Ebuka Obi-Uchendu: Occupy Nigeria: Are we better off today?

by Ebuka Obi-Uchendu

We may be under the illusion that 2013 has started on a more proper note. We’ve made our resolutions and Mr. president has promised to surprise us this year. But the truth remains that it is almost impossible to ever make progress without looking at the past.

2012 started off on quite a dramatic note.  At the turn of the New Year, many had hopes and dreams and were looking forward to fulfilling their resolutions. For the country, President Jonathan was about to start his first full year as an elected President. He was still riding the good will and his honeymoon period with Nigerians was still on. But all that changed on January 1, with that infamous broadcast that announced the removal off government subsidy on PMS and petroleum products as a whole. Nigerians were left gobsmacked and completely in shock. The reaction was spontaneous and the entire nation shut down.

The Occupy Nigeria protests that ushered in the New Year in 2012 surprised even the most serious activists amongst us. The guts shown by the average Nigerian was impressive. Ojota and Abuja kept seeing the crowds multiply by the day. But Kano for me stole the show with how resolute they were by not just protesting but actually staying out all night in spite of the biting harmattan cold and constant attacks from security operatives. No one had seen a Nigeria like this in almost 2 decades.

Many Nigerians were expecting a repeat at the start of 2013. For some like me, besides wanting to see Burna Boy and Phyno perform at the sideshow that kept last year’s protests going, I also wanted to see what D’Banj would do this time. He was criticized heavily last year for staying quiet through all of the protests and siding with the government. It would have been nice to see him at Ojota this time, giving us a free Koko Concert as compensation for the trek to his December 27 gig.

But on a more serious note, the reason I and some other Nigerians were curious to see how 2013 would kick off, was simply because, looking at the country a whole year after those famous protests, one question I cant seem to answer in the affirmative is; “Are we better off now than we were in January 2012?” It is tough to look at all the issues Nigerians supposedly wanted answers to back then and accept that we are satisfied with how all those issues have been handled.

I was at Ojota for those protests last year and some of the biggest issues Nigerians had, were with the increase in the price of petroleum products, transparency of the subsidy regime, review of the federal budget and its processes, poverty, tackling the inhuman treatment of Nigerians by security agencies as a whole and the almighty and ever recurring corruption in public service. We all know how all of these issues panned out in 2012.

Petroleum prices have increased since January 1, 2012 both officially and unofficially. At the turn of the New Year then, PMS was officially N65. Today, it is officially N97 a liter with many fuel stations selling at whatever price they decide for the day; sometimes as high as N120. Things have obviously gotten worse. The subsidy regime is even now more confusing. It is tough to count how many panels and hearings and committees were set up in the last year between the executive and legislature. But at the end of the year, many of us are still left with unanswered questions and way too many figures to calculate. But the long and short of it is that subsidy is still being paid on petroleum products and it runs into the trillions.

The federal budget for last year didn’t go according to plan. As at December 2012, Ministries were being summoned to the National Assembly to explain why implementation was hardly at 50% over the 12-month period. In fact, those who got to 50% were applauded. Yet, 2 weeks to the end of the year, a 2012 Supplementary budget was passed for Mr. President while the budget for 2013 was also being debated. So, did we run a surplus or deficit? Are excess funds running up to 50% or more lying somewhere?

The poverty issue is clear for all to see. While government continues to drum up figures tied to a growing GDP and rising FDI, the reality stares us in the face. The mere fact that robberies and kidnappings and piracy reached unprecedented highs last year is a testament to how much unemployment and poverty there is in the country. The Federal Government’s answer to that is that we should watch out for them in 2013 because they will perform miracles. But it doesn’t change the fact that poverty still lives in Nigeria.

Nigerians continue to be treated inhumanly by security operatives. Sometimes resulting in death. The Occupy Nigeria protests alone, recorded 16 casualties allegedly killed by the police. All of these added to constant reports of extra judicial killings by the JTF in the North East of the country, reports of members of the police sitting by and watching the Aluu 4 burn to death, arrest of journalists by the State Security Service, amongst many others, are just a few of the many incidents that marked 2012. Nothing changed.

Then of course there is corruption, which you and I are experts in, not just because we are all guilty, but also because in 2012, we were confronted with figures in the news, so unbelievable that Bernie Madoff would be impressed. If a National Assembly member wasn’t being recorded while trying to take bribe from an oil tycoon, managers of pension funds were caught ‘hands in pie’ with cash running into the billions. The stories were endless and sadly, almost normal.

We may be under the illusion that 2013 has started on a more proper note. We’ve made our resolutions and Mr. president has promised to surprise us this year. But the truth remains that it is almost impossible to ever make progress without looking at the past. So, ask yourselves this simple question; “Are we better off today than we were a year ago?”

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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Comments (3)

  1. Wht a shame dat a celebity like D’banj supported d removal 4 obvious financial inducement. But then as outrageous as his action may be, I am more taken aback @ d silence of extremely respectable religious leaders , who incidentally have tremendous influence on dier congregation. This silence no doubt is brought 2 d fore when 1 recollects that in d dying days of d occupy 9ja ‘deliverance’ d zeal of d protesters began 2 drastically wane. Perharps, d peaceful protest may av bn sustained and eventually yeilded positive far reaching outcome that could av led 2 d dethronement of a corrupt ruling/political class dat is conspicously close 2 these popular and/or powerful religious leaders!

  2. Wht a shame dat a celebity like D'banj supported d removal 4 obvious financial inducement. But then as outrageous as his action may be, I am more taken aback @ d silence of extremely respectable religious leaders , who incidentally have a tremendous influence on dier congregation. This silence no doubt is brought 2 d fore when 1 recollects that in d dying days of d occupy 9ja 'deliverance' d zeal of d protesters began 2 drastically wane. Perharps, d peaceful process may av bn sustained and eventually yeilded positive far reaching outcome that could av led 2 d dethronement of a corrupt political class dat is conspicously close 2 d ruling class!

  3. This year is d year of the masses, d poor shall rise and occupy an enviable positions in the society.while great men, politcians falls financially and physically the Lord hav spoken through his servants….Nemesis must catch up with them all includin the police.

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