Nnaziri Ihejirika - #OccupyNigeria. Then What?



This week, Nigerians started doing something they haven't done in several years. 
They started pushing back.
This push-back is primarily against a government and a political umbrella (the word "party" or "ideology" does not factor into this monolith's modus operandi) - the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) - which has dominated the political landscape of the Fourth Republic. On a lesser scale, it is also against the political leadership of Nigeria, highlighted by the financial black hole otherwise known as the National Assembly.


That it took this long to happen is not surprising. Recently, Nigerians have proven to be politically passive until government policies hit their pocketbooks. We can live with fraudulent elections, government corruption and the rape of justice; but make sure food and fuel prices stay the same! Ergo, the removal of the fuel subsidy - a move that makes perfect sense on paper but none whatsoever to a citizen living on $2 a day - was the perfect catalyst for such action. 
Not since the annulment of the 1993 elections has there been such a concerted wave of uprisings and civil mass action; welcome development for a country that was beginning to look like its citizens were completely apathetic and willing to roll over for tyrants to trample on in the hopes of being able to "chop one day".

In the midst of this upheaval and social media-driven activism, there are some troubling developments as well as questions that need answering. These include the silence of the nation's religious leaders, the two-faced approach of organized labor and the geopolitical polarization/stratification of the mass action. Until these imbalances are reversed, the #OccupyNigeria movement will not gain the traction it requires to work.

Some might wonder why I have not included the silence of the legislature and the judiciary as causes for concern. However, those with any knowledge of the political landscape in Nigeria know that these two organs, supposedly intended to provide checks and balances for the executive arm of government, are merely appendages of a leprous body. In a country where over 75% of the citizenry live on less than $2 a day, legislators pocket an average of $1.2m a year in salary and allowances. The judiciary is corrupt, with revered justices competing to be the latest lapdog and "endorser" of whichever corrupt and fraudulently elected government is in power. The silence of these lambs is to be expected - why should they "pour sand in their garri" or "kill the goose that lays their golden eggs"? 

So let us ignore the three arms of government who have sold themselves for thirty pieces of silver - or millions of dollars a year, whichever suits your fancy.

Where are the religious leaders?

In a country - one of the few remaining in the world - where over 90% of the population still believe in God and belong to organized religion, why aren't the pastors, priests and imams speaking out against the removal of the fuel subsidy? Why aren't they speaking out against the treachery and tyranny of an imposed government (let's call a spade a spade - the April elections were farcical) which is causing untold hardships to millions of their flock? Why haven't they used their important positions as spiritual leaders to drive the people to action, as was done in Egypt and other countries where true revolution was achieved ?

The answers are sad, but simple. In Nigeria, most religious leaders are all about themselves and not their congregation. We have pastors with several private jets, homes in Dubai and the French Riviera, for-profit schools and universities; and luxury cars. We have imams who collect money from politicians to get the youth vote in their favor, but who don't question the same politicians and call them to order when their corrupt practicies drive the people deeper into poverty.

In the famous words of M.I, "God will indict", but people need to start speaking out against these mostly self-appointed religious leaders. They too, should be occupied.

Where is organized labor?

The NLC, since its days as a useful tool in the hands of autocratic military regimes, has graduated to bigger and better things. Despite the fact that representatives of most labor unions sit on the board of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), none of these supposed representatives of the common worker had the sense to mobilize citizens en masse and have them ready for civil action the same day the subsidy was removed, or to sound the alarm if - as I'm sure they'll claim - they were squeezed out of the decision-making/implementation process. Since then, they've been speaking from both sides of their mouth - vowing to resist the changes, but then having some of their sub-union (like the road transport union) leaders voicing support for subsidy removal. Coupled with the lack of coherence in their response and the rumors of secret meetings with no post-press conferences, it is obvious that money has either changed hands or is in the process of changing hands. Who shall occupy them?

Where are the South-East and South-South? 

This is not an ethnic discussion - although that topic bears watching as well - but rather a geopolitical one, after all there are Igbos, Ijaws, Efiks, Ibibios, Itsekiris and Urhobos participating in the 'movement' outside the South-East/South. With the exception of Benin, which is practically in the South-West, there is not one South-East or South-South city that has demonstrated a high level of tolerance for the restoration of the subsidy. Certainly not any that can be measured in the number of people hitting the streets. 

Is it that they don't care? 

I don't think so. 

It boils down to education, awareness and opportunity. While it has been relatively easy for the twitterati of Lagos to mobilize as far north as Ibadan and Ilorin, or the folks in Kaduna and Abuja to engage the north; the same cannot be said of many in the South-East and South-South. These areas, despite possessing some of the highest levels of education in the country, also lay claim to being among the most politically apathetic. 

What is the solution?

Just as has been done in other parts of the country, the enlightened twitterati and activists need to visit these parts of the country to sensitize them. Even in places like Ibadan and Kano, the average citizen who joined a protest may not have understood the basis for the protest but was mobilized because someone came there, spoke and energized. For the struggle to be far-reaching and impactful, this same proliferation has to extend to the South-East and South-South. They must occupy as well.

Ultimately, the general polity still suffers from lack of education about the subsidy issue, as well as the need for people to stand up to the government when it fails to fulfil its roles. Where religious and organized labor leaders have failed, we the people cannot. This means extending hands of fellowship across the entire country and relying not only on those with an ethno-religious ax to grind with the President, or those who are knowledgeable enough about his government's misdeeds, but even on those who - knowingly or unknowingly - allowed their votes to count for him or who don't care about government. Only then can the real fruits of this movement - national unity, true democracy and transparent governance - be achieved.


Nnaziri is a professional engineer based in Canada. He can be reached on Twitter via @nnaziri

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