Occupy Nigeria, Port Harcourt, Day 1

Monday, January 9 was the commencement of the Occupy Nigeria movement here in Port Harcourt. Despite the high humidity, 50 or so demonstrators first gathered at the entrance to Isaac Boro Park under the first flyover. Even before 8 am there were professors and student representatives from the University of Port Harcourt, lawyers, businesspeople, and human rights activists together heatedly discussing the subsidy removal and making their placards.         

To galvanize the energy of the demonstrators, several leaders gave short speeches on the hardships that would be caused by the removal of the subsidy. Professor Andrew Efemini of the University of Port Harcourt argued that the subsidy had never really existed in the first place, as the price of oil is simply a political construct. Demonstration leader Celestine Akpobari of Social Action, Founder of the Ogoni Solidarity Forum, spoke about the relationship between fuel prices and corruption. By 9:30 close to 200 marchers were making their way north up Aba Road. Local police and other state security forces were present throughout, with several dozen officers in uniform and several other in plain clothes at the starting point.  Patrol vehicles drove both in front and behind the marchers along the route.

The march proceeded peacefully and even exuberantly towards Waterline, as the demonstration truck in front played dance music and protesters sang songs of solidarity. Three young men acted out scenes of starvation and thirst along the way.  Nollywood actor and director Sam Dede marched as well, and his brother spoke into the bullhorn as the demonstration truck refueled half-way through. Crowds greeting the march warmly, with almost all residents coming outside their homes to watch.  A few demonstration detractors yelled out their support of the subsidy removal as well but there were no physical altercations.  It was overall a highly peaceful event, that at one moment felt as much like a street carnival as a political demonstration. It ended at Garrison, where a total crowd of about 500 listened to speeches under the afternoon sun.  Although several people brought mats, no one camped out that night as there were rumors of demonstrators who had slept outside the night before being beaten by police. It was announced that the campaign would continue the following morning in coordination with the National Labour Congress, and that there would be a march directly to the Government House.

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