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The War, Its Leaders

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They are union leaders and human rights activists. They are the leaders of the war against fuel subsidy removal that paralysed the country for several days

They are all experienced men and women in unionism and human rights struggles. They brought their wealth of experience to bear on the strike organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress, TUC, Organised Private Sector, OPS, and Civil Society Organisations to protest the unceremonious removal of fuel subsidy by President Goodluck Jonathan on January 1, as opposed to the April 2012 initially planned for the policy. Collectively, they shut down Nigeria last week.

For Tunde Bakare, the convener of Save Nigeria Group, SNG, it was an opportunity to affirm the organisation’s commitment to the welfare of Nigerians. On December 18, 2011, he had told Newswatch that the group was not dead and, therefore, needed no resuscitation. Thus, on January 9, 2012, when the anti-fuel subsidy removal war began, Bakare, who is pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly, a Lagos-based pentecostal church, was in the forefront. At the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park, Ojota, Bakare joined others including Tunji Braithwaite, Femi Falana, Ganiat and Mohammed, wife and son of Gani Fawehinmi, the late human rights fighter, respectively; Yinka Odumakin and Joe-Okei, his wife, for what was dubbed ‘Mother of all Battles.’

The situation was not different in other states across the country as prominent Nigerians and key labour officers galvanised the people into frenzy to reject fuel subsidy removal. At the Abuja war front, Abdulwaheed Omar, NLC president, led the team of NLC officials including Owei Lakemfa, general secretary, Peter Esele, TUC president, Charles Oputa aka Charly Boy, Omode Idris, president, Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, and Patrick Obahiagbon alias Igodomigodo, the voluble ex-member of the House of Representatives, to ensure compliance with labour’s decision.

Felix Femi Ajakaye, Catholic bishop of Ekiti diocese, led protesters on Monday, January 9, at Ado-Ekiti. “I am a Nigerian and I am deeply interested in the Nigeria project. I can’t fold my arms because I am a bishop and allow my people to suffer. We need to be visionaries and pursue causes that would not make Nigeria to fall apart,” he told the protesters.

Balarabe Musa, first civilian governor of Kaduna State and Shehu Sani took charge of affairs in the North-West states.

All the arrowheads made up of clerics, legal luminaries, medics and others damned a ruling by Babatunde Adejumo, president of the National Industrial Court, NIC, on Friday, January 6, stopping the NLC from embarking on a strike action on fuel subsidy removal. Bakare said there was enough reason why Nigerians at home and abroad, young and old, should stand against the removal of the absurdity called subsidy so that the government can be compelled to look inward and stop fleecing the poor. “If we ever allow this to take place, Nigerians will be made to pay for the ineptitude of their leaders and the kleptomania of government functionaries,” he said, adding “Like other nations, some less endowed, we have the opportunity to set up our own refineries, refine our products, sell and export and make money. Instead, both NNPC and the government explore sleaze, refine roguery and market sharp practices. The problem is corruption. More than 70 percent of Nigeria’s earning is spent on their salaries and emoluments. The corruption has to be removed.”

Braithwaite was emphatic that the revolution has started and it cannot be stopped. “It is not only about fuel price. What about corruption? This is going to be a mother of all revolution. We will rearrange our affair,” he said. Falana, president of the West African Bar Association, is not new to popular protests against anti-people policies. He was there in the June 12, protest in 1993 when the presidential election of that year won by Moshood Abiola was annulled. This time, he was accompanied to the rallies in Lagos by Folarin, his son, who has just completed his programme at the Nigerian Law School. He said Nigerians had the right to protest and that nobody can stop the revolt against fuel subsidy removal because successive administrations had denied them the benefits of democracy.

As protesters were being shot and killed in Lagos, Ilorin, Kaduna and Kano, labour leaders and civil society organisations’ men stood their ground. They refused to be cowed by security men let loose.

In Abuja, Omar and Lakemfa proved that they were in charge. They co-ordinated perfectly the rallies that grounded the federal capital. And they were on top of discussions with leaders of the National Assembly, not capitulating to subtleties by the federal lawmakers to shelve the action.

But as Nigerians groaned under the effect of the paralysing strike action, the question on most minds was: will the arrowheads of the ‘mother of all battles’ hold on till victory is achieved?


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