President Goodluck Jonathan has deployed hundreds of gun-wielding soldiers on the streets of Lagos in a desperate bid to forestall peaceful protests scheduled to continue today.
Through reports filed by citizen reporters affiliated with Saharareporters it was gathered that the armed soldiers have taken positions in such spots as Ikeja, Ikoyi, Surulere and Ojota as well as other spots where thousand of Nigerians have poured out in protest the government sharp increase in price of petrol. About 16 check points and barricades have been been mounted around the Gani Fawehinmi Park in Ojota according to reports.
The deployment of soldiers comes on the heels of Mr. Jonathan’s planned broadcast Monday morning in which he will announce the reduction of fuel prices to N97 a liter.
In the address, the text of which has already been published in full by Saharareporters, President Jonathan takes an unusually harsh tone towards the protesters.
In an interview moments ago, one of the leaders of the protest movement said that the protests have been held in peaceful atmosphere, but added that President Jonathan appears ready to use force against peace-loving Nigerians. They vowed to make an appearance at the venue today regardless of the presence of the soldiers. Seun Kuti, the son of Afrobeat maestro Fela Anikulapo-Kuti sent an sms to Saharareporters that he will be at the rally today.
A protest leader told SaharaReporters, “We want to make clear that President Jonathan would be held responsible for any casualty that results from his decision to unleash soldiers on unarmed and peaceful protesters who are merely demanding accountability and transparency from their leaders”. He further noted that officers of the Nigerian police have so far killed about 20 protesters in different parts of the country, he vowed that Nigerians would never let the victims of police brutality die in vain”
Another protest leader expressed dismay and disappointment with the decision of trade union leaders to unilaterally call off street protests on account some purported security concerns.
He added that some of the in the movement had received speculations all week that the government was offering a variety of financial and other material inducement to labour leaders in order to compromise them.
He stated that, “it would be extremely hard for any compromised labour leader to hoodwink Nigerians who are now determined to seize the opportunity to question the greed as well as ineptitude other so-called leaders”
In his speech, Aregbeshola warned that it is likely that some top military officers may exploit this crisis in the country and attempt to overthrow the present government of President Goodluck Jonathan
He said: “For those conversant with Nigerian history, this is the point that opportunistic elements in the military stage treason and undermine the democratic order. Although given our immediate past experience and the ignominious exit of the soldiers from governance almost 13 years ago, one can argue that a military putsch is unlikely”.
Condemning the manner the fuel subsidy removal protest has been hijacked in some states by politicians for selfish purposes, Aregbeshola warned that any attempt to take over government by the military will be strongly resisted by the Nigerian people.
He further argued that the most benevolent military regime is worst than the most corrupt democratic government anywhere in the world and so Nigerians must be allowed to resolve their crisis without military intervention.
“The right to protest and form a counterpoise against the government is God-given and inalienable. As long there is power, there will always be opposition to that power. This is what defined the life and time of Chief Gani Fawehinmi who we are celebrating today. But that right carries with it a great responsibility. It is left for us all to ensure that the current situation is not hijacked by opportunists who always rode on the back of popular sentiment to foster their own agenda and that this does not lead to an outcome we never expected.
“We must have history as our guide here. Democracy anywhere is an unfinished business. There is no problem emanating from democracy that democracy cannot fix. What we need therefore is more democracy. While the former is avoidable and can be fixed, the later is a common occurrence even in established democracies.
“The United States, the bastion of democracy, has had its fair share of crises. At the time of its independence in 1776, it was a slave owning society and women had no right to vote until 1920. It fought a civil war and two world wars. It however has never faltered from democracy. Indeed, in spite of its having the most deadly military machine, there has never even been a remote consideration of military incursion in all its crises moments.
“South Africa for almost a century practised the abominable apartheid regime and went through much upheaval, including global ostracism and insurgency but at no time was the military ever engaged in governance.
“The lesson from this is that what we need is deepening of democracy. By this we must contend for the ability to put the right person in office in a free and fair election and vote out any leader that is not carrying his people along at the next available opportunity. We must also learn to intelligently engage the policy process in a way that will give us influence and control as a people.”
The guest lecturer at the event, Prof. Omotoye Olorode aligned himself with the position of Egnr. Aregbeshola but insisted that only the people can abolish bad government through legitimate protest.
He warned that there is a calculated attempt by some world powers through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to perpetually oppress and suppress the Nigerian people through policies that are meant to impoverish the masses.
Olorode also advised civil society and the organisers of the current mass protest across the country to use pamphlet to sensitise the people a