FUEL SUBSIDY: HOW PROTESTS STUNNED KWANKWASO'S GOVT
BY ABDULSALAM MUHAMMAD
UNTIL lately, Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso's administration commanded total respect among most of Kano State's nine million people. He came in through a popular mandate in 2011 after a spirited attempt for a second term in office in 2003. No one questioned his authority. The former Defence minister's word was law and binding on all especially at the Government House, Kano.
However, penultimate week, the nationwide protests occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy tainted Kwankwaso's record of total grip of events in the last seven months as governor.
In the beginning
Kano has a history of age long resistance to anti-Talakawa agenda and boasts of philosophers, radicals and political icons such as late Malam Aminu Kano, Malam Abubakar Muhammad Rimi and Sabon Bakin Zuwo to mention a few, who committed their lives to promoting to the emancipation of the oppressed down trodden in the society.
The struggle of these political icons no doubt played a pivotal role in building an enduring legacy and consciousness among the populace and had over the years made it easier for people to rise up to resist any government policy or programme they consider anti people.
Thus, the tremendous success recorded by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) during the last nationwide industrial action over the removal of fuel subsidy by the President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration was not a surprise.
The turn out of people for NLC rally in Kano was massive. Major streets witnessed huge crowd of protesters, who defied the harsh harmattan weather to register their opposition to the Federal Government unpopular policy, and thereby stretched the resilience of the state government.
Men and women including housewives in Purdah, young and old were all part of the multitude that made history during the week long protests.
Interestingly, an indication of what to expect emerged early. While the NLC was still trying to convene a meeting to take a common stand, student groups in the city mobilized and staged a peaceful protest.
But the story took a new dimension when Organised Labour ordered street protests across the country. Civil society and student groups and other pseudo bodies stormed Kano's strategic City Centre en_mass and occupied it to the angst of the authority and security agents in the city.
In no time, the City Centre made up an expanse of land lying between Silver Jubilee Roundabout and Gidan Murtala became thick with human population and was renamed Freedom Square by the enraged protesters.
Most of the new occupants of Freedom Square came with mats, cooking utensils and generator sets among others and requested those who could not made it to supply them with foodstuff and other essentials to keep them there while the occupation lasted.
In line with their demand, public spirited individuals responded positively. And as the population swelled the authority deployed well armed security agents to the square.
Anger on the streets
Sequel to this development, there was a publication in one of the local dailies that tend to portray the Kwankwaso- led administration as supporting the removal of subsidy and by implication tactically succeeded in knocking the head of the protesters against his regime.
The anger over Kwankwaso's alleged support for the removal of the subsidy hardly died down when the Vigilante Group backed by the Nigerian Police broke up the crowd that invaded the City Centre .
The incident occurred around 1.30am local time Thursday morning while substantial part of the multitude were asleep at the centre after a covenant was signed between Muslims and their Christian brothers on right to worship.
Eyewitness told Vanguard that the police fired several canister of teargas at the sleeping crowd before unleashing violence on them.
The account had it that in the ensuing confusion, about 42 protesters sustained varying degrees of injury, while six were arrested and subsequently released on intervention by leaders of the protesters.
Vanguard learnt that the Costa Bus belonging to the BUK Students Union Government (SUG) was vandalized in the unprovoked attack, while hundreds of motorcycles belonging to the tenants of the Square were seized by the police. And the action of the police triggered tension and uneasy calm in the entire city.
Unconfirmed reports had it that the police had promised to compensate the BUK students over their loss but efforts to confirm this from their leader, Comrade Muhammad Hamisu failed as he could not be reached on his cell phone.
On his part, the Police Public Relations officer in Kanp, ASP Magaji Musa Majia told Vanguard that the security forces were compelled by exigencies to break up the protesting ground when it became clear that hoodlums had infiltrated the rank and file of the protesters.
While the Government was trying to control the situation, the Chairman, Kano NLC, Isa Inusa Danguguwa seized the gauntlet and thrust himself as a man of the moment dictating the pace with the full support of the protesters that had taken Kano hostage.
In one of the bloody encounters during the week long crisis, security forces had to open fire on a group that launched an attack at Kano Government House, deploying four APCs backed by 200 strong personnel in a combat operation that lasted about two hours.
The encounter left on it's trail death, destruction and injury as no fewer than five persons were feared dead and 44 others were injured.
Also, the adjourning Cabinet office that accommodate the office of the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Rabiu Suleiman Bichi was torched while no fewer than 50 cars in the compound were reduced to ashes.
At the Murtala Specialist Hospital, the Chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association, Kano chapter, Dr Daiyabu Alhaji told reporters that over 15 persons were placed on admission and were being treated of gunshot wounds.
Daiyabu Alhaji stated that most of some of those injured were wheeled to the theatre for procedures to remove pallets lodged within their kidney region.
At Abdullahi Wase Specialist Hospital, no fewer than 14 persons were admitted for injuries sustained during the attack.
The Executive Secretary, Red Cross Society of Nigeria in Kano, Musa Danladi Abdullahi told reporters that 14 persons were brought to the Hospital midday, adding that seven sustained gunshot injuries.
Civil society groups said that AbdulMalik Rabiu Badawa, 29 and Bashir Musa Zango, 27 lost their live while effort was being made to ascertain the true identity of others killed.
In its defense over the tragic shooting, Kano Police Command said only one person died and seven were wounded including policemen during the clash.
The Police Commissioner, Ibrahim Idris told reporters in his office that no fewer than 24 people were arrested during an encounter with 'hoodlums that tried to raze down Kano Government House.'
Ibrahim Idris revealed that he had deployed over 200 officers and 4 Armoured Personnel Carrier to secure the seat of power, adding that his men came under attack by 'criminal gang' that pulled down Government House perimeter fence.
He revealed that about 30 vehicles were burnt down by the 'criminal gang' during the assault, pointing out that the office of the Secretary to the State Government was also vandalized by the rioters.
According to the police, 'the NLC rally went on peacefully at Race Course, we were surprised when some criminal gang hid under the guise of the protest to launch a vicious attack on the Kano State Government House leaving seven persons including security personnel injured.'
Unfortunately, the backlash of the police encounter with the protesters worsened Kwankwaso's relationship with the masses and threw up NLC chairman, Isa Inusa Danguguwa, who temporarily directed events in Kano as an emergency power broker.
Thus, for the seven days the industrial action lasted, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was just a pretender to the throne, his popular red cap insignia and his red cap supporters disappeared from the scene while Danguguwa dictated proceedings to the detriment of the elected officials.