Africa: Season of protests in Abuja

Nigerians are very famous for their innate capacity to absorb shocks of any kind, including those emanating from irrational and insensitive political leadership.

However, this rare quality of “suffering and smiling” seems to be waning due to the economic crisis in the country. Nigerians appear to have started revealing the ‘lion nature that is residual in the lamb’ going by recent emotional outburst demonstrated in different forms, on different occasions and at different locations within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

It has become very glaring that some people are already losing their patience while their latitude for tolerance is also beginning to get shorter. . In recent days, the evergreen ambience of Abuja has severally been disturbed by people who appear hungry and angry.
They believe that ventilating their anger may be risky, but remaining silent in their predicament holds more danger.

Their decision to step out of their timid cocoon and hold accountable those at the corridors of power resulted into a harvest of protests in the city. Some of the protesters looked like horrible pretenders, procured by some covert government agents to come and sing the praises of their paymasters.

This category of protesters only come out to shout to the admiration of their ‘contractors’, collect their miserable handouts and disperse to their various homes to face the same injustice they came to march against. There were also other groups who appeared rather genuine and on a mission to right a wrong.

They consisted largely of civil servants who damned the consequences of their action and decided to show their displeasure over the non-challant attitude of their ministries and agencies’ management over their welfare in the midst of economic downturn that has unleashed so much pain and anguish on the masses.

In essence, the protests were demonstrations of loss of confidence on the leadership of the various institutions and an apparent disapproval of certain policies and programmes of the present administration. Staff protest The staff of the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing recently carried out a peaceful demonstration meant to draw the attention of the public to the bleak future that awaits them and their offsprings following the alleged insensitivity of their employers to their welfare.

During the protest, activities at the Mabushi headquarters of the ministry were grounded. All the major roads leading to the place were barricaded by the angry workers who believed that the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola had not shown enough commitment to their welfare since he became the helmsman of the “super” ministry.

The protesters were seen carrying various placards which had inscriptions such as, “We are not slaves in this ministry;” “Fashola, treat workers with respect;” “No training, no welfare, no salary.” One of the protesters, who declined to mention his name, accused the minister of destroying the structure of the ministry, and installing his own structure which he brought from Lagos.

The union leaders, Mr. Aliu Abdulazeez, Chairman and Mr. Sam Ape, Secretary of National Civil Service Union, FMPWH, respectively were reported to have been arrested and detained over the protest. However, Inside Abuja could not get the comments of the minister or his aides on the grievances of the workers.

Legislative aides protest
The National Assembly also had its fair share of the anger-letting protests.
Recently, legislative aides to both the Senators and members of the House of Representatives discarded the decorum which the NASS environment is known for and carried out a peaceful protest to demand for the arrears of the salaries and allowances. The legislative aides, who gathered as early as 8a.m., chanted solidarity songs as they demanded for the payment of the monies they are being owed which runs to over N1.5 billion.

Inside Abuja reliably gathered that the protesters had planned to disrupt the day’s plenary at both the Red and Green Chambers, but for the quick intervention of some emissary sent to pacify them. The protest, however delayed the plenary, since the federal lawmakers appeared to be conscious of their security than the message of the protesting aides.
Some of the protesting aides explained to newsmen that they resorted to the protest after the management of the National Assembly failed to fulfil its promises to pay up owed salaries and entitlements.

They, however, warned that their next protest would be targeted at the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, should the management refuse to honour its promises of settling the salary arrears. One of the protesters, who simply identified himself as Kingsley, told newsmen that many of their colleagues had endured different forms of hardship due to non- payment of their entitlements.

However, President of the National Assembly Legislative Aides Forum (NASSLAF), Comrade Samuel Melaye, has claimed ignorance of the protest, saying he only heard about it after it had been held. Melaye confirmed that some of his members were still being owed salaries and allowances but explained that there were assurances from the National Assembly management that funds will soon be made available to cover all monies owed legislative aides.

Public Complaints Commission
The protest from the staff of the acclaimed Ombudsman and the mouthpiece of the masses in the event of administrative injustice was the one that created more confusion in the mind of the people. The PCC staff protest is hard revelation that shows how the Nigeria society is gradually sliding into the abyss of helplessness. Inside Abuja learnt that there has been an internal squabble between the staff and management over welfare and conditions of service.

However, these grievances have always been suppressed by some internal mechanism that seems to shield any act of injustice that concerns the commission from the public. The protesting staff allegedly defied the management’s pleas to suspend any action capable of making the public lose confidence in the commissions mandate.

The protesters, who sealed the organisation’s headquarters in the Maitama District of Abuja, lamented that since January 2016, their salaries have been paid on percentages. Some of them carried placards with inscriptions saying, “Take us back to presidency”; “We protest patent of half salary.”

A press release jointly signed by the Chairman of the Joint Union of Civil Servants in the commission, Ogunyando Joshua and his deputy, Dorcas John, noted that “the grim situation began with the payment of workers’ salaries on percentages. “When the management of the commission was confronted to explain the unsolicited fragmented salaries, it was made known that the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, the Ministry of Finance and the National Assembly against every known rationale and logic insensitively handed the Commission N2 billion only as its 2016 budgetary allocation, signifying a far-reaching departure from the N4 billion approved for the Commission in the 2015 fiscal year.”

The protesters complained that they have been subjected to living from hand to mouth, because of a 50 per cent slash in their salaries. They threatened that unless the situation was reversed, they would not return to work. It is worrisome that whereas PCC has the mandate to investigate all manner of injustices against individual citizens, employees of the agency, have become victims of purported injustice, a situation that leaves the public with no place to seek redress for any act of injustice done to them.

A little twist was introduced into the atmosphere of protests as a mammoth crowd of protesters poured out into the streets in support of some government officials and denounced their critics. The demonstrators sang the praises of President Muhammadu Buhari, Mr. Goodwin Emefiele, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the entire economic team of the present administration.

The groups’ view was that all the protests that have been going on in the country to condemn the policies of the government that have purportedly thrown the people into untold hardship were misinformed and misdirected. Leader of the groups, Mr. Etuk Bassey Williams, who addressed the press, stated that the economic recession being experienced in Nigeria was not peculiar to the country, as many nations of the world were also having their fair share of the global economic meltdown.

The protesters brandished placards with inscriptions, such as: “We stand with Buhari and Emefiele” Emeifele and PMB, the peoples’ choice”, “ Recession will soon end” and “Naira will soon bounce back”. Williams noted that the CBN Governor cannot be held responsible for the continued plummeting of the value of naira, he argued that the present prevailing negative tendencies on the economy was as a result of lack of prudence and proper planning by successive leaders.

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