President Goodluck Jonathan, who has in the past weeks been the subject of fierce public fury, drew more scathing condemnations Monday for authorizing large-scale deployment of troops nationwide in what observers see as a desperate attempt to break the two-week old national protest over cut in fuel subsidy.
Criticisms mounted as armed soldiers swarmed locations in the major cities where popular protests were strong, turning back demonstrators, dismantling their podiums and public address equipment, and threatening approaching journalists.
In Lagos, Governor Babatunde Fashola, who played a prominent role in defending government’s removal of fuel subsidy and helped negotiate a truce with the labour unions, became the first from the establishment to denounce the move in a statewide broadcast.
“I therefore urge the reconsideration of the decision to deploy soldiers and implore the President and Commander-in-Chief to direct their withdrawal from our streets,” he said in the address.
He acknowledged that the protests in Lagos, though the largest and most intimidating in numbers, were some of the most peaceful and orderly.
Where there to have been unruly acts, it remained the responsibility of the police to maintain law, he argued, sprinkling his speech with a paradox that typifies the transient relationship between politicians and the electorate in an emerging democracy such as Nigeria’s.
“Every one of us, or at least majority of us who hold public office danced and sang before these same people when we were seeking their votes. Why should we feel irritated when they sing and dance in protest against what we have done?”he asked.
As Mr. Jonathan rounded off the final batch of meetings with the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress late Sunday night, it had been clear the government would forcefully break the protests intended to continue the next morning even though the unions had announced a suspension.
Mr. Jonathan claimed there were credible evidence that the demonstrations had been hijacked by anti-government elements, and that there could be total breakdown of law and order if allowed to continue.
By early Monday morning, soldiers had taken over Ojota. Falomo, Surulere and other streets in Lagos, while adjoining states of Ogun and Oyo also received a significant military presence. Troops also patrolled the streets of Kano, Kaduna and Abuja.
Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, also condemned the troop deployment, describing it as a great betrayal and a violation of the protest against unsavoury government policies.
Professor Soyinka, “Lagos is no hotbed of BOKO HARAM, nor is it the state of this very incumbent president where leaders and comrades for whom we have the deepest respect, and with whom we still share common cause, have called openly for secession of their part of the nation and called upon others to join them. Lagos is not where heavily armed vigilantes have taken over oil wells.
“Clearly these forms of freedom of expression, even of the armed kind, are in order, since Goodluck Jonathan has not seen it as the duty of his office to invade such territories. The occupation of Lagos does no credit to this regime and must be reversed. The kindest that can be said of it is that it is an aberration produced by too many long hours of negotiation, resulting in an unclear and befogged mind.
“Until [the soldiers] are removed, Nigerians as a whole should understand that the present civic action is not over and prepare to mobilize and defend their liberty.”
The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties described the move as a“desperation”, considering there had hardly been a case of breakdown of law and order as the president claimed.
“We wish to remind President Jonathan that reckless deployment of troops is an ill wind which blows no one any good; especially in a situation in which the police can handle as in this instance,’ the group said in statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Osita Okechukwu.
In a another statement, civil society groups and notable activists, including former Kaduna state governor, Balarabe Musa, Professors Ben Nwabuze and Pat Utomi, and Lagos lawyer, Tunji Braithwaite, berated the president.
“We strongly condemn this deployment of soldiers and call for their immediate withdrawal from areas not declared to be under a state of emergency,” the group said.
In part, the denunciations came with harsh criticism of the labour unions’ decision to suspend the week-long strike.
The coalition of civil society groups disclaimed the NLC/’TUC’s position that they had been consulted ahead of the decision to call off of the strike.
“We wish to emphasize that contrary to labour’s claim, civil society was not consulted in the decisions leading up to this unacceptable position by Labour. Nigerians feel betrayed by Labour’s decision to call off the strike without achieving their minimum demand of reverting to N65.00,” it said.
The Save Nigeria Group, headed by Lagos pastor, Tunde Bakare, called the troop deployment “a clear case of intolerance and shutting of the democratic space against the people of Nigeria which must be condemned by all democrac-loving people around the world.”
All the groups have however urged their followers to obey the stay-at-home order, promising to sustain the campaign.