Day Three of the nationwide strike and protests against the withdrawal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government turned out to be a violent one as rioters burnt down the Minna, Niger State office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Soldiers were called in as the rioters also burnt the campaign office of Governor Babangida Mua’zu Aliyu and killed a police inspector who was said to be appealing to them not to carry out their action. He was stoned to death.
The convoy of Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Iliyasu Bashar, ran into the protesters who mistook him for the Kebbi State Governor Saidu Dakingari and attacked his vehicles. No one was injured.
Obviously reacting to the reports of violence across the country, the Federal Government yesterday warned protesters that they would face the law.
A statement signed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, read: “It has come to the attention of the government that some persons or group of persons are perpetuating criminal activities under the guise of participating in the on-going demonstration against the subsidy removal policy of the government.
“Since the demonstration began on Monday, 9th January 2012, these persons have among other things engaged in arson, wanton destruction of lives and property, as well as making unguarded statements bordering on treason with a view to overwhelming the government. As a result, several state governors have imposed curfew in their respective states in order to prevent further breakdown of law and order.
“While government recognises the right of Nigerians to peaceful demonstration, it will not fold its arms or stand idly by, while the current situation deteriorates into a state of general insecurity.
Henceforth, government will not hesitate to bring to bear, the full weight of the law on erring persons or group of persons howsoever called that engage in any act that threatens the peace and stability of the country or its corporate existence.
“Government reiterates its earlier position that those who have genuine grievances as a result of the implementation of the fuel subsidy removal should express such grievances within the confines of the law and dispute resolution mechanisms as established by law.”
After killing the policeman in Minna, the rioters also burnt 10 cars and smashed the windscreens of 15 Hilux Pick-up trucks parked at the INEC premises before setting the office ablaze.
Confirming the development, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Richard Oguche (ASP), said: “It is true we lost one Inspector to the hoodlums at INEC. For now, I don’t know and I cannot give details of victims. All I know is that we lost one Inspector at INEC office.”
Also at Democracy Garden along Ketegwari Road, the rioters destroyed the garden before invading the old secretariat where parked vehicles were damaged.
Another group of rioters that stormed the Minna office complex of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) along the Old Airport Road burnt eight vehicles in the complex, while the neighbouring office complex belonging to Niger State Development Company was also torched.
Reports from Bosso in Bosso Local Government Area of the state also said that the house of the Special Adviser to the governor on Security Matters, Honourable James Bitachi, was vandalised.
Following this massive destruction, the state government imposed a 24-hour curfew in all the 25 local government areas.
This was contained in a statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Daniel Shashere, yesterday.
“Miscreants and hoodlums have decided to take the laws into their hands by creating burn fires on the streets of Minna and torching public and private properties.
“Following this ugly development, government has a responsibility to protect lives and property and therefore decided to impose 24 hours curfew with immediate effect in all the 25 local government areas of the state.
“Only persons on essential services who should carry proper identification are exempted from this order. Other citizens are warned to stay indoors until further notice,” he said.
The situation in Minna forced the state government to call for armed soldiers to take over some strategic areas of the state capital.
A team of armed soldiers were also detached to the Government House, while the major roads leading to the governor’s residence are being manned by a combined team of soldiers, policemen and State Security Service (SSS).
The residence of Senator Dahiru Awaisu Kuta would have gone down in flames too but for the timely intervention of some of his neighbours.
The two cars and a motorcycle parked in front of the senator’s house were set on fire.
Also torched was the Constituency Office of Hon. Jumai Jafaru-Mariga along Bosso Road.
At about 11am, gunshots were heard along the Bosso Road – a stone throw to the Government House, while similar gunshots were reported in Chanchaga and Kpakungu areas of the state capital.
Some of the protesters blamed their actions on the radio and television announcement made by the Head of Service, Ibrahim Matane, directing civil servants to return to work.
Speaking with the state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Yahaya Ndako, he dissociated the congress from the activities of the rioters.
Meanwhile, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has blamed the Federal Government and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for employing tactics to divide the ranks of labour, civil society and their opposition party allies in order to scuttle the popular uprising.
The National Secretary of CPC, Alhaji Buba Galadima, said Wednesday in a telephone interview with THISDAY that no amount of coercion or blackmail could stop the protest except government agrees to reverse the pump price of fuel and engage the people on how to tackle corruption and inefficiency in governance.
“This is the normal tactics used by the PDP-led Federal Government to try to break the ranks of the opposition and also to coerce members of the organised labour to abandon their protest against unpopular policy,” he said.
Galadima said government must know that the fuel subsidy protest had now gone beyond labour union issue and that every Nigerian is affected by the measure.
He said CPC members are Nigerians and as such should be concerned by any issue that affects the well-being of the people.
He also said that the CPC as an opposition party has the right to show solidarity with the people when their interest are being hurt.
“CPC members are Nigerians. There is nothing wrong if the party decides to use the opportunity of public demonstration and protests against unpopular policies to gain power,” he said.
However, Galadima said it is not true that CPC or the opposition has hijacked the protest as was being alleged by government but that party members had joined in the demonstrations as Nigerians.
“We have gone beyond labour and it is no longer within the powers of labour leaders alone to stop the protest. Federal Government must have to revert to the original pump price of fuel. It has to also be ready to discuss other issues relating to corruption and how best the subsidy money would be utilised,” he added.