Having read so many posts by people who felt ‘betrayed’ by NLC/TUC for calling off the strike and having considered that so many people believed the government ‘won’ this impasse, I decided to introspectively put down my thoughts on the strike/protests/incidents of the past one week or so. Firstly, I have supported the protests/strike from day 1 and I am an ardent believer in the removal of subsidy. As a matter of fact, I do not believe there is any subsidy in the first place. Government is just paying for its ineptitude and inefficiency.
Considering the above, I wish to highlight 8 MAJOR GAINS of this strike action cum series of protests in this treatise and how we can take advantage of them to make Nigeria a better country.
1. IT WAS LARGELY A CONTEST OF IDEAS- From the rallies to the TV programmes and barber-shop gists, it was largely a contest of ideas. People who didn’t believe there was any subsidy brought out their arguments- often with facts and figures. People on the opposing side also mooted their points. The previous Town Hall Session was broadcast repeatedly on TV and you would have thought it was a Presidential Debate. Everyone had an opinion on Facebook and looked for all manner of support to drive home their points. Government apologists made arguments that were punched through and through. People didn’t drive home their points with fistcuffs, the protests were largely peaceful and I believe we have turned a corner in our democracy. One thing I know is that we have reached another milestone in Nigeria and subsequent elections will not be a tea party. Certain slogans such as ‘I had no shoes’ will no longer sway the public. Our vocabulary of ideas has been enriched.
2. INCREASED DEMAND FOR ACCOUNTABILITY BY THE PEOPLE- This is the first time in the history of this nation that people will consider the budget critically. Even the market woman knows that Jonathan and family wanted to eat food worth of N1b in 2012. The cost of governance has come to the fore and the President was forced to cut down salary by 25%. The President has ordered EFCC to look at past invoices for subsidy payments and this is a welcome development. I am sure there will be more robust debates on the budget at the National Assembly also and the era of ‘bow and go’ is gone. We need to build on this achievement and hold government at all levels responsible.
3. INCREASED USE OF THE INTERNET/SOCIAL MEDIA- If statistics were taken, I am sure the use of social media in this fight for justice is unprecedented in sub-sahara Africa. People came up with different blogs and write-ups. People like Feyi Fawehinmi and many others were very creative and deployed Facebook/social media to full advantage. Creativity was at the fore. Investigative journalism via citizen media was unprecedented. Information was transferred in a matter of minutes. Friends were made. Ideas were shared, very brilliant ones. We need to harness this to the country’s advantage. Can we start a crop of new internet-based business? Can the government utilize this medium better especially to win back the trust of the populace? This is certainly the way to go.
4. NIGERIANS DEFIED ALL PREVIOUSLY HELD NOTIONS- We now know it is not true when people used to say Nigerians loved comfort too much to protest. I watched a young man on Sahara Reporters asking the police to shoot him. I watched a young lady give elocution to why she attended the Ojota Rally. Was she brilliant? For 5 days, the rallies got bigger and bigger. Nigerians defied all odds. Nigerians walked long distances. Nigerians endured the hardship. And I believe something has snapped. Nigerian will no longer be taken for granted. We now know that anything can happen in this clime and Nigerians will no longer take things ‘smiling and suffering’.
5. AWAKENING OF THE YOUTH- For a long time, Nigeria was a gerontocratic society. When the elders speak, the young ones are to keep quiet. This applied in all spheres of society but more so in religious circles. Pastors used to be demi-gods and can only re right. They are supposed to be unquestionable. Their acts were the acts of God or so it seemed. Now, the youths are asking questions. Real questions. They are questioning authority and rightly so. They are holding leaders accountable. They are speaking up. A nation is as strong as its youth. Never in the history of this nation have we seen the youth participate so much in any function like these rallies. It is crucial that we allow our youth to speak their minds and participate actively in democratic governance. Can we harness this to the country’s advantage?
6. RELIGIOUS HARMONY- For the first time, pictures were circulated of Moslems praying and Christians providing watch over them. When I saw Sheik Ahmad match towards the podium at Ojota and denounced injustice in the company of Pastor Tunde Bakare, I knew that was a watershed that needs to be improved upon. When last Friday, I saw Moslem clerics march arm in arm to Ojota again and then to Alausa for afternoon prayers and they were surrounded by Christians, I knew the popular myth of religious animosity has been defeated. For sure, poverty knows no religion. Can we now build on this for greater religious co-operation in Nigeria?
7. NORTH/SOUTH DIVIDE BRIDGED- The protests were not a southern or western affair. Nigerians were united and rallies went on simultaneously from Abuja to Lagos, from Kano to Ibadan, from Kaduna to Osogbo. Though parts of the South East and South South were quiet, the rallies could not be called a sectional affair. Poverty is truly not sectional. Can we build on this for a more united Nigeria?
8. ENTERTAINERS AS VALUE BUILDERS- The rallies witnessed how entertainers serve to mould opinion. From KWAM 1 to Seun Kuti, Femi Kuti, Obesere, Jide Kosoko, Kollington, Daddy Showkey, Wadada, African China and numerous others, entertainers spoke and people listened. Though many utilized the rallies to launch themselves into reckoning and jump-start their careers again, the rallies showed entertainers can mould public opinion. They can serve as a thermometer for the people. They can mobilize people and they actually serve as role models. Can we build this industry which is largely neglected and use the entertainers to build an egalitarian society?
1. THE GENERAL PUBLIC- We forced the President to make 2 broadcasts in the space of a week. We got him to take an action by inviting the EFCC to probe the subsidy payments. We defied previously held notions that we could not hold on for more than 48 hours and we have served notice that it will no longer be business as usual. Apart from the reduction in fuel price, we have learnt to probe our rulers beyond their mere rhetorics. They are the real winners.
2. CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS- Kudos should be given to them for sustaining the rallies. What can we do without Femi Falana, Joe-Odumakin, Yinka Odumakin and the likes?
3. PASTOR TUNDE BAKARE & SHEIKH AHMED- These men put their lives on the line and stood on the side of truth. Pastor Bakare brought his whole family to the rallies and his elocution provided fire. His sermon last sunday (SUBSIDY MADE EASY) could go as the most largely circulated in recent history. He has won the hearts of millions of Nigerians and rightly so.
4. NLC/TUC- Abdulwaheed Omar and Peter Esele were very gallant in the struggle. Though many may regard them as ‘sell-outs’, I actually do think they tried their best under the circumstance, especially after serial negotiations. This strike is the most successful ever in the annals of Nigerian history. I watched Omar this morning and I could see he was overwhelmed…and maybe subdued. As a former student leader, I understand that leadership is thankless job and there are often unfounded rumours of money changing hands but more often than not, these stories are not true. For turning against their paymasters, they are also truly winners.
The major loser here is President Jonathan who lost all political capital and squandered his goodwill within the space of a few days. He refused to take advantage of popular dissent and chose to become an ethnic warlord. It is instructive that Asari Dokubo now turned to be his ‘bodyguard’ in a manner of speaking. If elections are held today, President Jonathan would never win. He capped a very bad outing by deploying soldiers across the country today. This act may eventually turn out to haunt him as the days go by. He is certainly the biggest loser.
Nigeria is certainly not going to remain the same after this strike. Best wishes as we rough through the year!