Let Them Chop Cassava!

In Nigeria chop means to eat, it can also mean to eat with immoral or criminal greed.

Cassava is a root carbohydrate staple. Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava and the 6th largest oil producer in the world. 

On January 1st 2012 the Nigerian Government shocked its citizens by announcing a 117% rise in the price of fuel. As 70% of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day, for many the price hike was a serious threat to their very survival.

The government argued it could no longer afford a subsidy that kept the price of petrol artificially low, ministers admitted there was rampant corruption in the petroleum industry and claimed subsidy removal would thwart the activities of a shadowy "cabal" of oil marketers and politicians who profited from the status quo and over whom they were powerless.

Incensed that their notoriously profligate and highly paid leaders, (some four hundred senators and representatives earn substantially more than President Obama,) had done nothing to tackle corruption, Nigerians of all classes took to the streets demanding a reversal to the original 65 Naira per litre price.

As the protests developed, the profligacy, corruption and ethnic divisions that have blighted the country's development came into sharp focus.




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Chopcassava (Series Trailer)

Chopcassava is a web series that documented the January 2012 fuel subsidy protests in Lagos, Nigeria. The videos are an insiders' view of the events and were originally uploaded on YouTube as the protests unfolded. 

Produced by Funmi Iyanda and Chris Dada, the series was created by a team of young and courageous Nigerian media professionals and we are excited to have been nominated as best web series (Non- Fiction) at the 2012 Banff World Media Festival. 


The videos are presented blog-style, as they appeared originally - with the last entry first.



JAN 19 - The Elders' March (02:36)

On January 19th, a small group meets at the Lagos State House of Assembly to protest the deployment of soldiers on the streets of Lagos. All over the country the protest is dissipating and the small numbers of protesters are a stark contrast to the close to a million people who had turned out at Ojota days earlier.

The group is led by three distinguished, elder statesmen - former presidential candidate and lawyer, Dr Tunji Braithwaithe, eminent legal scholar Professor Ben Nwabueze and Kalu Idika Kalu, a former Finance Minister. Also present are Occupy Nigeria activists and religious leaders. The elders' want to help publicise the protest and hope their presence will protect their younger, supposedly more dispensible allies from a violent response by the military and police.

The State government although publicly at odds with the deployment of Federal troops declines to support the marchers who are determined to reclaim Freedom Park. 


Jan 17 - The Last Meeting (05:51)


Amidst accusations of under table deals and sell out agreements, the city staggers back to a semblance of order keenly overseen by soldiers who remain on the streets despite the protests of the State Governor. Freedom Park is ringed by several tanks and there are reports of raids on the CNN and BBC offices by the State Security Service (SSS.)

The repression works and the notorious Lagos gridlock re-establishes itself as if the protests never happened. Chopcassava go to the Victoria Island home of statesman and former presidential candidate, Dr Tunji Braithwaithes, where a meeting of civil society groups, activists and elder statesmen has been called to plan a response to the deployment of soldiers. 


JAN 16 - The Soldiers Shoot (05:46)

On the night of Friday January 13th the national strike was suspended for two days.

The goverment and labour leaders went into closed session talks- two days of dialogue and a white knuckled wait followed.

That Sunday, the government agreed to a reduction of the pump price to a compromise figure of N97 and the labour unions, the NLC and TUC, called off the strike.

Disappointment, outrage and recriminations followed and many non union protesters felt betrayed. 

The next morning on January 16th, the military was deployed to major cities to quell any further rallies. At 7.30am political activist Wale Okunniyi visited Funmi at home and led chopcassava back to Labour House where a small number of diehards led by comrade Abiodun Aremu were determined to march through the fortified streets to now iconic Freedom park.


Jan 13 - Anthony is Mobilised (03:07)

Anthony Village is a typical Lagos suburb. A mixture of classes, ethnicities and professions live together peacefully.

The area is stirred by the fuel price hike to come out and protest. Locals meet and parade the streets before heading to join the main rally at Freedom Park in nearby Ojota.

Morenike Nedum, daughter of human rights activist, Dr Beko Ransome Kuti and niece of Afrobeat Legend Fela, is an Anthony Village community organiser.


Jan 13 - A Pulitzer Winner's Views (02:50)

Pulitzer winning journalist and former editor of Newsday Dele Olojede returned to Nigeria in 2006 and two years later started 234NEXT. Employing a new generation of bright, fearless journalists, NEXT broke news stories about political and corporate corruption which no one else would touch. Naturally they made many enemies losing advertising and investment until last year the paper suddenly disappeared off the streets.

We arrange an interview with Dele to get his take on the crisis. Driving across town to the appointment at his home on the Island, we fly the NLC flag to avoid being hassled by strike enforcers, the Third Mainland Bridge is eerily empty - The strike is holding fast.


Jan 10 - The Rich also Cry (01:22)

Chopcassava heads to another fuel subsidy removal protest at Falomo, Ikoyi - a posh part of Lagos. Apparently the anger at the price increase, cuts across economic classes and the well-off gather underneath the bridge.

Celebrities lend their support - Nollywood star Kate Henshaw speaks out.


Jan 10th - Voices from the Park (01:59)

As the days pass the crowd at Gani Fawehinmi park grows bigger still as citizens, entertainment stars, activists and politicians gather to support the protest. 'Freedom Park' becomes like a cross between Woodstock and Tahir Square.

Voices from the park include Seun Kuti, son of afrobeat legend Fela, Ade Bantu and others.


Jan 9 - Freedom Park (02:42)

Gani Fawehinmi Park, named after a revered humans rights lawyer became the focus of the protests on mainland Lagos. On the first day of the strike half a million people gathered to listen to music and impassioned speeches.

Funmi interviewed the, 'Save Nigeria Group' leader Pastor Tunde Bakare and activist Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin.

A firebrand pastor, Bakare was a vice presidential candidate for the opposition party CPC and has been a vocal critic of corruption and past governments for many years. His political associations were an issue for some and encouraged the government to characterise the protest as the work of disgruntled politicians intent on regime change.


Jan 9 - Nigeria takes to the Streets (02:58)


JAN 9 - The first day of the general strike called by the Labour and civil society groups. Demonstrations and protest rallies are held across Lagos. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) organises a large march from Labour House in Yaba to 'Freedom Park,' Ojota. The Gani Fawehinmi Park, named after a civil rights campaigner is beoming the focal point of the protests in the City.

Cherry, white and green NLC flags contribute to the festive atmosphere and Fela Kuti hits blare out as the procession heads to Ojota.