In Excerpts from an interview with prominent Activist Yinka Odumakin, he opened up on the 2012 National Protest that rocked the Nation when former president Goodluck Jonathan announced removal of fuel subsidy. He also compares the government then to this current administration by President Buhari.
On January 2, 2012, a series of protests called Occupy Nigeria, started across the country which lasted for five days. It was a socio-political protest movement that started in response to the fuel subsidy removal by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday, January 1, 2012. The use of social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook was believed to have played a prominent role in the mobilisation of people for the protests.
The government had argued that the removal of fuel subsidy would free up funds for other public services, including health, education and infrastructural projects, and that the liberalisation of the fuel industry would benefit the economy on the long run. According to government officials, the primary beneficiaries of the subsidy were wealthy Nigerians, who used more fuel than the poor, and some of whom allegedly profited from selling the subsidised fuel outside the country. Fuel subsidy was considered by many Nigerians as one of the few benefits they received from successive governments, which they largely viewed as corrupt and inefficient to successfully manage the affairs the country. Nigeria is one the world’s largest producer of oil, but it imports most of the refined petroleum products its people use. Also, the per capita income in Nigeria is one of the worst in the world. Therefore, many citizens did not trust their leaders to spend the funds freed up from the subsidy removal on other public services as the government had promised. The subsidy removal had led to an increase in the cost of Premium Motor Spirit, otherwise called petrol, from N65 per litre to N141 per litre.
However, today, petrol is sold for about N145 per litre after the current government under President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016 increased its price from N86.50, saying that it was the only way out of the exorbitant prices of N150 to N250 Nigerians were subjected to at many filling stations across the country. The current administration had also identified many social protection programmes in the 2016 budget to cushion the effect the hike might have on Nigerians, but there was no protest when that happened.
The 2012 Occupy Nigeria, which was organised by Save Nigeria Group, seems to be one of the most coordinated and widely participated protests in the history of Nigeria. In this interview with ADEMOLA OLONILUA, a major player in the mobilisation of the protests, who was in charge of logistics and other tasks, Yinka Odumakin, talks about how it was done.
How did the Occupy Nigeria movement in January 2012 happen?
It was not something that was planned. At the time, there were consultations going on between the government and groups to resolve issues concerning the proposed removal of fuel subsidy and we had a town hall meeting in Lagos, where Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Coordinating Minister for the Economy) and the rest of them were in attendance. However, suddenly, we heard the news that government had increased the fuel price. And this issue had been going on for a long time because I remember the first time I participated in this subsidy issue was when I was a student at the University of Ife in 1986. There was a time the then military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, increased fuel price from 42 kobo per litre to 60 kobo per litre. We did not know that we had not seen anything yet. It happened that we were having our convocation in the university around December in 1986 and Babangida was meant to pay a visit to the school, but he sent a representative in the person of Admiral Patrick Koshoni, who was his Chief of Naval Staff. We protested the increase in fuel price on that day and chanted several slogans, especially one from Haruna Ishola, which we made a remix of. It was a peaceful protest but it became horrid towards the end of the convocation as the students did not allow Koshoni to leave with the then governor of Oyo State, Tunji Olurin, so the soldiers had to use tear gas to disperse the students and in anger, the students began to throw stones at the soldiers. It became so rowdy that Koshoni had to abandon the helicopter that brought him to the university sports centre and leave in Olurin’s car. A few days after that event, the government banned the students’ union activities there because of what happened. Since the school authorities had no one to hold responsible, they picked me up because I was the editor-in-chief of the campus magazine and we heavily criticised the government. They picked up about 10 of us from my editorial team and some other two persons. The 12 of us were suspended without any formal hearing from the school board. We went to court to challenge the suspension and we won in court.
During those five days of protests, a lot of insults were hurled at the former President, Goodluck Jonathan. Was that really necessary to pass the message across?
It was a festival of the oppressed and the disenchanted and when that happened, all kinds of outburst would come out but give it to Jonathan; nobody was arrested unlike what we have today. In fact, if we have that kind of gathering today, government would move tanks to the venue. Look at what they did to the Shiites; they killed them mercilessly. Some people cannot kill animals like that let alone human beings. I recall that in 2015 when Jonathan was leaving office, AIT had a programme and I was invited as a speaker. I said that our country would be lucky if the next President to succeed Jonathan would have his temperament because he remains the most abused president of Nigeria but nobody went to jail and no one was killed because of it. Look at what they are doing to Senator Dino Melaye today; when the All Progressives Congress was campaigning in 2015 and Melaye was in their party, he went everywhere and there was nothing he did not say against Jonathan and there was no consequence. Can someone do that today?
Occupy Nigeria protest ended abruptly when the government sent soldiers to disperse the protesters. Do you think that was the right thing for the government to have done?
No, it was not. The soldiers did not just come like that, instead; we decided after the fifth day that we should have a break. Also, we nursed this serious fear that there would be a stampede, so we decided to have a break and return. It was while we were on break that the soldiers took over the place before we got back. Prior to that, all through the period, we were not harassed by any law enforcement agent. You cannot dare to hold a protest for a day with this government in power. For instance, see the people they were using, like Bring Back Our Girls, that used the Unity Fountain, Abuja. Many of them did not know that they were being used. They were used as part of the APC propaganda in 2015; they danced all day while protesting but there was never a day that Jonathan ordered that law enforcement agents should disperse them. Recently, they were flogged out of the place. That shows you the quasi-military administration that we have now. We have got to a point that Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria has come out to announce that this would be their government for the next four years. It shows that this country is in trouble.
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