Police shootings cast cloud over petrol protests

Killed while protesting

At least three people were killed by police and others injured in nationwide demonstrations that took place on Monday.  According to eyewitnesses, Ademola Aderinde, a teenage boy, was shot dead by a police officer whilst innocently playing football on a street in Ogba, Lagos. The Lagos State Police Commisioner, Yakubu Alkali, confirmed that a policeman had been arrested in relation to the shooting but refused to divulge his name.

In Kano, two protesters were shot as they tried to enter Government House. The shootings come less than a week after another youth, Muyideen Mustafa, also reportedly met his fate at the hands of the police during protests in Ilorin. 

The events occurred during the start of a nationwide strike called by the Nigeria Labour Congress. As banks, filling stations, shops and offices shut their doors, an increasingly incensed population took to the streets to protest the government’s decision to end petrol subsidy.  Organised demonstrations were reported in virtually all capital cities across the country. Although events were largely peaceful, the police struggled to maintain order in some areas by firing tear gas and shooting sporadically.

In Lagos, close to a million people convened at various locations but most prominently in the popular Gani Fawehinmi park, Ojota, named after Nigeria’s fierest human rights activist who died in 2010.  

As early as 6 a.m., hundreds of people began to line the streets with placards as daily activities ground to a spectacular halt in the bustling city. Gani Fawheinmi park  quickly filled up and took on a carnival-like atmosphere as protesters sang and chanted in non-violent unison.

Musicians such as Femi and Seun Kuti, Ras Kimono, Sound Sultan and Rugged Man were on hand to perform. Nollywood actor, Sam Dede, echoed the mood of protesters by openly lambasting the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

“What we voted for was breath of fresh air but what we are getting now is toxic,” he said.

Abuja also experienced a large turnout of protesters. Members of the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria and some residents convened at the Berger junction in Wuse whilst another group assembled at Eagle Square. The majority of protesters at Eagle Square had organized themselves through the increasingly popular Occupy Nigeria movement.

Security caught wind of the demonstrations through social networks and cordoned off the entire central area over the weekend. As a result, several ministries and government agencies within the secretariat were inaccessible. Aside from the use of tear gas to disperse the crowd, no other major police incidents were reported in the capital.

In Kano, the Red Cross reported that seven people were being treated for gunshot wounds, all of them allegedly inflicted by police. Another seven cases, they said, were as a direct result of police brutality.

Mob action

Events also took a violent turn in Benin as some demonstrators used the strike as an opportunity to loot. The Hausa quarter, which houses many of the city’s bureaus de change, was ransacked by miscreants who attempted to steal foreign currency. It was also reported that the police prevented a mosque on Ring Road from being torched. Several people were injured in the melee as police used tear gas to repel the mob. They were less successful with quelling arsonists at the University of Benin where the gates were reportedly set ablaze.

In nearby Warri, there was  massive turnout as several labour and civil society groups joined the rally. A large security presence did not deter protesters from marching all the way to the Government House.

Not all cities witnessed demonstrations however.

The already volatile city of Jos enjoyed an unusual respite from violence after labour unions and security agencies reached an accord. Mr, Dipo Ayeni, the Plateau State police commissioner, said there was no sense inciting an already restive mood. “We have asked people that if they want to protest, they should kindly do so from their homes,” he said. Similarly, in Damataru, Yobe state, the protests took on a more somber tone as security forces formed an intimidating presence in the town.

In Yenagoa, the state chapters of the NLC and TUC took a more passive stance to their national counterparts by declining to take the protests to the streets. They did however compel the state labour force not to open shops.

Elsewhere, protests took place in Ilorin, Kaduna, Calabar, Bauchi, Akure, Osogbo, Makurdi, Ibadan and Lafia, where protesters blocked the Shendam expressway for hours.

Under fire

The organized protests are a further blow to the beleaguered Goodluck Jonathan presidency. His administration has come under fire for failing to enact adequate infrastructural and policy measures before removing the subsidy. The House of Representatives on Sunday voted to reverse the fuel subsidy removal but President Jonathan has remained unrelenting in his stance.

As the nation braces itself for another day of strike action and protests, Zaid Kolawale, PENGASSAN spokesman, said there would be no end in sight until the government did the ‘right thing.’

Economic analysts have estimated that every day the strike continues, the economy loses billions.

‘We are dealing with people who are not used to dialogue,” Mr. Kolawale said. “They just act with impunity. Until they do the right thing, we are prepared to continue with the strike.”



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