One thing is clear, Nigerians are standing their ground.
One thing is clear to Nigerian rulers today, Nigerians are no longer going to be passive spectators in matters that affect their well being and existence. Unlike in times past when Nigerians would within days adjust to whatever decisions those at the helm unleash on their means of livelihood, this time Nigerians said “NO!” and they insisted on same, with the voice re-echoing from across the world. If there ever was an issue that brought Nigerians together and re-awakened their patriotism and consciousness about their country, the ongoing petrol pricing controversy is it.
It is obvious that this unusual show of camaraderie and unity amongst Nigerians must have been inspired by the recent global phenomenon of citizens standing up not just to be counted but indeed to be the only ones that count in the affairs of the state especially with respect to governance. Tunisians ousted the “permanent” Ben Ali, Egyptians removed the “eternal” Mubarak dynasty, Libyans dethroned “immortal” Muamar Ghaddafi and somehow this phenomenon of the common citizen’s power has diffused down south. Nigerians are not in a quest to remove their president – far from it – and understandably so because unlike the Arab citizens, Nigerians were part and parcel of the process that brought the current president to power. That he has since become the most hated man and the most cursed president in the world is another issue entirely.
The protests started from the Federal Capital Territory on the 2nd day of the year after the government had ushered Nigerians into the New Year by increasing petrol prices by as much as 130 per cent. While this lit the fire of protests and agitation amongst Nigerians, the inferno has since been kept burning by much more bigger issues. Nigerians are no longer just protesting the petrol prices decision of their government, they are speaking a language their rulers understand pretty well. One of such is the focus on the cost of running the government and the continued splurge by those at the helm especially as the 2012 budget was regarded as another bazaar of waste. This has not gone without results albeit minimal. Just five days after the protests, the president personally delivered a recorded broadcast where he announced his government’s intention to reduce the cost of governance and cut waste. The most telling of his supposed austerity measures is a proposed 25 per cent reduction in the basic salaries of members of the Executive arm of government. If the president thought he was on the same page with the people, he was brought to book when social media enthusiasts and the internet information merchants quickly put the proposed salary cut in perspective. Salaries are just about 10 per cent of the pay package of Nigeria’s ruling class with allowances and emoluments taking up the huge chunk. Salaries are taxed while the allowances which form the bulk of their pay are not. In essence, with the masses being made to see that the president’s proposed cuts were just a farce (25 per cent of a 10 per cent) the anger on the street started taking a new hue as Nigerians in the Diaspora joined the protests.
With Nigerians in London already part of the protests the first week, it soon became a global phenomenon. At the last count protests have been carried out by Nigerians in the United States with New York and Washington DC leading the fray, South Africa, Belgium, Finland, Canada, Ghana etc while more protests are being planned not just in yet to be “occupied” Nigerian embassies but indeed a return to already occupied ones. The organisers of the London rally will be back at the Nigeria House later this week.
One thing is clear, Nigerians are standing their ground. They want an end to corruption and mismanagement, they demand transparency in the way they are governed and they demand an overhaul of the system. The longer these protests go on, the more dangerous it will get. We have seen how protesters amend their demands based on the stance of the government of the day.
They said it would never happen, few believed it would and even some of those who doubted this brewing revolution are leading the fray. One thing is certain to come out of this; with Nigerians finally joining the global quest of citizens’ movement against dictatorships and in Nigeria’s case bad governance, something is giving and more will give.
There is bound to be a reduction in the cost of governance and the Nigerian re-awakening is certain to reverberate into the future. A new vision is being written for Africa’s most populous country by its ordinarily laid back citizens. The values and description of tomorrow’s Nigeria is being written as we speak. This cannot be disconnected from 2015 and institutional changes will be birth. It is not going to be a sprint, it is a marathon and if these Nigerians in the quest to usher themselves into an egalitarian democratic society do not tire out or falter along the way, they would be far from failure in their quest for a genuine people-centred democracy.
Like the birth of a baby, there will be pains of birth pang, blood gets to flow with noise and perturbations as the entropy of the atmosphere increases. The Nigerian awakening will not go without these. Some have called it the Nigerian Harmattan in relation to the Arab Spring but that is not yet the case. It is the Nigerian Awakening, the last dawn before the Harmattan. Whether or not we will return to business as usual or we will experience the harmattan in full display lies in the hands of this new Nigerian generation that by all indication will not be quiet about the nation’s call for succour. Will your name be on this roll call of citizens?
www.omojuwa.com and Editor AfricanLiberty.org