NIGERIA: Basic services crisis turns deadly in Kaduna

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

At least four people have been killed in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna during a violent protest over a three-year power blackout in a poor part of the city.

“I saw four dead bodies including that of a pregnant woman that were shot by the police trying to quell the riots,” Ahmad Abdulkarim, a resident, told IRIN by telephone from Kaduna.

Violence erupted on 15 January in Sabon Tasha, a sprawling neighbourhood of some 35,000 residents on the outskirts of the city.

A witness, Sahabi Idris, said hundreds of youths turned out to protest the lack of electricity in the area. “They set up barricades and burned government buildings and vehicles.”

The electrical transformer supplying power to the neighbourhood broke down three years ago and the area has been in darkness since then, Abdulkarim said.

“They [police] shot at the protesters when they refused to disperse on the orders of the police,” he said.

But the police say one person was killed while eight policemen were injured.

“Only one person was killed and eight of my men were also injured by the youth who turned violent,” Haz Iwendi, Kaduna police chief, told IRIN by telephone.

“My men did not shoot at the protesters who were really violent but they had to use minimal force to contain the riots which any law enforcement officer would have done faced with a similar situation,” Iwendi said.

Even though Nigeria is among the largest oil producers in the world, power outages are a part of daily life for Nigerians.

Eight hours of electricity from the state-run power company is considered average, despite the investment of US$10 billion in the system over the last eight years.

During presidential elections in 2006 tackling electricity shortages and the general decrepitude of other essential basic services, including water, health and education, was a key platform of several candidates.

The provision of a new electrical transformer to the residents of neighbouring Unguwar Boro village by the Kaduna state governor, Namadi Sambo, after a peaceful demonstration a day earlier apparently emboldened the youths of Sabon Tasha to stage a similar protest.

“If the youths had behaved maturely and conducted the protest peacefully as the neighbours from Unguwar Boro did all would have ended well,” police chief Iwendi said. “Residents of Unguwar Boro staged their protest peacefully and there was no incident.”

Despite their country’s massive oil wealth, the majority of Nigerians live in dire poverty. Some parts of the vast country have child mortality, malnutrition and illiteracy rates equivalent to those found in countries experiencing armed conflict.

Source: IRIN