Hope is not a strategy,” – Let me tell you why #OccupyNigeria failed, by @LagosHunter

 

Photo credit: The Telegraph

 

Nigerians woke to a new price regime on 1 January and our reaction was instantaneous.’ The president has betrayed us!’ we all cried. Mr President popularly called GEJ emerged as president by a wide margin in an election that remains difficult to discredit. He was not a popular candidate thus; nothing he had done in the 7 months he has been in power has been received well by Nigerians.

Following the conversations on and off social media, it was clear Nigerians felt short changed, and increasingly frustrated. The growing level of insecurity wasn’t helping the state of affairs either. With elections 3 years away, everybody was very impatient: “We can’t do this for another 3 years,” was the prevailing sentiment.

The removal of fuel subsidy was the perfect trigger we needed to push back and cry ‘enough is enough!’

Social media went into frenzy, rallies were organised in the first week of January. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in conjunction with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) announced an indefinite strike starting 9 January. Within 24 hours of the first rally, a protest was conceptualised and named OccupyNigeria. Utilizing the opportunity of NLC/TUC’s sit-at-home strike came naturally.

To clearly understand the reason why the protests failed within a week, it is important to put the fuel subsidy palaver and the role of each party into the right context. The NLC and TUC are industrial representatives of the Nigerian worker. They are the largest organised body who negotiates with the federal government on behalf when there are disputes that affect the general population. In 39 years, petrol prices have been adjusted 24 times from 6 kobo/Litre in 1973 to N139/Litre in 2012.

In 1993, Ernest Shonekan increased the price by a whopping 614%, in the same year; Abacha readjusted the price downwards by 35% and later adjusted it again upwards by another 340%. AbudulSalami further increased it by 107% and in 2012, Jonathan by 116%. At each of these 24 instances, has been the NLC negotiating across the table with the government.

The protests started peacefully on 9 January as planned. With each passing day, the number of people showing up at various OccupyNigeria locations across the country increased geometrically as well as the rhetoric. At the end of each day,  it looked like ‘our time’ had indeed come. It was very easy to feel an emotional connection and misinterpreted it as determination and stamina.

 Unfortunately, there were some foundational problems with the OccupyNigeria protests.

  1. GEJ was painted as bad as the anti-Christ…..’ how dare he increase fuel price by as much as 100%?’  It made sense to a lot of the more passionate young Nigerians that for sure the price hike was unreasonable and must be reviewed downwards. Those of us with access to information conveniently overlooked the fact that a 100% increase was not uncommon thus giving people false hope.
  2. There was absolutely no way OccupyNigeria was going to survive unless it came up with a very sustainable strategy to stand on its own if and when NLC/TUC called off their strike. In addition to this, a strategy on how to keep the protests peaceful was also absent. Hence as soon as NLC/TUC began negotiations with government (as it was their responsibility to do,) the days of OccupyNigeria were numbered. This slowly became apparent as the war cry started shifting from the previously dominant ‘On N65 we stand’ to ‘this protest is not just about subsidy’
  3. OccupyNigeria had no unified objective. Was it ‘N65 or nothing’? Or ‘GEJ must go’? Or maybe ‘Power must change hands’…….it was uber confusing.  This lack of a unified objective created ‘a vacuum of intent’ Typically, ‘Intent’ is that source from which a protest draws motivation and stamina from regularly and most especially at points where motivation is lowest.
  4. There was no consensus on whom/what the common enemy was. Was it ‘GEJ’? ‘The cabal?’ ‘The National Assembly?’ or maybe ‘the entire government?’ The most recently successful revolt –June 12, had a common enemy –Babangida/The military and a common objective –the return of the military to the barracks.
  5. The lack of originality of the ‘Occupy’ ideology naturally gave the protest a ‘We too’ and a ‘feel good’ passion which didn’t have the kind of stamina required to remain defiant in the face of government pressure every day for as long as it took.  The carnival atmosphere which helped to keep things peaceful also gave the protest a ‘jovial’ look. Nigerian artistes used it as an opportunity to connect with their fans. Everybody wanted to be seen ‘identifying’ with the masses.
  6. Their Occupiers had no stamina, after a mere 5 days, they took a break to ‘refresh’ and restock. A revolution is spontaneous and very serious business, there is no such thing as ‘time out, we need t rest’

On 15 January, Government and NLC/TUC reached an agreement, the new price for petrol, N97. NLC/TUC had no choice but to call off the strike, they had no right to do otherwise. GEJ drafted the army to the streets to maintain law and order like any president anywhere in the world would do. Once on the streets, the army didn’t hinder the movement of people but it was clear no protests would be tolerated.  The Occupiers retreated beaten. Most murmured and grumbled from the comfort and safety of their houses calling GEJ a bully and a dictator.

Was GEJ wrong for bringing in the army? My opinion is no. As Commander in Chief, he used the army to return the country to normalcy and to the best of my knowledge; no life has been lost since the army was drafted to the streets.  Twenty four hours later, the army is barely visible and things have returned to normal.

What could OccupyNigeria have done better? It could have formed an alliance with NLC/TUC, with both parties capitalizing on each other’s strengths.  The strategy would have been-

  1. No negotiations with the government at all until 100% reversal of petrol price.
  2. Subsidy negotiations would only begin when government investigates and prosecute corruption in the Oil/Gas sector, cut the expenses of both the senate and executive by 40%. 

NLC/TUC’s sit at home and OccupyNigeria’s civil disobedience would have kept the Nigerians motivated and left the government with no alternatives. Eventually, both government and the people would have won via compromise and collaboration.

In conclusion, David didn’t slay Goliath because he (David) was stronger but because he acknowledged his own weakness. And by acknowledging his weakness, he realised he needed a winning strategy and that strategy was his sling (catapult). War cries and chants only say we are passionate and desire a change, it doesn’t say we are ready to go the distance just yet.

Hope motivates but it does not win battles. Strategy is what battles are won with.

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Comments (9)

  1. I agree with you on the "Occupy Nigeria" tagline and ideology (or lack thereof)…I didn't think it was approached right…I defer to your post up to the point where the military personnel come in. In CIVILIZED cultures, maintenance of Law and Order during a PEACEFUL PROTEST is the Job of the POLICE not the army.

    Salient points you raised though…

  2. I cannot say categorically that OccupyNigeria failed, thought you have a point because the moment it was alien with NLC/TUC strike and those 2 body start negotiation with the Govt. I know that the end of the protest will soon end, but looking at things, despite of the call of the strike people are still coming out to protest if not of the bulldogs of the Government that are outside disturbing the people so, I think the OccupyNigeria is not totally a failure and again from the finding of the OccupyNigeria that the so call investigation the NNPC has started. But I tell you Nigeria youth will really going to OccupyNigeria we are watching it not going to be a game as usual

  3. Spot On!

    My general expectation and that of most Nigerians I believe was that the strike action was a myth to be quickly dispelled by a broadcast on Sunday night in the fisrt place, my belief being it was never intended to see the light of day! After it kicked off, I honestly gave it 3 days. The general and historic practice was for negotiations and exchanges to ensue, the populace grumble and finally move on! Having held on for a week, it was a new face for NLC/TUC, and in some miopic way I suppose they can be commended.

    Though I completely recognize how OccupyNigeria failed within the big picture of a new Nigeria governed by men of integrity, my stand however remains that the protest wasn't a complete waste – we gave them some WHAT-IFs to think about.

    Still, I believe this was our legitimate chance to take a stand and go the distance, and gave it up too easily. Notwithstanding, I do agree that the major problem was in the lack of a unified position. The NLC/TUC are the designated voice and negotiators for the Nigerian workforce, and regardless of their failings as unions, our only option was to work with them or be ready irrespective of the consequences to work without them.

    Needless to say a lot of the pioneers of OccupyNigeria nurse their political agendas,and most of the artistes were jokers seeking identification with the populace. A protest is neither a fun event nor a carnival, it's serious business, and you don't have to be there if you're not ready nor believe, just don't make little of the cause with your presence!!!

    Your parting line is so true… Cheers!!

  4. I suppose falling short of set objectives will classify an act as a failure so per that definition, occupy Nigeria could be termed a failure.

    But then again there is the obvious question, what were the objectives?

    However something has to be said for how this movement galvanized emotions. I just struggle to see how this 'center' will hold and not dissipate owing to our 'God dey' mentality.

    The arab spring with a focus on syria and tunisia I think where bouazizi set himself on fire had 'had' it to here. ( Raises hand to above my 6ft frame ). I don't think we've had it just yet and I fear that when we do, God will still 'dey'.

    In response to the writers admonition of strategy over hope.. I believe a 'fight-for-able' cause still exists and the first step is information. Sad to say, the masses don't have information. The occupy movement can start by providing that.

    Might be wrong but revolts in egypt started ramping up since about 2008, there's space for a sustainable encore still.

  5. I totally agree with you. That 'Occupy Nigeria' gave a glimpse of hope didn't mean it succeeded. Although it was a turning point for Nigeria, it should learn lessons from its failures just like any other cause that would succeed. If there was nothing it achieved? At least it got most cynics around me to wake up and say 'God Bless Nigeria' We need more winning strategies, it won't be easy to clean up the mess, but if we don't quit, we will win.

    God bless Nigeria

  6. This at best is a post-mortem.

  7. Your argument is good but based on the wrong premise, occupy Nigeria didn't fail because the movement isn't over, if you look at the Arab spring countries you'll discover that they all had/have unique ways of revolution. Egypt didn't enter a civil war like Libya and Syria isn't Yemen either, our government was elected democratically and even though there were emotions running high during the protests it was never going to be an issue of regime change. It was always going to end with dialogue.

    So what did the movement achieve? More than the N97 or the renewed fight against corruption in the oil sector or even the PIB bill that's going to be passed, more importantly is the awakening of the average Nigerian, so many people never thought that Nigerians could come and make their voices heard, the fact that it had to end with the president calling the military to Lagos showed that he heard our voice and heard it very well and that's what is going to develop this country.

    Expect the movement to diversify and take new forms as time progresses (I wonder what will happen to PDP in the next elections) but one thing is sure, Nigeria will never remain the same again.

  8. Your stance is too negative, but organisers shud pay attention still

  9. Inasmuch as I'm one of those people that don't like the fact that the term 'occupy' was borrowed, I totally disagree that it failed. The removal of subsidy spurred Nigerians to come out in millions to not only protest against the move but also to voice out their disatisfaction with the kind of corrupt leadership in government. There were no rehearsals, just emotions. Expecting anymore from informally organised protests across the country which for uniformity was tagged 'occupy'is like expecting to recognise a faceless man. Nigerians are aggrieved, Nigerians are not happy with the state of affairs in their country, Nigerians want better leadership, Nigerians CAN do it. We told the government that and the WHOLE world heard. Now that's a success.I'd score 'occupynigeria' 7/10

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