Elechi, others caution Labour over protest
Essentially, what started as pocket of supports for the removal of petrol subsidy in Bayelsa and Ebonyi came to full blown yesterday when massive solidarity rallies were staged by political leaders, former militants and youth groups in the states to drum support for the government’s deregulation policy in the oil sector.
Others who threw their weight behind President Jonathan on the removal of subsidy are the Plateau State Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Haruna Dabin, the Centre for Nationalism and Good Governance (CNGG), while the South East chapter of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) said it would support the policy if the government exhibit practical commitment to fighting corruption in the country.
Meanwhile, two members of staff of Guardian Newspapers Limited (GNL), Mr. Seye Olumide and Mr. Michael Mogaha Ikechukwu, suffered unprovoked attack by purported protesters in Lagos. Olumide was on his way to work through Lagos-Ikorodu road on top of a commercial motorcycle when some irate youths threw an unused tyre at the okada conveying him, causing an accident that left him and the motorcyclist seriously injured. The duo are now receiving treatment in a hospital.
Michael was unlucky yesterday when he fell victim to hoodlums at Oshodi, inflicting injuries on him and dispossessing him of his phones, money and other valuables. The hoodlums tore his cloth into shreds. The incident occurred around 8.00am, while he was on his way to the office.
In Bayelsa, the subsidy removal supporters urged the Labour leaders to negotiate with the government on the palliatives and stop wanton destruction of lives and property in the country.
Also in support of the action of the youths were the elders under the aegis of Bayelsa State Elders Consultative Council who were said to have reached out to the protesters to exercise restraint in their opposition to the policy.
The solidarity match was attended by thousands of youths and political Leaders, including the governorship candidate of the Congress forProgressive Change (CPC) in the State, Famous Danemughan;National Vice President of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Preye Agama; one time President of the IYC, Oyenfie JonJon; National Coordinator of the Peace Advocate, Chief Kalaite Jephathah; and former member of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND); Eris Paul popularly known as Commander Ogun boss.
The procession, coordinated and guided by the leadership of the IYC, started at about 10.00 a.m. and moved through major streets of Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital. At the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) secretariat along the Azikoro area, the crowd stopped to give solidarity speeches in support of the Federal Government and urged that President Jonathan be trusted.
In his solidarity speech, the former MEND leader said, “Nigerians should know that in every right, there is a responsibility, and we will be sadly mistaking if we think development could come from some lavish pots of golden conditions. If we think of our 50 years of suffering without sacrificing some luxury of cooling off for change, then we will be practically heading to a community of doom. I support subsidy removal and will never take sides with opposition against the policy.”
JonJon said: “We are on the streets not because President Goodluck Jonathan is from the South-South, but because the policy introduced by Jonathan will lead to a productive economy. We need the creation of jobs for the youths, development and other social amenities. The major problem in our country is the corruption in the civil service and oil and gas industry. The subsidy should be removed so that the activities of these cabals that have been siphoning our economy will be curtailed. Our protest is because Jonathan who is a tactical president has good vision for this country. He is not the type that allows negative things to go on in the society.”
At the end of an emergency meeting held by the elders and traditional rulers from Bayelsa, led by the Chairman of the Bayelsa Traditional Rulers Council, King Joshua Igbagara, the Secretary of the PDP Elders Forum, Chief T.K.O. Okorotie and the former Military Administrator for Bendel and Edo states Brig.-Gen. J. Yeri, they commended the government for the removal of petrol subsidy and urged Nigerians to trust the judgment of President Jonathan.
In Ebonyi, there was heavy traffic snarl on major streets of Abakaliki, the state capital yesterday as members of civil society groups numbering about 6,000 marched through the streets to demonstrate their support for the withdrawal of subsidy.
Some of the organisations that participated in the rally which took off from the Abakaliki Township Stadium included the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), National Association of Ebonyi State Students (NAES), Amalgamated Traders Association (AMTA), Ocho Udo Vanguard for Attitudinal Change, Keke Drivers Association, Ebonyi State Market Traders, Ebonyi Youth Assembly, and Ebonyi Tipper Drivers Union.
Speaking to the audience, Ebonyi State Governor Martin Elechi commended the organisers of the pro-subsidy removal rally, noting that the central issue about the deregulation is that every citizen has the right to protest in favour or against.
Recalling that there was no trade dispute between government and organised Labour, Elechi contended that when President Jonathan promised Nigerians transformation, he never premised the programme on the acquiescence of Labour. He therefore urged Labour unions not to overstretch their constitutional rights to embark on protest since, according to him, no organisation or agency is superior or above the operation of any government in the world.
His words: “Therefore, Labour should have a rethink and not carry its freedom too far. There is no doubt that those engineering this strike are compromised by opposition politicians and beneficiaries of subsidy. The time has come for Nigerians to put their destinies in their own hands and correct the ills of the society. President Jonathan will go down in history as the most courageous and benevolent of this generation.”
The Justice Minister, in a statement, said: “It has come to the attention of the government that some persons or group of persons are perpetuating criminal activities under the guise of participating in the on-going demonstration against subsidy removal.
“Since the demonstration began on January 9, 2012, these persons have among other things engaged in arson, wanton destruction of lives and property, as well as making unguarded statements bordering on treason with a view to overwhelming the government. As a result, several state governors have imposed curfew in their respective states in order to prevent further breakdown of law and order.
“While government recognises the right of Nigerians to peaceful demonstration, it will not fold its arms or stand idly by, while the current situation deteriorates into a state of general insecurity. Henceforth, government will not hesitate to bring to bear, the full weight of the law on erring persons or group of persons howsoever called that engage in any act that threatens the peace and stability of the country or its corporate existence.”
The Plateau PDP boss, Dabin, argued that there has never been any transformation without its initial attendant pains.
While speaking on the removal of subsidy yesterday, Dabin, appealed to the NLC and the TUC to consider government’s stand, but commended the peaceful and orderly conduct of citizens since the strike began.
The CNGG, in a statement signed by its chairman, Chief Udoka Udeogaranya, said “events in the recent times give a profound recognition that President Jonathan is doing everything humanly possible to steer Nigeria away from an impending economic catastrophe by deciding not to continue subsidising fuel. He urged the protesters against ‘this good intended policy’ to stop urgently and embrace dialogue.
“It is worthy to note that fuel subsidy consumes about 30 per cent of our government spending, making it impossible for our government to build power plants for the provision of steady electricity supply and other developmental infrastructures such as good transportation system that will kick-start national productivity,” he said.
South East NANS, through the group’s Deputy Senate President Nwachukwu Okpalaoka from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka who briefed journalists after a crucial zonal meeting yesterday, said it was worried that the money to be realised from the removal of subsidy may not be accounted for if Jonathan failed to fight corruption.
Saying that the stand of the zone is at variance with that of the national body, which issued a statement condemning removal of subsidy, he argued that the policy of deregulation is good. “Our fear is that with corrupt politicians at the helm of affairs, Nigeria runs the risk of losing the subsidy money to private pockets. President Jonathan should come out plainly and tell Nigerians how secured this money will be. The problem is that Nigerians are fast losing confidence in their leaders because of corruption.”