By Owei Lakemfa
THE populace was ecstatic on May 29, 1999 when the military finally departed after a renewed dictatorship of 15 years. Expectations were very high. The new President was Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler who some months before, was in prison for alleged coup plotting. As the months rolled by, the populace began to agitate for the dividends of democracy. But against their expectations, the government increased the price of a litre of fuel (PMS) from N20 to N30. The populace was furious and needed no persuasion to join a nationwide general strike which effectively shutdown the country. Obasanjo was forced to reduce the price to N22.
Sixteen months later, he moved the price to N26. Again, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC which had led the first protest, called another mass opposition, but it met with little success. Then on June 20, 2003, Obasanjo increased the price to N42 and the NLC called for The Mother of all protests from Monday, June 30. Then NLC President, Adams Oshiomhole was convinced that unless Lagos, the economic capital was shut-down, the strike would fail. He asked me to relocate to Lagos with the task of ensuring the success of the strike.
As the aircraft descended, I took in the huge metropole wondering how a megacity that does not go to sleep can be shut down indefinitely. I had been part of the anti-military Campaign for Democracy, CD leadership which had shut down Lagos and parts of the country a decade before to force out General Ibrahim Babangida from power. I reached out to the veterans of that struggle and decided on the same method of mobilisation.
For the Obasanjo administration, it was a declaration of war and no prisoners will be taken. Over the eight-day strike, police and security men opened fire on peaceful demonstrators. In Lagos, it began on the first day when the police shot protesters on the Third Mainland Bridge. But the first casualty I verified was Miss Adejoke Olaremi, a pupil of Imam Shuaibu Primary School, 241 Borno Way, Oyingbo. She was shot in the hand (with the bullet also hitting her breast) while climbing the stairs of her home.
One week into the strike, the Government decided to break it in Lagos by forcing public transport operators back on the road. It started at 5am at the Mushin Motor Park when armed policemen ordered the drivers to roll out. This was resisted and battles began. It soon spread to several parts of the city. That morning, we were holding a mass rally at the Tejuosho/Ojuelegba Junction when armed policemen from the Area ‘C’ Command led by Deputy Superintendent of Police, Ukadike Anamazobi arrived. They ordered us to disperse immediately or they would shoot as the police had orders to retake Lagos by all means. I told Anamazobi we have a right as Nigerians to publicly demonstrate our feelings and would not be intimidated. The police cocked their guns; then Anamazobi reached for a tear gas canister, I struggled to restrain him from using it. I failed and we were both consumed by the choking smoke. Then the shooting began.
Some of us retreated into the NLC sub-office a few metres away and were followed by bullets. While lying on the floor, I got through to then Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Young Arabamen and asked him to order his men to stop shooting. He said his Deputy, Haruna John was not far away and would bring the situation under control. The police continued shooting. On Clegg Street, they ran into Mr. Musiliu Erinfolami of 32, Onifade Street, Oloosa, and shot him in the leg.
A young man, Abdulazeez Tunde Andoyi of Number 10, Leigh Street, off Ojuelegba Road, stood in front of his brother’s Seamless Cyber Café at 5, Fawehinmi Street, Ojuelegba watching the police chase protesters. Then a policeman pointed his rifle at him. An Inspector, Waheed Dosunmu shouted that he lived in the vicinity so nobody should be shot on the street. But the bullet flew, hitting Andoyi in the right knee. As he crumbled, the policeman took another aim shooting him below the right jaw. His corpse was brought to us at the NLC Office. I then met DCP Haruna John to report the murder. He asked me to incident the case with the Police Area Commander, Mr. Stephen Atama who ordered the Divisional Police Officer, CSP Benjamin Onaye to provide us policemen to take the corpse to the Randle Hospital, Surulere for post- mortem. Mr. Arabamen was to later deny in public that his men killed anybody, and I had to confront him with irrefutable evidence.
A total of 11 citizens were shot dead in Lagos during this strike. They included Mr. Obot Akpan Etim, 27 of 31, Ifenirepo Street, Akowonjo who was shot dead at the Cele Bus stop; also was a second Akowonjo resident, Mr. Jide Shobowale. Two first cousins in school uniform who lived at 115, Akowonjo Road, Egbeda were also shot but fortunately survived. Master Damilola Akinremi 15, SSS II student of Ikeja Senior High School was shot in the back while Master Taiwo Akinremi 17, a student of Oniwaya High School, Agege, was also shot. Both were treated at the Crystal Hospital, Akowonjo Road.
In Abuja, Mr. Patrick Daniel Danjaba, a worker with Julius Berger was shot in the chest and died at the Adonai Hospital, Maraba. Mr. Yusuf Abubakar, a butcher with two wives and four children was shot in the hand. He hid in a compound bleeding, and emerged when he thought all was calm only for the police to shoot him in the chest. He died. Mallam Bashir Habibu, a Quoranic Teacher at UngwarJumar, Maraba was shot in the shoulder and taken to the Police Command where he was kept under the sun for four hours before being taken to the hospital. Perhaps, the most dramatic case was that of Mr. Yahuza Musa, a State Security Service, SSS operative. He had identified himself to the police and appealed that they stopped shooting people. He was shot three times; in the palm, thigh and below the knee. Even after a senior police officer directed that Yahuza and three others shot, should be taken to the hospital, they were dumped at Area 10 Police Headquarters for four hours before being taken to the hospital.
In Port Harcourt, a uniformed Traffic Warden, Mr. Chisa Nwoko was shot in the head by policemen at his duty post at the Emenike Junction, Mile 1. He died at the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital. At least 16 persons were shot dead by the police during the protests; to date, nobody has been brought to justice for these murders.