for citizens.

They said in the face of Boko Haram’s ongoing attacks on persons, places of worship and private residences, Nigerians must resist the temptation to retaliate, in order not to give the sect cause to celebrate.

In a joint letter titled: “LET NOT THIS FIRE SPREAD, AN APPEAL TO THE NIGERIAN NATIONAL COMMUNITY”, the trio lamented that the fears many Nigerians once nursed secretly, were sadly becoming realities. They observed that: “Rumblings and veiled threats have given way to eruption, and the first cracks in the wall of patience and forbearance can no longer be wished away. Boko Haram is very likely celebrating its first tactical victory: provoking retaliation in some parts of the nation”.

The writers urged Nigerians, at various levels of leadership, to resolve to tackle the challenges of insecurity in the country.

They said: “All who possess any iota of influence or authority, who aspire to moral leadership, must act now to douse the first flickers of ‘responses in kind’ even before they are manifested, and become contagious. We urge that, beginning from now, leaders become true leaders in all communities, utilise the platforms of their associations, professions, clubs, places of instruction and places of worship, NGOs and other civic organisations, that they relentlessly spread the manifesto of Community – capital letters! – as an all-embracing human bond, and refuse to be sucked into the cauldron of mutual attrition that is the purpose of the religious warmongers among us”.

They said their plea against reprisals was not based on “any doctrine of submission, of ‘turning the other cheek’, or supine supplication to divine intervention” as they recognized that “Self-defence is a fundamental human right and responsibility” of citizens.

However, they said it was necessary to “place the total humanity of our nation above the methods and intent of a mindless, though programmed minority that are resolved to set religion against religion, community against community”. They charged Nigerians, as a matter of duty, to “denounce the killers among us, to deny them, right from source, the sump of blood that is their nourishment, the chaos that is their ambition, and the hatred that has poisoned their collective psyche”.

They recalled that calls had been made in the past for the convening of a National conference “to debate just how the nation should proceed in reinforcing civic and political life, and decide, in full freedom, the terms of her integrated existence”. They urged the government to “stop shying away from this project”.

The literary icons also cautioned security forces against high-handedness in relation to citizens and reminded them that “their primary duty is to protect all citizens, and most especially those in opposition to government policies, in the exercise of their democratic rights”. They warned that: “The first single security notch on the gun is always the signal for a countdown towards two, then three, moving to four figure statistics in the struggle for human dignity. Syria is our current cautionary instance. We know how Libya ended”.

The trio urged security agencies to rather focus their resources on those areas that were generating the greatest threats to the nation’s security and stability. They said: “The security arms of government should recognise where their urgent and immediate capabilities and competence are needed, where the greatest threat to nationhood since the Nigerian Civil War has been gloatingly launched”.

They also called on the Federal Government to “intensify its obligations to protect the citizenry it claims to govern” and called for re-activation of “the basic professional strategy of preventive policing, which appears no longer in fashion”.

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