By Mercy Abang & Hauwa Gambo
What was expected to hold as a peaceful protest calling on the Nigerian federal government to call off its planned oil subsidy removal tagged #HungerStrike didn’t quite turn out as planned. For one, the young people were no more than 30 at best, and then the police ended the protest before it had even started.
The President Goodluck Jonathan administration has said it will be removing the controversial downstream petroleum subsidy but has had to deal with pushback from civil society and the media.
Young people –led by the president of the National Youth Council of Nigeria Wale Ajani (who arrived more than an hour later) – gathered at the Unity Fountain in Abuja yesterday, but were eventually chased out by police dogs and men of the anti-bomb squad.
The police claims information revealed a “bomb threat” within the Unity Fountain axis along the Shehu Shagari Way and claimed that made it necessary for the protesters to evacuate and discontinue the stay at the fountain. The hunger strike was scheduled for 9am to 4pm, but the police chased everyone out at 11.15 am.
One of the protest’s organisers, Dayo Israel, spoke to YNaija about its purpose. “How can a nation that produces oil be so insensitive to the needs of its people at this defining moment?” Israel asked. “Today’s sit out is a warning – we have laid our demands to the government and they are available on www.fuelsubsidy.org – if they are not met – it would not just be Abuja but youth would rise in the 36 states of the nation to express our grievance.”
Reaction from young people to this protest however was tepid at best. As it held, commentary online, especially on Twitter, was harsh. “(Protest) flops as organisers including ‘yoot’ leader Wale Ajani failed to turn up,” Tweeted controversial blogger Kayode Ogundamisi. “Wale Ajani is said to be a mole of the government…” added Tunde Oretade. “Forget his antics he’s still in the payroll of GEJ!”
It will be recalled that Mr. Ajani had been detained by the State Security Service on 9 November 2011 for his role in leading the action.
However, many eventually seemed to agree that this protest was at least a good start. “I agree we need a well coordinated approach to the protests,” Tweeted ICT4Development expert Gbenga Sesan. “But how many of us showed up for the well-planned EiE rallies?”
Even Mr. Ogundamisi struck a marked change of tone. “If people do not join the hungerstrike,” he Tweeted after the protest. “It does not mean they are against them #Restrategise. The #HungerStrike guys put their money where their mouth is.”
Perhaps that is some consolation for those young people who are against the government’s plans.