By Emma Amaize
While the NUC/TLC and civil society anti-fuel subsidy removal protest, led by the state coordinator, Casely Omon-Irabor Esq. and Zonal Secretary, Maritime Workers Union, Comrade Augustine was on, another group, Good People of Nigeria, led by Prince Sani Usman, stormed the streets with a pro-subsidy removal rally to counter their efforts.
With Prince Usman’s camp were his vice president, Mrs. Josephine Negerese, and a one-time Delta State House of Assembly aspirant on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Comrade Michael Tidi.
Besides the anti-fuel subsidy removal and pro-fuel subsidy removal campaigners, hoodlums also formed a third division to carry out their own demonstration, which is neither for nor against both sides, but solely for their pockets.
The activities of the hoodlums almost marred the NLC/TUC and civil society organised protest, as many frowned at the harassment innocent citizens were subjected to by hoodlums.
While at that, youths from across the Niger-Delta region had by Friday concluded arrangements to stage a mammoth pro-subsidy removal rally in Warri. This was even as another group of Niger-Delta youths, led by Chief Michael Johnny carried out an anti-fuel subsidy removal rally in Warri, Tuesday, threatening to shut down oil installations in the region if President Goodluck Jonathan did not revert to the old price of N65 per liter of fuel.
Driving through Warri, Thursday, the fourth day of the nationwide mass protest/sit-at-home strike, it was palpable that the action was a success with government offices, banks, shops, petrol stations and streets closed and practically deserted. As at 6.00 am on Monday, Omon-Irabor Esq. was already at the take-off point of the mass protest, which is the old NPA, Warri gate. It started at about 9.00 am and the response was massive and total from what Sunday Vanguard witnessed.
National Coordnator of Warri-based Forum for Justice and Human Rights Defence, FJHD, Oghenejabor Ikimi Esq told Sunday Vanguard, “They know what they want, no matter the propaganda and confusion people want to bring into the mass protest”.
The main market in Warri and Okere were also not left out. Omon-Irabor addressed the public at Okere market junction, stating reasons for the mass protests by Nigerians and calling all citizens to reject the bad policy, no matter the inconvenience. He said the will of people would certainly triumph over the dictates of the powerful few in Aso Villa.
He said the motion passed, Sunday, by the House of Representatives calling on the Federal Government to suspend the about 120 per cent increase in the price of fuel was an indication that even those in government know that the decision was ill advised, adding that except the price of petrol was reverted to the old price of N65, the protests would continue.
As at 11.51 am, the protesters had reached Enerhen Junction and in the words of Oghenejabor Ikimi, “It is a peaceful protest and a huge success. I can tell you that there is total compliance. Warri and environs were shut down. The protest here is a massive one”.
Some members of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria told Sunday Vanguard that security operatives, especially those of Joint Task Force, JTF, the Navy and Police, whose offices are located inside the port premises, were allowed to go inside to carry out their security duties. Motor-cyclists, popularly known as Okada riders and bus drivers were allowed to do their normal transportation business.
However, an initial attempt was made by hoodlums at Enerhen Junction, Effurn, to hijack the protest by stealing GSM handsets and extorting money from commercial taxi drivers and motor-cyclists, but it was thwarted by the organisers. As soon as information got to the labour leaders they quickly stepped in to curb the excesses of the pranksters, which they noted was capable of marring the peaceful protest.
Nevertheless, some of the hoodlums who moved about in a bus were said to have extorted money from persons unknown to the organisers. At about 1.00 pm, January 9, at Third Marine gate, near the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Correspondents’ Chapel, Warri, a group of boys, armed with cutlasses and other dangerous weapons, under the guise of anti-subsidy removal protest, ambushed a motor-cyclist, and robbed him of his motor-cycle.
The motor-cyclist was almost stabbed for not succumbing to their demand to surrender his motor-cycle. Some residents watched the incident, but could not stop the boys. They zoomed away with his motor-cycle.
Chairman of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR, in Delta State, Mr. Benefit Orugbo told Sunday Vanguard, “NLC should not violate the rights of citizens who are not prepared to observe the strike to enable them go about their lawful duties and law enforcement agents ought to be alive to their duties and check activities of hoodlums parading themselves as community youths out to harass unsuspecting and lawful citizens who want to go about their legitimate businesses, while the NLC strike lasted”.
He said, CDHR observed that the police were barely present to curtail activities of miscreants in the guise of NLC strike”.
On its part, pro-subsidy removal group, Good People of Nigeria, which congregated at Okumagba Estate Roundabout, said President Jonathan’s action was in the best interest of the nation.
According to one of the campaigners, Tidi, “The removal of fuel subsidy is the beginning of the transformational policy of the government, we should say no to corruption. The President has shown that he means well for the country, despite the initial pains, the gains will be unquantifiable. We call on Nigerians to support the President, we should save our economy from collapse, let’s say no to the cabal”, he asserted.