Protest has become a way of life for some people but mainly street urchins in Abuja. They are eking out a living from participating in protests. Individuals and groups who have issues with government or organisations engage the services of these urchins.
Those who engage the urchins do so because they lack a reasonable population they need to attract attention during protests. Because of their low level of education, the urchins sometimes display lack of knowledge of the issue being protested by placing placards upside down. Sometimes they turn the demonstration into crisis.
In the FCT, engaging in pro- test has become a money-spinner and source of livelihood for most people, regardless of the nature of the protest. Ibrahim Abubakar, 30, a recruiter, said he has been surviving by organising boys in street demonstrations so far money is involved:
“Abuja is big city. Year in year out people engage in street protests. For those who want to swell up their crowd, they con- tact me, l recruit my boys and we hit the streets. We do not have specific amount of money that we collect. It depends on the number of people you want.
“If you need like 50, I collect N2,000 per head. But if you need 20 people we review the price. If you inform us before the D-day, the money will not be too much. But if it is an impromptu assignment, you will pay heavily.
“My contact over years has made it easier for him to mobilise people. I have influential friends in all the major political parties and civil society organisations. Even leaders residing in most uncompleted buildings. And those in turn would inform others and before you say Jack Robinson, the growth will swell.
“What all the boys need from you is for you to keep your own side of the bargain which is to ensure prompt payment at the end of the exercise. They loath disappointment. What has kept me going is the fact that I keep to my promise of ensuring adequate payment. I put pressure on the organisers to do the needful, most times, before the exercise.
“It is not every protest that requires street urchins or lay about. There are some public demonstrations that would re- quire elderly people especially vulnerable women to make them more colourful. The elderly women are recruited and imported from neighbouring areas like Mararba, Iyanya, Jikwoyi and Masaka.”
Another recruiter, Angela Emmanuel, explained how she engages people in street protest. She rakes in nothing less than N300, 000 during electioneering to mobilise protesters: “All you need is network.
“I have so many people living outside town. I collect part of the payment, mobilise my people from Mararaba, Nyayna, Masaka One-man village to town. I brief them on the protest. And off, we go. Your role is to ensure that you complete the balance. And you also keep to time to enable some of them return home.
“We have been doing this business for a very long time. If the organisers fail to pay up, we will report to the people that the crowd was rented or better still reject another invitation. As far as Abuja and public demonstration is concerned, we are indispensable. Our season is electioneering period or during litigations.”
A persistent protester, Se- gun Idowu, recounted how he was identified by someone who claimed to have seen him in different protests. He confessed: “Although we make money from protest. But of recent, people longer take us seriously again because they have been seeing us in different protests.”