Posted in LIFE, POL TALKS

NLC RALLY: OCCUPY NIGERIA: BENUE STATE – DAY ONE

The general message was that the convergence was set for 6am at Labour House, Benue Crescent, Wadata, Makurdi. Several people had been warned not to come out for any reason other than the protests due to security reasons. In several parts of Makurdi, things were set to be business as usual. Several corporate organisations ordered their staff to go to work or risk disciplinary action. No one seemed to take anything serious. All over town, small shops were open from Ankpa Quarters to High Level and even North Bank. Black market fuel sellers were seen boldly doing their business. A lot of people wondered if anything was really going to happen at all.
Not a few people felt that Makurdi had betrayed the cause. It didn’t help matters that Simon Anchaver, the NLC Chairman was a man who had been accused of being highly corrupt and a bedfellow of the government.
Suddenly, a few security vehicles appeared on the end of Ugbokolo street, on the road leading from High Level Roundabout to the Police Station. After them, the NLC led by its banners, and officials with Anchaver at the forefront. Fela songs filled the air. Accompanying the NLC, ,were the TUC, and several other interest groups most prominent including the Benue Non-Governmental Organisation Network (BENGONET) with a great majority of her members in attendance led by Lady Shaahu (the Chair) and Mrs. Josephine Habba of Jireh Doo Foundation; Okada (commercial motorcycle) riders Association; Market men and women, students and Academic Staff of Universities’ Union (ASUU)
The NLC had converged at the Labour House as planned at 6am. There was some organisation and mapping out of plans and strategies for the day’s activities. The general module was announced: it was to be a peaceful rally that would move to High Level through Wurukum to North Bank, the Old Bridge and to Wadata again. Okada men were to lead, then those with banners and the various leaders of organisations represented were to take the lead, followed by the union vehicles, the general people. The security officials (consisting of the police and civil defence) were asked to form the rear as it wasn’t their rally. The security officials however insisted on taking the lead ahead of even the banners and all. The people didn’t argue much. Who argues with the armed in a land of stray bullets? All the police men were spotted to carry weapons with live ammunition.
The first incident of note happened a few minutes after the start of the march when some people suspected to be State Security Officials were spotted handing certain bills. A few people discovered the bills were in support of fuel subsidy removal. An alarm was raised and the men were accosted and dealt with, all their materials comprising hand bills and Compact Discs (CDs) were seized.
The march continued towards the Roundabout at Ogiri Oko road (close to the Police Headquarters), then to the High Level roundabout where there was a brief stop to address the people by the NLC chiefs. There was also a call that the people chant along Fela’s songs playing changing some parts into Tiv. It had the people chanting ‘Or mbaiv’ (Tiv for ‘thief’) in rhyme to Fela’s ‘You be Thief!’ The movement flowed on to Mr. Biggs Roundabout. There was no stop this time. As the protesters moved, people moved to those who stood by the sides, distributing bills to them and encouraging them to join the protests. The offices of corporate organisations that were shut with staff asked to go home. Meanwhile, small provision shop owners were not disturbed. Shortly after the movements started from Mr. Biggs roundabout, a few tire burners were spotted. The NLC Chairman, Anchaver called that the protesters halt. He reminded everyone that the protest was peaceful and that no form of violence was going to be entertained. He asked that the tire burners either clear the way or the protesters would take a different route. The tires were cleared and movement continued.
There was a pause at the Wurukum Roundabout where speeches from leaders of the NLC, CSOs, ASUU, and Student Union government were made. The general statements focused on showing the ills and excesses of the Federal Executive Government particularly the Presidency. Records of the expenses of the President and his allowances were read to the bewilderment of the people. There were lots of charges for the people to be strong and say ‘NO’ to the evils of government with a reverse of the price of pump price back to sixty-five naira or lower. The Nigerian National anthem was sang. Next, the songs of ‘Or mbaiv’ and Fela’s ‘You be thief’ filled the air.
The protesters faced the New Bridge, the police ahead. At the end of the bridge, there was a large group of youths standing by the road and just watching. There was some confusion as the protesters did not know to whose camp the group belonged. They seemed more of an anti-protest team. There was a silent nearly unnoticeable slowing in the movements of the protesters. There seemed no need for the fear as the youths turned out to be North Bank youths who had heard about the protests and decided to wait for the rally to reach them. They gave shouts of protests and quickly pledged their solidarity singing Fela’s songs with a strange pronunciation of the ‘if’ for ‘ip’ making their chants ‘You be thip.’ The North Bank group formed an advance team and went ahead of the security officials singing their chants. The movement of the protesters changed as the slow turned into a jog.
At the Court Five junction, the security officials accosted some tattered suspicious looking men with some bags riding bikes. Most people pointed out that the men looked like ‘Boko Haram’ members especially with their unkempt hair, dirty dusty looks, and filled bags. The police searched them and not finding anything on them, let them go after apologising.
The protesters stopped at the NASME Barracks junction for some more addresses which were carried out by more leaders from represented groups. The advance group moved first followed by the Security officials then the formation of the protesters who started from the beginning. They passed the timber shed, St. Mary’s then made another stop close to the North Bank mosque. More addresses were made. Another drama occurred as a car bearing ‘PRESS CREW: OFFICE OF THE FIRST LADY, BENUE STATE’ tried to pass through the crowd. Some people scared the occupants and after fear shown, the people scaring them simply laughed and continued with their protest movements. A lady passing on a bike also had a lot of men grab her buttocks. The songs at this point were mainly calling the President Goodluck Jonathan ‘Bad luck.’ The security officials looked very tired at this point and they all seemed to have their ways to their vehicles. They were no longer ahead of the protesters but behind them.
The movement continued onto the Old Bridge where a lot of people marvelled at the inscription indicating it had been built in 1932. There was a stop at the roundabout close to the General Post Office for more addresses. The Okada representatives made the most prominent speech saying they wanted the government to make things right for them (okada) as they were tired of stealing and atrocities and wanted to live an honest life which they believed only better governance would bring. The protesters moved through to the Post office, passing onto Wadata. In Wadata (most inhabited by Hausas), most of the chants were ‘Sai Buhari.’ Shouts of ‘We voted Buhari and you people gave us bad luck’ rent the air.
At some point in the movement, some of the security officials left the rally. They appeared at this point, most exhausted. They reported that while the protest was going on, some armed robbers and cultists were operating in some parts of High Level. The security officials had tackled them and enjoined in a chase. Sixteen suspects had been caught.
The fatigue was telling on a lot of people at this point. The movement stopped at the Labour house where several closing speeches were made from the CSOs, Student Union Government and NLC. There was a general call that Benue people get prepared to OCCUPY as there was no stopping till the government reversed the price of petrol to sixty-five naira or lower. There were also several calls for transparency in government. It was Mrs. Josephine Habba that stole the show this time. She called for the people to note that the basic need for the protests was for the children and children’s children to come. She said the children of most big men and government people usually stayed abroad and would not fill the pains of the people. Therefore, there was a need for children in Nigeria to feel at home. Mrs. Habba continued that no government official had joined the protests because they have no need to complain as most of their needs were met by the monies stolen from the Nigerian masses. There was therefore a need to OCCUPY Nigeria and Benue and keep it intact! She got a thunderous applause. She wasn’t the only one with the applause as the police were specially commended for being very peaceful and nice. It was noted that in addition to maintaining peace and order, the police had been very polite and nice even to giving lifts to protesters who were fatigued at different points. A general applause was made for the police. It would seem the police seemed to have noticed that they are part of the masses and unfortunate tools used by government against their fellow masses – a stand they had decided to change.
The NLC Chairman, Simon Anchaver announced that pending any directive or negotiation from President Goodluck Jonathan, the protests would begin by 8am at the Wadata house. He saluted the mammoth and now reenergised crowd for their commitment. He said though the protests were coming to a pause for the day, day two of the protests would have no pause. Anchaver called on protesters to bring along food, water, two pants (for the ladies), and other necessaries as there were plans to sleep out till President Jonathan changed his mind.
Everyone dispersed charged, promising to be back on the second day with all they could.
Reports suggest that only Makurdi was active in the protests with other parts of the state being hardly affected. There were reports of businesses going on as usual in Gboko with only car stops being mounted in Katsina-ala. The general telephone networks seemed to have coincidental network problems with calls and text messages being able to come in, calling out or texting imp0ssible. Only MTN had all the services available. This caused people to think there was a deliberate plan to inhibit communication.
Soon after the rally, the streets were empty with very few people about. However, by six o’clock, the whole town came to life with all night economic activities taking full force. Petrol sellers and black marketers were in force along with eateries, cyber cafes and other private shops. One might have thought that the Makurdi people have decided to sacrifice their mornings to the protest only to regain it all back with force at night.

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