Subsidy crisis: Police release detained Abuja protesters

Protesters in Abuja... on Monday

The Police in Nigeria have released all twelve activists arrested in Abuja after Monday’s protest against government’s withdrawal of subsidy on the prices of petroleum products in the country.

The activists, including a former member of the House of Representatives, Dino Melaye, were released in Abuja on Tuesday afternoon after been held in dingy police cells.

The activists were released without charges even though the police had shortly after their arrested said they would be charged for treason and attempt to overthrow the government of President Goodluck Jonathan.

The protesters, who were arrested as the peaceful protest dispersed, complained they were manhandled by soldiers, members of the Brigade of Guards – the military detachment responsible for the president’s peripheral security – who had executed the arrests before handing them over to the police.

“We were detained with armed robbers and criminals because the special anti-robbery squad is not a place where you keep protesters,” Mr. Melaye said.

Human rights groups and lawyers have condemned the government’s “intimidation of protesters.”

“We question the decision or order to detain the peaceful protesters in the Special Anti-Robbery Squad office in Abuja, a place meant for persons accused or guilty of armed robbery, homicide and other heinous crimes,” Samson Itodo, a leader of the coalition of the protest groups, said.

Martins Obono, leader of the Youth Alliance Against Removal of Fuel Subsidy, confirmed the police and military brutalised him and his colleagues.

“We were beaten thoroughly,” he said. “People were beaten, they were shot with tear gas, some of us molested, honestly speaking, the beating has only hardened and energized us the more to continue this battle.”

Going back to the streets

Although brutalised, the activists say they are not discouraged and would go back to the streets to force government to reverse its decision to remove subsidy on petrol.

“We have been released now, we are still going back to the street, so they should be prepared to come and re-arrest us because we will stop at nothing to make sure that the President revert back to N65 and the untold hardship it is going to cause on Nigerians is immeasurable,” Mr. Melaye added.

Since the New Year day announcement of the removal of subsidy on petrol in Nigeria, the price of petrol has skyrocketed, tripling its initial price of N65 in some cities.

Since the withdrawal of the subsidy, its ripple effect has triggered a rise in prices of goods and services,  setting off widespread protest across Nigeria.

The activists say they are demanding the Federal government reverse its decision to remove fuel subsidy with immediate effect.  

 “The truth of the matter is that no amount of intimidation, blackmail, oppression and beating will distract our attention from championing this cause,” Mr. Melaye said. “We are resolved that by the special grace of God the battle to salvage our country from this economic cankerworms and financial scavengers is the battle of no retreat no surrender.”

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