The massive protests throughtout the country in the last five days remind us of how strong the ‘will’ of the people is especially when they decide to assert it. The streets were deserted, offices, shops and markets shut while agitated crowd gathered at major points across the country to express their grivances.
It has been a very challenging moment, perhaps, the mother of all protests, as some dubbed it. It has crippled governace and rendered socio-economic activities prostrate. Many more people are joining the protest as the hundreds of thousands of people milling to meeting points show.
As the protest is becoming more tensed by the day, some are already lamenting the socio-economic effect of the strike action which they said had made life even more difficult for them. A 54 year -old widow, Ajoke Olopade who sells pepper at the Ikorodu garage market told Saturday Vanguard how his son who was knocked down by a rampaging Okada rider on the second day of the strike action almost lost his life as hospitals and clinics were shut.
She noted that essential services like medical should be on duty to attend to emergency situations, especially those arising from the on-going protest.
“My son was hit by an Okada on Tuesday and I have been running helter skelter for treatment. When the incident happened, I had thought doctors will be available at government owned hospitals to take care of people but I was there waiting endlessly until somebody advised I should go to to a private hospital.”
She continued: “At that point, there was no vehicle to take us and the poor boy was bleeding profusely. I continued to pray because I thought he was going to die. We eventually got somebody who took us to a private hospital. After 24 hours, there was no improvement. We had to take him to a local herbal home in Ajegunle later in the day where he is currently receiving treatment. Save for the herbal home, it would have been a different story today mainly because of the strike action.”
Madam Olopade, the breadwinner of the family of four who could not fight back tears said: “I have spent quite a lot on transportation and household items. I’m a widow and don’t know how to continue,” she said. She maintained that if the government does not revert to the old price, life would be unbearable for the peasant.
Another trader, Bolaji Koledola at Ketu Market said he and his family live on his daily proceed from his petty trading which has ceased in the last five days. “Our welfare is important. We have to live but I think we have to go on with the stike because even when when we get back, things are very unbearable. Our expenses have increased immediately after the removal of the subsidy. I really don’t know how we’ll manage under this situation and people always frown at the slightest increase we make on what we sell. So, every thing is getting more difficult. But I want the strike to go on until the the president rescinds his decision,” he said.
Wale Oladele, an enterprenuer, said the continued strike action has cost companies huge losses, even as he said the policy itself was damaging to business. He argued that there is a drop in the purchasing power of people which will further lead to a sharp drop in sales if the new policy subsits. “I noticed that people stop buying as a result of high cost of everything. So, as an enterprenuer, I also can’t quantify what I have lost in the last one week. But I also think some companies might close down,” he said.
“Take Nigeria for example, we were told we make about N320billion per day. Can you then imagine that we must have lost N1.6trillion about what they said we need for subsidy in a year.” Oladele advised that the government should not allow the situation to degenerate to the extent of government losing its legitimacy before the people who voted it into power. “When the people’s desire becomes irrelevant to the government, the legitimacy of the government will not matter to the people.”
Casualties of the protest
The protest which started like a storm in a tea cup has snowballed into deaths, killing not less than 15 people and many injured. Million others record immesurable socio-economic losses.
In the commercial hub of Lagos, the protest which was largely peaceful has left some people dead and scores of others injured as prostesters clashed with police in some areas. In Yaya-Abatan junction, Ogba, Lagos, a young man, Demola Aderinto who was playing football on the street with his colleagues was gunned down by a policeman as he wanted to pick the ball after seeing group of protesters advancing towards him. The incident left four others sustaining various degrees of injuries Among the four, Monday, Samuel, Ejiofor and Abubakar are receiving treatment in Lagos hospital. Still, the protesters, gathered at the Salako street, home of the deceased where they held prayers for the family as they continued the struggle.
At Ibafo, Ibadan Expressway, a middle aged man who was said to be travelling in a commercial bus was also hit by a strayed bullet of the police. He died instantly. According to eye-witness account, the man who was sitting close to the door of the bus was felled by bullet after a sporadic shooting by a policman hanging in the police van. “We were coming from Ketu. On the our way, we saw barricades on the road, apparently by the protesters. Immediately, we saw a police van with one of them shooting sporadically into the air. We had thought that they would make a way for us to pass, but suddenly the conductor just alerted that somebody had been hit by a stray-bullet, and we watched as he went down,” said an eye witness. Another reports said the strayed bullet also killed another by-stander in the Obafemi-Oyewole, Ibafo area after the protesters clashed with police.
In Ketu, at Demurin Junction, about two kilometres away from the Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota, where the prosters had gathered to listen to the address of the conveners, two people died instantly owing to recklessness of a certain bus driver.
An eye witness said: “It was an accident. A motor cyclist popularly called Okada, carrying two other persons was hit by a bus. The bus was coming in the same direction. He apparently was looking at the heavy crowd of protesters but did not see the bonfire mounted on the road. By the time he saw it, it was too late. He manouvered but hit the Okada rider with the two persons. One of the three fell in the fire with the door of the bus falling on him. He was roasted to death instantly.” The eye witness continued that one of the remaining two jumped out while the other was crushed to death.
Just as the brutality of the police claimed lives of protesters in some areas, the sympathy of the police manifested in some other areas as they joined in the protest. Some were seen offering assistance to the protesters in some areas. At Union road, Abeokuta Expressway, Lagos, police not only joined in the protest, but also gave some satchets of water to some of the protesters. They also ensured that the procession was peaceful.
Apart from members of civil society organisations; politicians, political activists, musicians and Nollywood stars joined the protest in all parts of the country. In Lagos, from Ikorodu to Ojota, from Yaba to Obalende and from Lekki to Ajah, some celebs showed their presence, addressing the crowd. While KWAM 1, Femi Kuti, 9ice,Desmond Elliot, Pasuma,Olu Maintain, Niggar Raw, Jide Kosoko, Ras Kimono Ronke Oshodi-Oke, Soul Sultan among others took turns to address the crowd condeming the policy. The Ikorodu scenario was not too good for Alhaji Mukadas Eyiwunmi, popularly known as Muka Ray. The star actor, after leaving the podium, was harassed by hoodlums and was dispossessed of his cell phone. It took the frantic effort of some of the organisers who prevailed on the hoodlums before the versatile role interpreter got his phone back.
Even as protesters used the greater part of the day to chant anti-government slogans, some used the period to play football, for others, it was party time as they engaged in dancing competitions and other games.