The Jonathan administration is confident ongoing public anger sweeping through the country against the removal of petrol subsidy would be contained, and is planning several high-handed responses in the days ahead, informed sources in the presidency told Premium Times Thursday.
After four days of fiery but peaceful protest against oil subsidy cut that has hiked petrol prices by more than 100 percent, President Goodluck Jonathan was briefed of the extent of the unrest, and assured by his security chiefs the protest would be handled, and would recede in days, the sources say.
While the government counts on public fury to naturally ebb as the days go, its agents will infiltrate, polarise and compromise the groups with a view to responding to tactics that might endanger the administration. Where activists are difficult to infiltrate, they would be intimidated, possibly arrested for threatening national peace, according to Aso Rock insiders familiar with the plans.
Security is to be heightened at government offices, and military installations while government officials are to enjoy better security protection in their homes and offices.
To preempt protest plans by labour and civil groups, telephone tapings will be extensively used, while a massive online hacking will be unleashed on the social media world, reportedly considered by the administration as the most devastating weapon yet, against it.
Several calls to Aso Rock spokesperson, Reuben Abati, to comment for this story were unanswered.
But insiders familiar with government’s planned response to contain more protests, say Mr. Jonathan and his close aides are more troubled by the devastating onslaught his government has drawn from Nigerians on the social media.
Since the unrest started Monday, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools have been used extensively to ridicule the administration and mobilise citizens for protest.
The social media platforms have become the rallying point for a frustrated populace seeking ways to pressure authorities to backtrack on a policy they fear would inflict more hardships on them.
Mr. Jonathan’s Facebook page, not updated since the protest broke is filled with outrageous remarks which are more of a slur on the president.
To help stem the spread of hate against the government, a massive number of spurious new sign ups will go on Facebook and Twitter with counter-messages that are friendly to the regime. They will canvass the government’s policies and praise merits of subsidy removal, the sources say.
Also, the government is said to be planning to organize counter protests in major cities across the country.But analysts say the measures may escalate troubles for an administration that is faced with a growing unprecedented civil anger at home, and at the same time an increasing international attention for cracking down on protesters.
On Thursday, global human rights group, Amnesty International, called for an immediate end to deadly police crackdown on protesters, citing Tuesday’s killing of Muyideen Mustapha in Ilorin, Kwara State.
A second protester was reported killed in Zamfara State on Thursday.
Across the country, armed security forces trying to break the protest have fired tear gas and arrested people, claiming the demonstrations had been hijacked by hoodlums.
Mr. Mustapha is said to have been shot dead by the police, but the force has denied, claiming he was stabbed by a fellow protester, and then promising an investigation.
Amnesty International said it has documented numerous incidents of excessive and unlawful use of force by police and other security forces, especially during demonstrations.
“The police have a duty to protect lives and property and uphold the rule of law. It is therefore completely unacceptable for them to use live ammunition against protesters,” said Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa.
“The Nigerian authorities should respect and protect peoples’ rights to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution, and should instruct the police force to refrain from shooting at protesters,” she said.
“With more protests coming up, it’s essential that the Nigerian police publicly announce that the use of lethal force is only allowed when strictly unavoidable to protect life. This simple step could make a big difference to the number of unlawful police killings we are seeing in Nigeria,” said Paule Rigaud.