Whatever prompted scores of women in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, to take to the streets to protest on Tuesday was no doubt serious. Similarly, any circumstance that could make a couple less inclined to perform an important marital obligation cannot be less serious.
The women, mostly married, stormed the office of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company near the Isaac Adaka Boro Park in Port Harcourt to protest the poor power supply which they claimed had taken a toll on activities in the ‘other room’.
The angry women came from the Mile 2 and Mile 3 axis of Diobu, a densely populated area in the state capital with poor urban planning. Checks showed that most of the residential buildings in the area lacked adequate ventilation.
The aggrieved women had gathered on Dim Street, matching through Wokoma lane, then Wokoma Street, Ojoto, Obaziolu, Egbuagu, Illabuchi, and Azikiwe in the metropolis, singing and chanting choruses to express their grievances over the prolonged blackout.
Marching like soldiers with placards, the protesters barricaded the entrance of the Port Harcourt Disco, lamenting that their husbands barely had time for them at night due to the intense heat caused by the power outage.
Some of the inscriptions on their placards left no one in doubt about how they felt. Some of the inscriptions read, ‘We lack romance with our husbands,’ ‘Our husbands no longer touch us at night,’ ‘No light no payment’, ‘The heat is too much,’ and ‘PHED help us to sleep well with our husbands’.
Speaking to our correspondent, one of them, who gave her name as Chinasa, described the situation as tiring.
The mother of two said, “I stay on Dim Street. This matter don tire me. I’m a married woman with two kids and I want to complete am three, but no opportunity. When you want to touch oga him go complain say heat too much.
“Na that side be my problem o because I don’t want another woman collect my husband. That is why we are telling the government and PHED to help us.
She lamented that many men in the affected areas had been forced to remain outside and not return home to their wives due to the unbearable heat.
“They (husbands) go want to do their thing outside. Then when they return late and you touch them, they will tell you to give them space. If you touch them again, they will tell you to move because the heat is too much. I cannot take it.
“That is why we are calling on the PHED and government to help give us light, especially because we pay our bills every month.”
When our correspondent asked her why the emphasis was on intercourse, Chinasa said, “Yes, it is because that one is my field and I don’t want my husband to go outside. When he goes to work and returns at night, that (intercourse) is what I use to make him happy; that was why I said the lack of it is my problem.
However, another protester, Mercy, who said she was single, said she accompanied her neighbours to protest because she suffered the impact of the power outage.
“For over two weeks now, there has been no power and we have paid our bills. I’m a single lady but the married women are my friends and neighbours. They have been complaining that their husbands no longer touch them because of the heat.
“Also, my soup always goes sour because there is no way to preserve it. Business is also not moving because customers complain that the drinks we sell are not cold
“That is why I joined them to protest. Let them increase the time (duration) of the power supply. Thirty minutes of light is too small. At least when you pay for something, you should enjoy it,” Mercy said.
But a landlord in the Mile Three axis, Nelson Ogbuji, wondered why the Disco denied the area access to power supply when the residents paid their bills promptly.
He said, “We pay the bills but don’t see the light. Three days after collecting their bills, the PHED interrupted the supply for weeks just like that.
“Then when you get home later in the night it would be dark. When everywhere is dark like that, a man would take something to drink to enable him to sleep well.
“But when he touches madam, she would say everywhere is hot. My brother, that is one of the problems. Some men said instead of doing something (sleeping with their wives) in a hot place, they would find their way; it is very unfortunate that PHED is full of disappointment.
“My brother, tell me how can I perform my matrimonial duties when before the air conditioner starts cooling, the light is gone. My wife is fat and you know fat people feel hot easily.”
Commenting on the situation, a medical doctor and public affairs commentator, Alabo Kurubo, said several factors might be responsible for the unwillingness of the men to sleep with their wives.
“It is not only a blackout that will make men stay away from their wives. There is erectile dysfunction which is a problem that men can have.
“Finance is a key component. For a man who does not have money, cannot secure food for his children, and is worried about paying school fees when his salary is exhausted in the first week of a new month, touching his wife may be difficult,” Kurubo said during a newspaper review segment on Wave FM 91.7, Port Harcourt.
He added, “I am just saying that there may be other factors. So, the light we want to shine should not just shine in the bedroom, we want the light in the pocket of the man and other aspects.”
Reacting to the protest and the claims of the protesting women, a public relations officer with the Disco, Livingstone Koko, said the current power situation was beyond the control of the company.
Koko stated, “It is a value chain constraint. It is beyond our control. However, we also share their sentiments and try to let them know that we are working with other players in the industry to ensure that supply is restored.
“It is nothing short of what is being experienced around the country. So, we are aware of the challenge and we apologise and ask them to bear with us.”
When rising cost of living provoked anger in Niger
Unlike the protest in Rivers, the one in far away Niger State did not look serious a market woman, Aisha Jibrin, mooted the idea of publicly lamenting the plight of women who could no longer fend for their children due to the harsh economic reality to her fellow market woman.
But what looked like a joke soon snowballed into a full-blown protest. Together, the two started bemoaning their inability to purchase items from the market and feed their families. Shortly after, other women gathered around them.
“We no go gree o, we no go gree, this hardship is too much, it is unbearable,” the women chorused as they marched towards the Bida-Minna Road.
Not long after, some youths and male traders joined them to chant and lament that the cost of living was getting out of hand and call on the government to provide a solution. They also barricaded the road, leaving motorists with no other option than to stop and listen to the cries of the aggrieved protesters.
The protesters also converged on the Kpakungu roundabout where they were later joined by passersby in solidarity, chanting and accusing the government of failing the residents.
Coincidentally, the Niger State Deputy Governor, Yakubu Garba, who was on his way to a function had to alight from his vehicle to appeal to the protesters to be patient with the state government as it was working to address the hardship, but the placard-carrying protesters did not take any of that.
Sensing danger, the police were deployed to the scene to prevent the angry residents from resorting to violence, but that angered the protesters more. As the police fired teargas canisters at them, some angry youths surged forward in a manner that suggested that they were ready for a showdown with the security agents.
It took several hours for calm to return to the area after joint efforts of other security agencies.
Saturday PUNCH later learnt that about 25 protesters were arrested by the police and the Department of State Services. The police spokesman, DSP Wasiu Abiodun, in a statement, said the Jibrin and others chose to be violent.
He explained, “It could be recalled that on February 5, 2024, at about 0700hrs, a large number of women and miscreants mobilised themselves and blocked the Minna-Bida Road and Kpakungu Roundabout claiming to be protesting against (an) increase in foodstuff prices, causing (a) major obstruction on the highway and deprived motorists, travellers and other road users from gaining access to attend to their lawful businesses.
“The Command immediately drafted police patrol teams led by the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Operations, DCP Shehu Didango, to the scene, and after much persuasion by the police, the protesters deliberately refused to clear the road for public use, while the Deputy Governor of Niger State, Yakubu Garba, equally availed himself at the scene and addressed the group, yet they turned deaf ears and chose to be violent.”
The PPRO said the security agency applied to disperse the protesters who he said were armed with dangerous weapons “such as stones, bottles, sticks, cutlasses and damaged police patrol vehicles and parts of the Kpakungu (Police) Division’s roof”.
“In the course of this, the police arrested the initiator of the protest, one Aisha Jibrin, 30 years; Fatima Aliyu, 57 years; Fatima Isyaku, 43 years, all of Soje ‘A’ of Kpakungu area of Minna and 22 other miscreants,” Abiodun said.
The police PRO claimed a bench and a stick used as a barricade, three knives, one scissors, one cutlass, one saw blade, one iron pipe, four other sticks, two wraps of hemp, and charms, among others, were recovered from the protesters.
According to the police, the initiator of the protest, during an interrogation, claimed that she was not aware that mobilising over 100 women and others to block the highway for a violent protest was illegal. The security also said she claimed further that she informed a youth leader, one Hassan, in the area, who promised to inform the police of their plan to protest, but did not do so.
Our correspondent further learnt that Jibrin and the other suspects were taken to the State Criminal Intelligence Department in Minna for investigation and would be charged in court.
Residents back protest
However, many residents threw their weight behind the protesters and called on the state government to address the issues raised, especially the rising food prices.
A trader, Suleiman Ibrahim, described Jibrin and the other women arrested as heroes of democracy. He also blamed hoodlums for hijacking the protest.
Ibrahim said, “Aisha Jibrin, Fatima Aliyu, and Fatima Isyaku are the 2024 heroes of democracy in Niger State and Nigeria as far as I am concerned; they initiated a peaceful protest on the current economic hardship faced all over Nigeria.
“Daily, the prices of commodities keep increasing, sometimes tripling and nobody is saying anything; we only grumble or rain curses on the leaders. The women in police custody took it upon themselves to send a strong message to the relevant authorities.
“Unfortunately, hoodlums hijacked the protest by stoning the deputy governor and his entourage. The police had no choice but to protect him and disperse the protesters. The hoodlums destroyed government property, police vans, and other vehicles.
“The actions of our heroes have forced the state and federal governments to take necessary measures and actions in addressing the rising food prices in the country. The women have played their part; it is left for us Nigerians to play our part in making sure we secure their release and not allow them to suffer at the hands of the authorities.”
A seamstress, Miracle Kingsley, said the agitation of the people of the state showed the high level of hunger in the state.
“The living conditions of Nigerians are very bad. Nigerians are hungry and dying every day due to the high cost of living. It is not as if the government has improved the people’s income but things keep rising every day.
“The average Nigerian can no longer cope with the situation. I believe that was what was responsible for the protest in Kpakungu,” she said.
Kingsley also lamented that the current administration at the centre had not lived up to the expectations of many Nigerians who were hopeful that their lives would be made better.
“We were thinking that the (Muhammadu) Buhari government was very bad and did not have the interest of Nigerians at heart, but this one is worsening. It is not explaining anything to Nigerians and it is obvious it cannot find a solution to our problem.
“I am a seamstress but I cannot explain what I am going through. First, the cost of buying the materials for my business has tripled since last year. People no longer come to the shop to patronise us. To feed is now very difficult; I don’t know if this world is coming to an end,” she added.
A tricycle operator in Tunga, Monday Fidelis, said the President should not be blamed for the hardship since Nigerians willingly voted to make him their leader.
“Truth be told, I do not blame President (Bola) Tinubu for the hunger in the land. He did not promise us anything; he only said, ‘It is my turn,’ and APC politicians sold the party’s presidential primary to him. After which Nigerians also sold the number one office to him. What do you now expect him to do?
“When I bought my tricycle two years ago, it was N700,000 but today, it is N2.3m. Tell me how anybody will want to make returns from that kind of money. I went to the market yesterday with N40,000 and a small sack, but what I bought with the money did not fill the bag. This government must do something about this situation because Nigerians are dying,” Fidelis said.
Gov blames syndicate for food price hike
While addressing journalists at the Government House shortly after the protest, Governor Mohammed Bago, who said his administration had been holding meetings on the situation in the state, blamed the increase in the prices of food items syndicates who he said hijacked trucks and mopped foodstuffs.
“Yes, we had restiveness of youths and women in Kpakungu who were yearning and clamouring for a reduction in (the) price of food. However, since that time, we have been having (a) series of meetings.
“We have discovered the latest happening now in Nigeria. So, we are discussing with the road transport union,” he said.
FG orders release of 102,000 metric tons of grains
In response to the growing agitation over the increasing price of food items in the country, the Federal Government ordered the immediate release of over 102,000 metric tons of various grain types from the strategic reserve and the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria.
Speaking after the final leg of three meetings of the Special Presidential Committee on Emergency Food Intervention at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, on Thursday, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, said, “The first one is that the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has been directed to release about 42,000 metric tons of maize, millet, garri, and other commodities in their strategic reserve so that these items will be made available to Nigerians.”
Amnesty International demands protesters’ release
Similarly, civil society groups, including Amnesty International Nigeria, condemned the arrest of protesters in Minna and demanded their release.
The Country Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Isa Sanusi, described the arrest of the protesters by the police as “unfortunate, uncalled for, and unacceptable”.
“We believe it is the right of the people to express their discontent with the government. And what happened in Niger State is nothing but a peaceful expression of discontent. So, the duty of the government is to make sure that people have the freedom, and the security to do their protest peacefully and to express themselves.
“Protest is not a crime, and instead of trying to harass the protesters, the government should use that energy they are using to harass the protesters, in making sure that the condition of the country improves, the economy is better, and living conditions are better.”
Also, the Chairman of the Centre for Accountability and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, said governments at all levels should not expect the citizens to remain silent when their welfare is jeopardised.
“As long as our welfare is put in jeopardy by policies of the government that were implemented without the input of the majority of the people, they should expect that people have the right to complain.
“It does not matter what explanation the government has as to why we are facing the hardship that is ravaging the life of an average Nigerian. They should live above excuses; there is no excuse that is good enough. They should expect that people will protest.”