Posted by | 27 April 2019 | 829 times
April 15, 2019 was exactly when I boarded a British Airways night flight back to Abuja, after a loaded three week-vacation in the United Kingdom.
As I made for Terminal 5, of one of the world’s most glamorous and one of the busiest airports called Heathrow, a striking news story that made the papers of that day was the planned protest by some people in Central London, who were billed to be convoked from all parts of Europe, to stage series of demonstrations to demand action by world leaders towards addressing the impact and severe consequences of global warming and climate change. Never mind that comically, President Donald Trump who seems to have educational challenge has disputed the veracity of climate change and proceeded to pull the USA out of the global treaty on climate change signed in Paris, France.
The news of these series of protests sent the shock waves across the political spectrum in London, particularly bearing in mind that similar ongoing protests called Yellow Vest demonstrations have had devastating impacts on the economic and commercial wellbeing of Paris, France.
Paris in France has a global reputation as the most beautiful city to visit by tourist. So the political establishment in UK were rattled by the prospects of having similar mass action in Oxford Circus, which is the commercial nerve-centre of London.
We will soon revert to these two key protests by citizens of Europe.
But the necessity for making references to these two epochal events had occurred, when at the Nigerian National Assembly a very simple and peaceful move to call the attention of political leaders to the effects of environmental pollutants by way of making policy and legal frameworks to encourage the phasing out of petrol engine cars for electric cars was rebuffed by persons who otherwise ought to know better, since most of them own housing assets in Europe and America. But like the proverbial ostrich, Nigerian senators buried their heads in the sand and refused to be futuristic. Luckily, the fervour for mass protests in Nigeria has declined. But in other developed societies, citizens are demanding actions through series of mass movements similar to civilian-led revolutions. So, we ask: Why are the Yellow Vests protesting in Paris, France? Media reports state correctly that the “wave of protests sweeping through France is not a rejection of green policies. It’s a revolt against the 1 per cent.”
For the past three weeks, France has been experiencing one of the most significant social mobilisations in its recent history, which laid bare the country’s social ills: anti-elite sentiment, growing inequalities and thirst for social justice. So says the news reports.
It all started on November 17, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country to protest against rising fuel price.
The protesters, dubbed “Les gilets jaunes” (the yellow vests) after the high-visibility jackets they adopted as a symbol of their complaint, blocked roundabouts, burned effigies and clashed with the police. They were angry about the almost 20 per cent increase in the price of diesel since the start of the year as well as the planned fuel tax hike President Emmanuel Macron had recently announced.
While Macron said the tax was necessary to “protect the environment” and “combat climate change”, protesters claimed the decision was yet another sign that the “arrogant” and “privileged” president is out of touch with regular folk struggling to make ends meet.
The intensity of the protests quickly forced the government to make a U-turn: First, it suspend and later permanently shelved its plans for fuel tax increase.
Not satisfied, media reports stated that, the protest movement was not only about fuel prices. It encompassed wider anger and frustration against the political establishment in general and President Macron in particular. As a result, the government's decision to abandon fuel tax hikes failed to calm tensions.
The “yellow vests” want further concessions from the government. Their demands include a redistribution of wealth as well as the increase of salaries, pensions, social security payments and the minimum wage. Some say they will not settle for anything less than the president’s resignation.
So, how did day-to-day frustrations about fuel prices and “green taxes” transform into a nation-wide protest movement attracting hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of weeks?
It all comes down to Macron’s apparent failure to connect with the people, understand their concerns and steer France away from destructive neoliberal policies. Now, let’s look at the London protests which yours faithfully missed by the whiskers, because I had to return to Nigeria to resume my work. The protests in London is staged by those typically called “extinction rebellion protests”.
The group describes itself as an “international movement” that uses “non-violent civil disobedience” to bring issues such as climate change to the fore.
Organisers say they want to see “radical change” to “minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.”
The movement started in the UK in 2018 after the release of a report on global warming by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, part of the United Nations.
But what do they want? Extinction Rebellion claims the government is guilty of “criminal inactivity” in addressing the climate change “crisis”. They have made three key demands, namely:
*The government must declare an “emergency” and work with “other institutions” to make changes
*The UK must enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025
*A citizens’ assembly must be formed to “oversee the changes” needed to achieve this goal
The group says that under the current system, the UK is “headed for disaster”, with climate change likely to cause food shortages and “destroy communities.”
What did they do?
The demonstrations began at 18:00 BST on 15 April, with protesters blocking roads at Marble Arch, before moving on to Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square.
Activists also caused more than £6,000 of damage at the Shell Headquarters on Belvedere Road.
Organisers had urged members to block five “high-profile locations” by booking time off work or going on strike.
“Think festival, arrange to stay with friends or bring camping gear,” the group’s website said.
Over the next 10 days activists glued themselves to and sat on top of trains on London’s light railway, marched on Heathrow Airport, staged “die-ins”, glued themselves to the entrance of the London Stock Exchange and chained themselves to Jeremy Corbyn’s home. But how did the protests affect London?
The government said the protests disrupted the lives of “many hundreds of thousands of hard-working Londoners.”
Police rest days were cancelled over the Easter Bank holiday, as more than 1,000 officers were deployed across the city.
As of Thursday afternoon, a total of 1,130 activists were arrested for a range of public order offences, according to police.
So far, 69 people have been charged. Who got involved?
Among the group’s estimated tens of thousands of protesters, Hollywood stars, global climate change campaigners and Olympians appeared at the demonstrations.
Swedish teenage activist, Greta Thunberg, who gained global attention after staging a climate change protest at her school, came to London to tell demonstrators: “Keep going. You are making a difference.”
She also addressed Parliament, reprimanding the UK for supporting shale gas fracking, greater exploitation of North Sea oil and gas fields, and expanding airports.
On Waterloo Bridge, Olympic gold medal-winning canoeist Etienne Stott was one of the activists who had to be carried off by police officers.
Actress Dame Emma Thompson also joined climate change protesters on board a pink boat parked up in the centre of Oxford Circus. However, Nigeria is on the opposite side of the revolutionary pole. Senator Ben Murray-Bruce who had educational stints in Europe proposed an electric car bill but it was shot down in a manner as if to say the politicians were mere anti-environmental bandits.
The Nigerian senator, Ben Murray-Bruce, who represents Bayelsa East Senatorial District, has taken to his Twitter page to share two of the bills he recently proposed before the Senate. One of the bills he proposed is the Electric Car Bill, which is basically seeking that the National Assembly approves the use of electric cars in Nigeria.
The objectives of this bill are, to: (a) comply with the clean energy policy, (b) encourage the use of modern technology, (c) de-emphasise oil consumption, (d) reduce air pollution.
But true to the suspicions of most activists that these senators are a bunch of anti-green bandits, the Nigerian Senate rejected this forward looking bill that sought to phase out the use of petrol cars and introduce electric cars in Nigeria by the year 2035.
Also rejected was the bill that sought to open up the Nigerian citizenship to other Africans.
The two bills were sponsored separately by Ben Murray-Bruce, the lawmaker representing Bayelsa East senatorial district on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
According to Murray-Bruce, combustion cars were causing pollution and contributing to global warming, and developed countries are gradually phasing them out. He said phasing out petrol cars would help fight the twin environmental menace of global warming and air pollution.
However, Senator Jibrin Barau said there was no need to make any law compelling Nigerians to use electric cars at a particular period.
He said in view of the economic strength of individual Nigerians, it would be unwise to come up with such legislation.
While kicking against the bill, Ike Ekweremadu, the deputy Senate president, said it would affect Nigeria’s economy as an oil-producing country.
In the end, Murray-Bruce was advised to withdraw the bill, which he did.
On the bill to open up Nigerian citizenship to other Africans, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah said sections 25, 26 and 27 of the Constitution adequately took care of that. Consequently, Senate President Bukola Saraki put it to a voice vote, and a majority of the senators voted against it.
As we await the coming of the next session of the National Assembly, Nigerians must wake up from slumber and be ready to make suggestions, stage mass movements and civil protests to ensure that all arms of government complies absolutely with best global practices in such a way that constitutional democracy would be better nurtured, promoted and protected. Making Nigerian environment cleaner and greener is a necessity that must be vigorously campaigned and actualised, or we perish. We must say no to politics as banditry.
•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).
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