Image of the day: Protesters in Lagos, Nigeria, gesturing their displeasure at patrolling police helicopter.
art. language. travel
Image of the day: Protesters in Lagos, Nigeria, gesturing their displeasure at patrolling police helicopter.
by Ayodele Olofintuade
I used to consider myself an armchair critic, and then I graduated to a social website critic. I constantly moan and groan about Nigeria and the myriad problems her government has plunged her into over the years. The overbloated, corruption-riddled central government, ruling over 160 million people of ‘the most populous black country’ in Africa.
Aside from crude oil Nigeria is also blessed with other natural resources like coal, gold, bitumen, silicone etc. but the government is only concerned with the crude oil, which is exported in HUGE quantities without proper monitoring.
Now to the point of this article. Over the past 2years I have joined several groups hoping that something will happen, there was always talk of mass protests, I remember a particular year when I joined a particular group and they had a rally in Abuja I was hopeful … well until they turned into a campaign team for Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, that name that gets my blood boiling.
Late in 2011 the president of Nigeria Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (henceforth called Badluck, Egbere, Jo-lantern and other expletives), Diezani Allison Madueke, the Minister for Petroleum Resources ( the bimbo) and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Finance (the banshee) started talking about removing subsidy on Petrol according to them, in order to prevent the country from plunging into an abyss of Economic instability we would NEVER recover from, in fact it will be worse than the one Greece is in presently.
My first reaction was stunned amazement, are these guys living in la-la-land? Don’t they know Nigeria’s economy has already collapsed as far as the average Nigerian is concerned? Do they realize how little the minimum wage of N18, 000 can do? In addition, these are government workers, I know people who earn N4, 000 per month. Already kerosene, which is the fuel most people use, sells for N120 per litre. Government hospitals are bare of equipments and drugs, most people resort to using either overpriced private clinics or ‘cheap’ butcher houses called clinics. There is no power supply, the roads are death traps, the ills are endless. Pray tell me, what the heck is economy collapse?
Then I saw the 2012 budget and realized that once again the government is spending over 70% of the budget on itself, as successive governments have done over the years. That was when I reached boiling point.
I immediately joined another group on Facebook called ‘Nationwide anti-fuel subsidy removal’ but there was lots of talk and trying to get people to join, for me I had reached boiling point and was ready to go to Abuja and start a one man march all by myself.
On January 1, I woke up to the news that our President, Jonathan the idiot, has removed fuel subsidy. Petrol price jumped from N65 to N145 per litre. The effect was immediate, transportation immediately more than doubled, which of course affected everything else, it was utter madness.
Then I joined twitter and that was the turning point for me. I saw a group called OccupyNigeria and followed immediately, then a tweet came in that Occupy Nigeria members are to meet at Mokola Roundabout in Ibadan, I did not hesitate, the following morning I was at roundabout. I met up with about 20people. And that was how it started. Every day we went protesting. Secretariat, Mapo, Beere, Gate, Yemetu, Ogunpa, Ring-Road, Challenge, Toll Gate, Iwo road. The list is endless, everywhere we went people joined us. From a trickle we grew into a stream, now we are a flood.
We have people occupying their neighbourhoods now.
Our first strategy was to educate people about the fuel subsidy, the fact that the protests are beyond the restoration of the subsidy that we want good governance and transparency. A cut in the amount of money these people spend. Their non-taxable allowances that allows them to list furniture, computers, scanners and software as recurrent expenditure. That we want to scrutinize the documents of the method by which the government is giving away our crude oil and importing it as petrol. We want a voice. A week after we started NLC called a nationwide strike, which gave our group more impetus.
I wake up as early as possible, feed and water my children, give stern instructions (which are promptly ignored), put some money in my pocket, fetch my sunshades, my trainers and hit the road. I have led a rally, been lost in the midst of a crowd, trailed behind a crowd, trampled, pushed, hugged, kissed, chased. I have faced the barrel of guns twice by gun totting army personnel intent on shooting on the crowd. I have been rude to the governor of Oyo state, been interviewed by the SSS.
Through all these one emotion that stands true and that keeps me going is the anger of the crowd, the fact that Nigerians have realized that there is power in the multitude. It is us against them. There are only, at most, one million people in government nationwide. There are over 159 million of us.
We are the people, we shall win!
Ayodele is the author of the LNLG-Nominated children’s book “Eno’s Story”. She writes from Ibadan.
1. Give. Thousands of people who go out everyday to give their time, energy and put their lives on the line in demanding for justice and reform do so with their own money. Because of the standstill around the country, they are not able to go to work and make a living, so it might become a lose-lose situation where the powers just wear them out patiently. If you live in Europe or America and you have the means, please donate money. Give to people you trust. Give to organizations that you are sure will make sure that the funds are judiciously used to cater for the (mostly food and transport) needs of those young people out in the sun every day. (PS: I will be sending some money to the Occupy Ibadan coordinators, friends, during the coming week. If you’re interested in supporting the protests with your money and it is too small to send alone via Western Union, let me know. I can take it via paypal or bank transfer and send it together with mine.)
2. Learn about the situation. The #Occupy Movement in Nigeria today is not about income inequality as it is about a demand for accountability and reform. The status quo is corrupt. Millions of dollars are siphoned every month in Nigeria to the pockets of political elites and other business cabals who collect subsidy money from the government and then turn around to sell petrol at market price to neighbouring countries, thus creating scarcity and making a profit. If you are a writer/blogger/tweeter, be aware of all the facts in the situation. Do not be used.
3. Join an #Occupy protest around you. There have been #Occupy Nigeria protests in Belgium, Washington DC, London, New York etc. Start one near you, or join them wherever it exists. The soul and future of Nigeria is at stake, and every support counts. Spread the word. Spread the message. Tell everyone you know about this and put pressure on the Nigerian government to reform on the side of the people and not on the side of the selfish people who look out only for their pockets. Post pictures and videos from this protests.
4. Write to your representatives. A group of activists” called the Naija Cyber Hacktivists are using twitter to put out phone numbers of elected officials, and other relevant information. Follow them, and barrage representatives with messages, pressuring them to take sides with the suffering populace.
5. Follow Occupy Nigeria on twitter.
From snippets I get on social media (more than a handful of pictures from Facebook and Twitter), Nigeria is effectively grounded. People occupied (that word again) the streets demanding change. I’d been bothered about one thing all along – having been incapable of joining the protest because of inevitable distance: the capacity of public protests (with tendency to turn violent and take innocent lives) to make a significant difference. At the last count, more than six people have now been shot dead by overzealous policemen sent to the streets to “restore order”.
The case for oil in Nigeria has become much of a curse nowadays, with total government reliance on exports to get revenue. Underneath that over-reliance however is a corrupt establishment that has used the country’s status as a global oil player to enrich themselves. Just today, I realized that the subsidy now suddenly removed by the government has actually been the cash cow of an addicted group of greedy middlemen in whose interest it has continued to be that the state subsidized the importing of fuel. I can’t think of any other country that produces so much as we do, yet has this much retarded development.
There is a sad, lingering realization, that this revolution will not solve all the nation’s problems. (It didn’t solve all of the problems in Libya, Syria, Iran, America, Tunisia and Egypt either). If the government subsidy removal would be beneficial to the citizenry, government would have begun to put structures in place for people to see and feel BEFORE removing the only benefit that many enjoy as citizens of such naturally endowed country. Now here is a better thought: LET US ERADICATE CORRUPTION. Where are the new ideas for a different country to arise when this revolution dies? Where is the new direction? Where is the new leadership that will take us from here? In ten to twenty years from now, most of the visionaries and pioneers of Nigerian independence would most likely be dead and gone. Who would take their place? What new ideas would they bring to the table?
I had a long discussion this afternoon with a family member about the progress now celebrated in Rwanda. After a brutal civil war that tore the country into pieces in 1994, bold new steps have been taken (including adopting English, abolishing “tribe” and instituting a host of reforms that has now made the little African country one of the best places to live on the continent). We had our chance in Nigeria (and much of West Africa) after “independence” from the British, it was squandered. We had a different chance after military rule in 1999, some progress was made, and then slowly foundered. Is this another chance? What emerges from here when the tyre bonfires are well burnt out and things return to normal? What will that normal be, and will it be good enough?
It should never be. The world is evolving. So should we. For the better.
“We were sent the wrong people. We asked for statesmen and we were sent executioners.” – Wole Soyinka in A Dance of the Forests
Today all around the country, citizens are taking to the streets to protest the sudden and brazen removal of fuel subsidies by the Federal Government, thus raising the cost of buying fuel in the world’s sixth largest producer of oil. There is more: insecurity of lives and property, and a splintering country along the lines of ethnic and religious allegiance. Very scary.
As much as I want to blog about other interesting things in America today, I’d like to use this post to express solidarity with fellow compatriots now defying the sun, a suspicious police force, and an anti-people government, walking and protesting to express their grievance with a distrusted government. They carry with them a risk of government violent reprisal, and a loss of livelihood if – God forbid – the situation is not quickly reversed.
The soul of the country is once again on trial. We stand at a junction. We have a choice between a big government run by a selfish political class with a struggling, oppressed populace, and an accountable, egalitarian society where the resources of the country is judiciously used to better the life of citizens. We have been here many times. The military dictatorships we went through enriched themselves at the expense of everyone else (and several lives). Now under an elected democratic government, the last thing we want is a system even much worse than previous ones. Alas, that is what we have.
May the will of the people overcome.