Since the national mass protests opposing subsidy removal began, the need for peaceful conduct has been stressed repeated. To their credit, the leaders of the protests go to great lengths to ensure that the protesters are calm or otherwise creatively engaged. One good example are the Lagos protests at the Gani Fawehinmi Park Ojota which attracts the largest number of protesters in Lagos. Its organisers have adopted a carnival-like approach to the programme consistently bringing cultural, political and entertainment icons on-stage to entertain, educate and inspire the energetic crowds. So far violence has been kept at a minimum and no serious incidents have been reported at the park.
There have however been reports of violence and fatalities in various parts of the country, beginning with death Muyideen in Ilorin. Since then other incidents involving security operatives and adamant protesters have been recurring, giving rise to speculation that the situation could quickly spiral out of control. The presence of security operatives is often a source of apprehension, as they are percieved to be trigger happy and prone to use fire-arms at the slightest provocation. Following the demise of young Ademola in Ogba from his gunshot wounds, residents have been calling for the head of the police officer who shot him. Spokesmen for the government have been quick to condemn what they term a “wave of violence” and have on occasion accused labour of colluding with opposition elements to advance their selfish political agendas and cause civil unrest in the country. They’ve further urged labour to draw the line between themselves and the ‘hoodlums’ by quitting the protests and engaging the government in dialogue.
While a good number of these reports have been found to be sensationalist news calculated to cause anxiety, there are indeed real cases of violence, mugging and other misdemeanours being perpetrated by a minority under the pretext of protesting. With sticks, makeshift roadblocks, and sometimes, fire barriers, they waylay people to extort money and other valuables.
Our people share their experiences with these opportunists, some of which border on horrific.
Yesterday as I was driving out of the island rally around 1:30pm when I was surrounded by hoodlums on the third mainland bridge. They covered my car, about 15 of them asking me for money, my window was wound down as everyone is saving fuel. One of them hit me with a stick as I tried to drive off in their midst and I eventually parted with a some money and drove through to the ojota team. Next day I hit the road to the ikoyi protest, and as I got on third mainland bridge, I saw fire right in the middle of the road and considered risking a quick drive over but decided against it for fear of explosion. Quickly four men surrounded my car before I could make a U-turn and began to make demands of me. Eventually collected the 25,000 cash with me and my laptop! One of the hit me with a rake or shovel so hard it bruised and bled. Its a very sad situation and this just makes me pray hard that all of this troubles would not be in vain. – Toyosi Akerele, CEO of Rise
There are several ‘check points’ on the Ajah express way now! The boys claim they are hungry and for you to be able to afford to drive out, you should able to give them some money!They get violent and physical if you refuse, they even accuse one of being a government official else you won’t have fuel in your car. Our correspondent Victor this morning fell into their hands as he kept giving money till he got to a ‘toll’ where he had run out of cash. They harrrassed him, collected his ATM, took him to a bank and when they found no cash there, they beat him more. After much plea, they let him go but it was a near death situation I tell you. – Titi Adelagun, Inspiration FM OAP
Yesterday morning, we had to drop someone off at Oworo before heading to the island protest. Thirteen guys or so came around us asking us for money, they blocked our path so we couldn’t drive through. I got of the car and went to meet the one that looked like their head, gave him a thousand Naira. But they refused to let us go saying it was too small. At this point they collected our phones and insisted on more money. I insisted on a thousand but my friends were scared and they could sense the panic so they rode on that. Another thousand naira later they returned the phones and also ensured all our properties were intact. It was a bit traumatic for my friends – Ufoma Ejenabor, Actress
The response of labour whenever violence occurs has been to suspend street protests and direct the people to sit at home till further notice, and such directives are usually complied with. Protest co-ordinators also monitor the roads via social media and issue security updates that help people avoid trouble spots. We continue to monitor developments and urge people to respect the rights of other citizens, stay sharp, and avoid suspicious or disorderly clusters where excitable people tend to be found.