Charity Nwakaudu, Abuja
there is hardly any week without a protest, peaceful or rancorous, in Abuja. It is understandable because the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is the seat of power and where else could be more suitable for peaceful demonstration other than the political epicentre of the country?
But beyond the genuine intentions to protest, many jobless youths and adults have formed what many now call “professional protesters.” Among them are jobless lawyers, accountants and other professionals.
With unemployment ravaging the country, these graduates, traders, artisans and touts bond strongly to make a living as rented crowds. They survive solely on proceeds from peaceful protests as they get hired by various associations and pressure groups to lead any demonstration in any part of the city.
Many of them stockpile cardboard papers of different colours waiting for any group to hire them. Some of them rake in up to N4,000 in some days if they participate in two or three protests. The average charge is N1,500 per demonstration but can be higher depending on who hire them, the purpose and duration.
One of the organisers, William Aboh, who spoke with Daily Sun at Apo Junction confessed that protests have become a lucrative business in: “I am a young graduate who left my village to Abuja in search of a better life. But on reaching here, it was not what I was told that I saw.
“I have roamed the streets and offices without getting a job until a man inducted me into this protesting business during the 2015 elections.
“I followed him closely and have learned how to organise and manage the business through getting contacts of most of the senior boys in different areas. This helped me in making the job faster and easier. All I need to do is just to call and tell them the number of people I want and it is done.
“I can organise protest for and against a particular person or matter same day. It can be done within a short notice. We don’t support any group. We’re for everybody and we’re for nobody. We are just after the money.
“The money that is made available determines the type and class of materials that will be made available. The price varies from place to place, like from Nyanya, you can get people with a thousand naira, one bottled water and gala while from Apo, Jabi and places like Kubwa is from N1,500 above per person.
“The business is one of the best in town because you don’t need any start up money. But you make reasonable income daily because even after the game the people will still be watering you with some little things so that any time they need your services, you will be there for them.
“It has really improved my life both financially and otherwise. I am no longer seeking for employment because no employer can pay me what I get monthly, not even the federal government.
“This business has also exposed me to the high and mighty in the society. Some I have never met them physically, we transact our business on phone. So, it has really improved my life apart from the financial benefits.
“It is now a part of me and I like it but the only disadvantage is that one needs to be very fit so that anytime there is an attack from the opposition, you can run for safety.”
Mariam Ayo, businesswoman from Utako market confirmed that protest is now one of the best businesses in town:
“I started it during election. Then it was my full time business because I was always in one of the secretariats singing praises of any top ranking politician that visited and after which, we were settled.
“Then all you needed to function was the party’s membership card and I had like four different parties’ cards. So anywhere I heard that there would be an event or protest, I would just take the card and off I went.
“This business I am doing today is the proceeds of what I got from the protest. I made a lot of money from it quietly without much labour. I am still into it though not like during elections.
“We also have a group through which people contact us. They tell our leader what they want and the number of women needed. In our group, we are only women and they will be told what to pay before the service is granted.”
Andrew Yusuf from Mpape said protest was one of the trending businesses in the country, especially in the Federal Capital Territory: “Since most people in the villages and other towns see the seat of power as the best place to express their feelings, we too have seen it as a blessing.
“All these campaigns and protests you see in the town everyday are rented crowds. All they need to bring is the money to mobilise the people and the branded t-shirts and the deed is done.
“Though I do not participate directly but I organise crowds for people. I make a lot of money from the business. I have a shop where I sell sim cards but it is the protest business that is sustaining me and my family in this place.
“You may ask why is it that I do not involve myself directly when the take-home pay is promising? The answer is that I do not do that because I am not physically fit. I cannot go and sacrifice my dear life for another person’s ambition.”
Helleh Farther, a housewife from Jabi said: “This is the best business in town. You operate quietly from your comfort zone. You do not need to go and be looking for customers but they will come for you because protest is now the order of the day. We have a group that we have registered our names with and it started during the last election period.
“So, once they connect with our leader, we will be contacted depending on the number of women you need. We are not in support of any particular group but ready to do anything you want us to do for you once you are ready to pay. It is like a drama house, we can dance or even cry depending on what you want.
“The business has really helped me because I do not have any skills and not into buying and selling but I am living well.”
Titus Terfa, a civil servant aligned that most of the crowds involved in protests are rented: “There was a day I was passing through the Eagle Square and I saw a very large crowd shouting ‘ enough is enough, he must go’. I went closer to the crowd because according to what they were saying they were supposed to be from my geopolitical region.
“I greeted one of the protesters in my language, he did not understand. Apart from not understanding, from his intonation, he was not even close to the region. I decided to ask him why they were protesting. He said I should stop disturbing him; that I should go and ask the people in the front that he was just doing his work.”