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Fuel subsidy removal:Protests rage in Abuja, Lagos, Kano

Published by Daily Trust on Tue, 03 Jan 2012

*Police fire teargas*Transport fares rocket*IBB: This is ill-timedThousands of people attended rallies in Abuja, Lagos and Kano yesterday to protest removal of fuel subsidy which heaved up petrol prices to as much as N160 per litre in parts of the country.The Federal Government on Sunday announced scrapping subsidy on petrol, with regulator agency PPPRA fixing the price per litre at about N144, up from N65.Yesterday, there was anger around the country as fuel stations adjust their pumps to various prices ranging from N138 to as much as N160 per litre, leading to rocketing of transport fares by more than 100 per cent.In Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Ibadan, Bauchi, Minna, Gusau, Kano, Kaduna, Gombe and other places surveyed by our correspondents, commuters were seen paying prices that were double what obtained previously to get to their destinations.Elder statesmen, opposition leaders, political parties, lawmakers, unionists and rights groups condemned the subsidy removal, which they say will worsen living conditions in the country.Former military president General Ibrahim Babangida issued a statement faulting the move, saying it was ill-timed and should not have been abruptly implemented.'The issue of subsidy should be seen more as politics and not economics, because the sole purpose of government is for the good of the people and not to create hardship,' Babangida said in a statement issued on his behalf by spokesman Kassim Afegbua.'It is better to seek political solution to the subsidy discourse than invoking the sentiments of economics. Government should have kept its word till April by which time better explanation would have been given before implementation takes effect.'The National Assembly should have been made to be part of the decision-making process since the 2012 budget is yet to be discussed and passed by the Legislature. Every government should ordinarily take the interest of her people at heart so that the reason for its existence would be justified.'In Abuja, protesters mobilized via social networking sites Facebook and Twitter by ex-lawmaker Dino Melaye, gathered at the Eagle Square yesterday to sign a protest register.Soon after the registration of names started, the Commander of the Guards Brigade Brig. Gen. Emmanule Atewe, FCT Director of State Security Service and the FCT Commissioner of Police Mr. Mike Zuokumor arrived at the square with a detachment of personnel from the Anti-Terrorism Squad.They were overheard talking about using teargas to disperse the crowd, some of who held placards that read: 'Now we know the real Boko Haram.'As 361 people registered, police began firing teargas at the crowd. They also arrested many people, including Dino Melaye and journalist Abdulwasiu Hassan of Daily Trust, who were taken to Zone 3 Police Station before being moved to the office of the Abuja Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).Soldiers from the Brigade of Guards also held some journalists hostage for about two hours.Earlier, Melaye told journalists that he organized the register against fuel subsidy because the Presidency had graduated from being a weak entity to a wicked institution.'When the President promised fresh air, is this what he means' It is very wicked for Federal Government to remove fuel subsidy,' he said. 'This protest is not going to be violent'. If by tomorrow (the president) refuses to revert to status quo, we will give him Egyptian treatment. Let the President go and fight corruption.'The arrested Daily Trust reporter was released last night, but Melaye was still in detention by 7pm though our reporter learnt that he was billed to be released later.In Kano, youths took to the streets to protest government's removal of fuel subsidy.The protesters marched from BUK Road through Gadon Kaya, Sani Mainagge and Sabon Titi in Kano city towards the Government House displaying placards with various anti-subsidy removal slogans.They later dispersed when they were told that Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso was not at the Government House.Aminu Yau Muhammad, who led hundreds of youths in the demonstration, said their action was to show their anger over the government's policy which he said had no backing of Nigerians. He vowed that they would not relent in their efforts to see that the policy is reversed.He said ordinary Nigerians are grappling with economic hardship but have woken up to hear the government increasing fuel price thereby increasing their sufferings.Also, the National Association of Kano State Students (NAKSS) gave the Federal Government a 24-hour ultimatum to rescind its decision or face non-violent riot.Led by their national president Baraya Hassan Garba, the students told newsmen in Kano that they would not accept anything other than the government to rescind its decision.'We are ready to go to war over this unpopular policy; the fuel subsidy removal clearly shows that Nigerian government is completely insensitive to the plight of Nigerians; and the earlier the government rescinds the decision the better,' Baraya said.Similar protest rallies were also held in Lagos.The Federal Government yesterday reacted to the protests, urging Nigerians to disregard any calls to demonstrations against fuel subsidy removal.Information Minister Labaran Maku, in a statement in Abuja, said the deregulation policy was not aimed at causing hardship for Nigerians but targeted at opening the sector to growth and investment.He said the government was taking measures to check the hike in the price of fuel beyond the approved levels.Meanwhile, the government also set up a board that would manage funds saved from subsidy removal.The Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme Board is headed by Dr. Christopher Kolade, while former Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Salihu Modibbo Alfa Belgore is to lead a dialogue committee to meet with labour and all other stakeholders.Retired Major-General Mamman Kontagora will serve as deputy chairman of the Kolade board.The board will include two representatives of the National Assembly, two representatives of organized labour, one representative of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), one representative of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, one representative of women groups, one representative of youths, one representative of civil society organizations, Minister of Finance, the Minister of National Planning, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, the Minister of State for Health, the Special Adviser to the President on Technical Matters, and six other individuals from the six geo-political zones, three of whom will be women.'The mandate of the board shall be to oversee the fund in the petroleum subsidy savings account, and the programme specifically to improve the quality of life of Nigerians in line with the Transformation agenda of Mr. President,' presidential spokesman Reuben Abati said.
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