By Evelyn Usman, Ola Ajayi, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Charles Kumolu, Simon Ebegbulem, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Gabriel Olawale, Dennis Agbo, Caleb Ayansina & Juliet Ebirim
We hear you ‘loud and clear’ says Acting President Osinbajo
LAGOS — IN SPITE of initial threats by the Police, many Nigerians protested the harsh economic conditions in the country, yesterday, with marches in Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, Benin, Ijebu-Ode and London, saying ‘’enough is enough.”
While protesters in London and Lagos Lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), demanded that President Muhammadu Buhari speaks to Nigerians to douse mounting fears over his health, other protesters in Nigeria issued a 12-point demand including the removal of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. Babachir David Lawal.
However, there was a pro-Buhari rally in Abuja where the proponents lauded the government on its achievements so far, saying what the government needs is support and not antagonism.
Responding to the protests, Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, told the protesting Nigerians that their message has been well received by the Federal Government.
Acknowledging that the protests fall within the purview of their fundamental human rights to demand a better economy, Osinbajo said that the government is also disturbed that many Nigerians are groaning and suffering from the pangs of hunger and poverty.
This is coming as National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, begged protesters, who stormed his Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi, Lagos residence to be patient with the government, adding that things would get better with time.
Meanwhile multiple award-wining musician, Innocent (Tuface) Idibia, one of the organisers of the protests, who chickened out at the last minute, yesterday, denied rumours that he was arrested just as Personal Assistant to President Buhari on Social Media Platform, Lauretta Onochie, said the government did not bully TuFace and had no reason whatsoever to stop protesters from expressing their grievances.
We hear you loud and clear – Osinbajo
Though not a direct address to the protesters, who took to the streets of Abuja and later tried to make inroads into the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the Acting President spoke at the Consultative Forum on Economic Growth and Recovery Plan, EGRP, held at the Old Banquet Hall of the State House.
Admitting that the economy is in deep crisis, Osinbajo however said that the government is determined to better the lot of the citizenry.
He said: “I am pleased to welcome you, our partners in the private sector to this very important consultations on the ERGP. We are in a serious economic situation and the President was particularly concerned about the lot of the common man. And I quote him, “recession today means many things for many… for some it means not being able to pay school fees, for others not being able to afford high cost of rice and millet and for most of our young people recession means joblessness…”
“I for one have been across the states and even today, some people are out on the streets protesting. Many of our people are saying the same thing, that things are hard, things are difficult. But what I will like to say to every Nigerian is that ‘we hear you loud and clear’.
“The government is one that is determined to give the ordinary man a fair deal. We are determined to recover the economy. You have a right to live well and decently, demand for a better economy and we are committed to making that happen.”
The Acting President also sought understanding of Nigerians, saying that years of destruction cannot be corrected overnight. “Years of deterioration cannot be remedied overnight but again, I must emphasize that it’s our business and duty to ensure that we put the Nigerian economy on the path of sustained growth and that is exactly what we are determined to do.”
He gave highlights of government efforts at putting the economy on the path of sustainable growth, noting that the social intervention programme, which included payment of N5,000 to the poorest citizens on monthly basis was one of the ways to cushion the effects of the harsh realities of the times.
“We have in the past 18 months intervened three times to 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. This is money that the Federal Government was owing states since 2005 and even oil was selling at 115 Dollars per barrel, this debt was not paid.
“The President insisted when he was going to pay that money to the states that at least 50 per cent of it must be to pay salaries of workers. We tend to ensure, of course, that that is what is done. Many of the states were able to pay salaries and backlogs of pensions in December because of that particular fund that was made available to the states.
“Those have been the concerns of the President and the Federal Government to ensure that as much as possible, the most vulnerable in our society, those who earn salaries, those who have no work, market women, the man on the street take as little of this pain as possible.
“The home-grown feeding programme has started in several states; it will provide opportunity for farmers all across the country. We are also providing credit facility to 1.6 million traders and artisans. The economic recovery growth plan is engaging the private sector to seeking more practical ways of putting the economy back on the right track. The Federal Government on its own cannot do it alone. Your participation is your own commitment to the future of our country and to those coming behind us,” Osinbajo told private sector operators.
Nigerians protest in London, demand five-minute speech from Buhari
In London, some Nigerians stormed the Nigerian High Commission, demanding a five-minute speech from President Buhari regarding his state of health and state of the nation.
The placard-carrying citizens resident in the United Kingdom, also demanded to see the President, who is in the country.
Anti-Buhari, pro-Buhari demonstrators march in Abuja
Hundreds of young men and women, in two groups took to the streets of Abuja yesterday.
The anti-Buhari protesters, One Voice Nigeria or # I stand With Nigeria was led Mr. Ezenwa Nwagwu.
Mr. Ogenyi Okpokwu led the second group of demonstrators, #I Stand With Buhari, who said they were out on a peaceful demonstration because they were happy with the economic policies of the Buhari government.
The second group, which also called itself Buhari Volunteer Network, BVN expressed its sympathy for the APC-led government.
The two groups kicked off their marches separately in an orderly manner at the Unity Fountain, carrying placards with various inscriptions.
The pro-Buhari group carried placards with inscriptions like: ‘We believe in President Muhammadu Buhari’, Nigerians believe in you’, “Give Buhari a chance’, ‘We stand with Buhari, Emefiele’, ‘We support anti-corruption war’, etc.
But those against Buhari bore placards saying: ‘I need job’, ‘Nigeria is for all of us’, ‘SGF must go’, ‘7 exchange rates? ‘Emefiele must go’, ‘’National Assembly should be part-time job,’ ‘Cut down State House, National Assembly budget to 25%,’ among others.
Addressing the # I Stand With Nigeria group, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, said they were out to demand good governance from the Buhari-led administration and that its policies had not addressed the current economic challenges in the country.
He said: “We thumbed Buhari into office in 2015 because he promised to do a lot, then he got into power and he has never addressed us. When he wants to talk to us he gets into a plane, travels abroad and starts gossiping about us.
“Are we so useless that our President cannot address us? Are we so idiotic that our President cannot tell us that things are hard? We don’t get answers, we don’t get empathy and we are told we cannot protest too? What kind of country is that? What kind of citizens are we?
“Who are we to be told we can only protest if Police licensed us? We have the right to protest. On this Monday morning we don’t know where our President is. We want to know because we care. Last week, fake pictures of the President meeting people in London emerged.
“If the President is not ill, why should people be circulating fake pictures? We don’t want the human rights of the President abused. This administration came into power to fight corruption and now, next to the President is the man now known as the grasscutter-general of the federation.”
Also, another activist, Aisha Yusuf, said that Nigerians could not be cowed by any means, adding that they would not back down until they get good governance from the government.
In an interview with Vanguard, the Co-convener and Chairman, Mr. Nwagwu,said the protest was “a demonstration that Nigerians are no longer with the government. People are groaning under the present administration and the officials are pretending that all is well.”
He appealed to all elected officials in the country to rise to the challenges of their respective offices and find a lasting solution to the hardship faced by Nigerians.
His words: “The protest is to aggregate the frustration of Nigerians and say those things they are saying in their little corners. We are not getting the requisite governance we want as a country.
“The government is saying that they had dealt with security problem in the country but kidnappers have taken over the rest of the country and criminals marauding as herdsmen, pricking the conscience of the country in the Kaduna killings and yet nobody is saying anything.
“The Federal Government cannot be the one excusing its own (secretary to the government of the federation) SGF of corruption. It should allow the security agencies to come out and say that he is free.”
Support govt — Okpokwu
However, Okpokwu at the Nigeria youth rally in support of government policies said there were a lot of achievements the present administration had recorded and urged Nigerians to support the government to do more.
“As Nigerians, we choose to analyze government policies and found out that, the lost glory of Nigeria is returning with full force. Yes, the Nigeria of today has built capacity for our military; the once dreaded Boko Haram has been defeated. While some complain of hunger, President Buhari has commenced payment of N5,000 monthly stipends to vulnerable Nigerians, taking care of the extreme poor in the society, a promise fulfilled. We are here to appreciate Mr. President and to behave like Oliver Twist; that we want N10,000 by next year and we know Mr. President is going to do that for us.’’
Anti-Buhari protest in Ibadan
In Ibadan, despite reports of the cancellation of the protest, scores of protesters still trooped to major streets, chanting anti-Buhari slogans.
The protesters had assembled in front of the University of Ibadan for the rally as early as 8am with security agents at alert so that the rally would not be hijacked by hoodlums.
They went through Bodija market, government secretariat and Agodi Gate, carrying placards with inscriptions like ‘Buhari has failed us’, ‘Buhari has worsened our economic system in Nigeria’, ‘APC is a propaganda set of people’, ‘APC is a liar’ and many more.
Leader of the rally, Mr. Tobi Ogunbanjo who spoke on behalf of Oyo State Voice Initiative said, “we are here for this nationwide peaceful protest because we say no to tyranny. This hardship is too much for our people and it’s like we have moved from frying pan to fire. During the administration of former President, Goodluck Jonathan, we said we were in frying pan. That was why we opted for change and this change has not done us any good.”
“People can no longer have three square meals on daily basis as the economic situation of Nigeria does not permit them to do so. Many Nigerians have committed suicide under this administration simply because they couldn’t cope with the current situation.”
After speeches from many people, the protesters made a 12-point demand which include:
“Reversal of prices of food items, kerosene, cooking gas, electricity and petrol back to pre-2016 levels; immediate payment of backlog of salaries and pensions being owed in 27 states; payment of N56,000 national minimum wage; monthly unemployment allowance to be paid to all unemployed persons; and immediate public-sector led job creation drive to ensure the creation of decent and minimum wage jobs with union rights.
Other demands are immediate reversal of fee hikes in all public universities, polytechnics and colleges of education; adequate funding of public education and improvement in the pay and working conditions of staff; improved funding and upgrade of all public hospitals and improvement in the pay and working conditions of medical staff; diligent prosecution of all those indicted or on trial for corruption and if convicted, they should be jailed and made to forfeit the proceeds of corruption.”
Police patrol Enugu
Despite non-compliance with the ‘Stay with Nigeria’ protest in Enugu State, there was heavy patrol in the Coal City by the Nigerian Police.
Numerous police vans patrolled major streets of the capital city, searching for gatherings even though there was none.
The Police through the state Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Ebere Amaraizu had announced on local radios of its aversion to the protest, warning that any of such protest that could lead to break down of law and order would not be tolerated.
When contacted on why there was no protest in the Enugu State, state chairman of Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, Zulu Ofoelue, said they had no plans for such protests, adding that nobody informed them about any protest.
Also, state acting chairman of Performing Musicians of Nigeria, PMAN, Nanny Boy, said even though they did not announce readiness to protest in Enugu, things have obviously been going wrong in the country and some of them in the industry were ready to march on the streets before TuFace Idibia backed out of the protest.
Why Buhari must speak to Nigerians from where he is – Ozhekome
Constitutional lawyer and rights activists, Chief Mike Ozhekome, tasked President Buhari to douse the tension in the country over his health condition by addressing Nigerians via Skype from London. He argued that the President cannot hide his health condition from people, saying he lost his privacy the day he was elected into public office as president of Nigeria.
“He lost his anonymity and individuality the day he was voted into office as president and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The only privacy he has is in his wife’s kitchen, his parlour and the other room,” Ozhekome said to Vanguard, in his reaction to Sunday’s announcement from the Presidency that the President had extended his medical vacation.
Charly Boy, Seyi Law, Sowore lead Lagos protests
In Lagos, entertainment personality, Charles Oputa, popularly known as Charly Boy, Sahara Reporters Publisher, Omoyele Sowore and comedian Seyi Law, led the #IStandWithNigeria march.
They insisted on taking the march to other parts of the country with a view to forcing the Buhari-led government to change its economic policies to suit the populace.
Protesters carried placards which read: ‘All Nigerian’s lives must matter’; ‘food, medicine, everything is three times more expensive but salaries have not increased’; our governance is too expensive, we must reduce the cost of maintaining our public officials’; ‘People die daily from lack of basic and affordable health care’; ‘unemployed people are hungry and angry’; ‘every child must have access to quality eduction’; ‘’The best way to kill corruption is to increase transparency’ , ‘There is enough in Nigeria for all of us to chop belleful’; ‘There can’t be a set of rules for the poor and another set for the rich’.
The protest, which began at about 9am from the National Stadium, Surulere, to the National Theatre, with the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria , PIN, Gbenga Sesan and the founder, Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, leading the way alongside the trio of Charly Boy, Sowore and Seyi law.
A visibly angry Charly Boy vowed that the protest would serve as a beginning of concurrent rallies in the country to express the hardship experienced by Nigerians.
Oputa who blamed Nigerians for many years of inactivity in terms of asking for their needs, reiterated his resolve to convene a ‘Tsunami Mega Rally’ in Abuja and other parts of the country until things got better. He disclosed that the next protest will hold in Abuja next month.
He said: “This is a wake-up call to all Nigerians and it comes with a question: Una never suffer enough? We are all responsible for this because of years of inaction. It is time to hold our government responsible and accountable.”
Rally not about TuFace
Explaining why they decided to go ahead with the protest inspite of Tuface’s withdrawal, the group said: “TuFace only activated the protest but it was not built around him. He was just one among many frustrated Nigerians and that was why the protest is holding.”
Letter to Osibanjo
In a letter written by One Voice Nigeria and addressed to the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the group expressed its dissatisfaction with the present administration noting that the government had failed to deliver on its promises. The group which identified 10 areas of concern, categorically noted that both political and elected leaders have failed the country.
The letter read : “We are demanding for transparency in all tiers of government, security of lives and properties. The cost of government is too high. Social justice and corruption must be fought without bias. Lack of power in Nigeria has continued to be major hindrances to not just business but also to people getting themselves out of poverty.”
“We are giving government till its 2nd anniversary, May 29, 2017, to show substantive results on the issues we have raised. If not, the agitations will be louder and more intense.”
Retirees were not left out in the protest as most of them accused the Federal Government of being insensitive to their plight, after putting in their productive years. One of them, Mrs Adedoyin Adekoya, who retired from the Federal Ministry of Communications said that she is being owed over 30 months pension arrears.
Be patient with FG- Tinubu
A section of the protesters, however, marched to the residence of APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi to express their grievances as well as demand for good governance and an urgent explanation for the country’s economic downturn.
Tinubu while addressing the protesters, said: “We are in the second year of the administration and to make those changes positive and effective eventually,we have to be patient. We have to have the hope. I am not worried about the exchange rate because your salary should be in Naira and we are not all importers or exporters. Maybe, it is teaching us a lesson to be dependent on our domestic products to develop other talents, to develop other areas.
“I understand what your grievances are all about, the unemployment, tackling insecurity, corruption is seriously being attacked, yes. Our money will crawl back. The damage of 16 years will go through the system. You cannot get water out of a dry place. Nigeria is going through a phase. No leader will subject his people to suffering.”
Meanwhile, there was a heavy police presence at the protest stands. Over 30 police vehicles from the 14 area commands and divisions were on ground. An Armoured Personnel Carrier ,APC, was positioned at the entrance of the National Theatre apparently to forestall any uproar that could lead to disturbance of public peace. Vehicular patrols continued around the vicinity by policemen attached to the Rapid Response Squad ,RSS.
There was, however, a mild drama between the police and the protesters as the latter blocked the entrance of the gate leading to the National stadium to prevent protesters from entering. It took the intervention of the stadium management and a directive from the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, to avert a potential crisis.
Speaking with Vanguard at the end of the rally, Owoseni who stayed behind to ensure that all protesters had left, described the protest as a peaceful one. He however clarified that the command did not kick against the protest as reported, explaining that it only ensured that the necessary processes were followed as well as meeting with the key campaigners.
Edo youths protest against hunger
In Benin, the Edo State Capital, youths and members of the civil society organizations also marched round the streets of Benin and the Secretariat of the Edo State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), decrying the current economic hardship and called on the Federal Government to take urgent steps to address the situation.
The protesters converged under the banner of Concerned Youth Leaders.
Spokesman of the group, Dr Carl Oshodin, said the growing hunger occasioned by alleged bad government policies have pauperized many Nigerians with no hope in sight to revamp the economy.
“Today, Nigeria youths after graduating from universities don’t have jobs; workers are owed months of salaries. We want to convey the message to Nigerians that enough is enough. We want the government to return Nigeria of yesterday back, we want good governance,” he said.
Coordinator, Talakawa Parliament, Comrade Kola Marxist Edokpayi, also lamented the State of affairs of the nation and declared that the President Buhari led administration has failed to rescue Nigerians from this hardship.
Tuface denies arrest story
Also, TuFace Idibia, yesterday denied being arrested and detained by the Department of State Service, DSS, over the anti-government protests.
In a tweet, he expressed gratitude to those who had shown concern over the purported arrest. “Thanks for the concern, guys. I am fine and free,” he said.
“Reports about DSS arrest are not true. We are still compiling responses for the leadership.
“State your opinion on the social media with the #IStandWithNigeria. Peace! One luv always!!!”
The musician cancelled the protest on Sunday, citing “security concerns and public safety consideration.”
FG didn’t bully protesters, TuFace
The Federal Government, yesterday denied stopping and bullying of organisers of the anti-government protests.
Denying the allegations on a Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, Personal Assistant to President Buhari on Social Media , Lauretta Onochie, said government has no reason to stop protesters from showing their grievances.
She said: “The Government of President Buhari did not stop people from protesting, what I am saying is for the popular musician, TuFace to come and explain to Nigerians why his group is protesting and the motives behind the protest… I don’t think he’s been bullied. He has a right to protest.”