#OccupyNigeriaAnniversary: “Are we the younger generation any different for those we condemn?” – Chioma Chika

– Chioma Chika shares her experience at the London protest.

No doubt it was a brilliant effort but the only thing I could think of all the way home was if young Nigerians are any different from the elders we are so quick to judge and condemn.

The fact that we had to find out from a reporter on the day was not only dubious, insulting to everyone who had come in from far and wide just to be a part of it, but most importantly, had once again undermined our credibility as young people

Change agents and daemons

Nigeria woke up to calamity on the first of January 2012, evil news from an insensitive, ‘wrapped-in-a-cube’ government. Through a press release, Nigerians learned that the price of fuel had been upped from N65 to N141; the subsidy on petrol had been removed. Overnight, and without any warning, Nigerians were forced to bear a new burden, as prices for literally everything reached for the skies. People who had travelled to their country homes couldn’t return to the city because transportation had more than doubled, and businesses stood still for days because of the absence of staff. Theories abound as to the kind of night Mr. President had that led to that ill-thought out decision but let’s save that for another day.

It seemed like Nigerians had had enough, seemed like we had finally been pushed to the wall. And so we began to ‘occupy Nigeria’, ‘say no to the removal of fuel subsidy’, clamour for ‘pump price reversal’, and some went as far as ‘GEJ must go’.

The ‘occupation’ began. From Abuja, to Lagos, to Kano, and other parts of the country, Nigerians took to the streets, defying the police, risking and indeed getting molested, demanding that their government do the right thing. Statesmen, opposition party members, and even courageous enough members of the ruling party denounced the subsidy removal.

Personally, I supported the subsidy removal because we weren’t subsidizing anything in the first place. What I didn’t (and still don’t) agree with was the timing, and the way it was done. Examples abound of countries (Ghana, Iran, etc.) that successfully reduced or totally removed subsidies on PMS without incurring the wrath of their citizens.

Take Iran for instance, they were considered one of the cheapest countries in the world because of their subsidies on fuel and energy. When their government saw that they needed to remove those subsidies, they created a five year plan to phase them out in percentages; as of July 2011 they had removed about 50 per cent of their subsidies with no protest from its over 75 million citizens. Why? How did they achieve that? One word (which our government obviously doesn’t understand): palliatives.

Every citizen filled out forms listing the names of the members of their households, their properties, cars, et al and after the data was checked against existing databases with banks, hospitals, etc., they were asked to open bank accounts. Every month, every individual registered would receive a subsidy compensation of $45, whether they were rich or poor. They decided what they would use the money for.

Car owners also got a subsidy compensation where they could purchase 60 litres of petrol at a semi-subsidised rate and then pay the full price for anything after that. Transporters weren’t left out as well, as they were allowed loans at lower interest rates during that period. All this is apart from the evident infrastructural development the monies saved from the subsidies were plugged into.

This formed the bulk of my argument against the timing of the subsidy removal; even the earlier announced April 2012 timeline was too short to be meaningful. Plus, I had a few questions for Mr President:

1. What has been done with the monies saved from the subsidy removed from diesel about three years ago?

I know it wasn’t done in your time but surely you would have reviewed the document to know where to channel this subsidy you’re going for? I’ve seen the document containing what your government plans to do with the subsidy but honestly, sir? I don’t believe a word of it. I’m sorry.

2. How do you expect your people to survive when some states haven’t fully implemented the N18,000 minimum wage?

How does fuel move from 65 to 141 Naira overnight? How does a bag of pure water move from 80 to 170 Naira overnight? How do transport prices more than double overnight? “To serve our fatherland with love and faith and strength”……how do we serve if we are hungry, if we are crippled by poverty brought on by ‘Subsidy Removal’?

3. Who told you all it would take would be a press release?

Back to my story, I was excited by the protests, especially when they began to happen in different cities around the world. Around Africa, in Asia, the Americas and Europe, Nigerians stood together to register their displeasure and press home their demands for the reversal of the pump price of fuel.

The date for the protest in London was January 6, 2012, and I remember that morning like it was yesterday. I took the 6:45 a.m. train out of Birmingham that morning because the plan was to congregate for 10 a.m. The temperature stood at 6oc that morning, and honestly if I hadn’t told the organisers I would show up I would have remained in bed. I wrapped myself up nicely (would buy a muffler and gloves later that day), invested in a cup of coffee, and then slept my way through the hour and a half ride into London.

Now, I’m horrible with geography so I had sorted the route from Charring Cross station to the Nigerian High Commission on Google maps. Brethren, I got out at Charring Cross and my BlackBerry screen was white, with an error message. I nearly died. How was I supposed to find the place? And you know say Oyibo people no dey know road, talkless of knowing the directions to a building they’d probably have no reason to visit in their entire life!

I ended up walking around for like 40 minutes, first to find a CarPhone Warehouse to drop my phone, and then to find the Nigerian High Commission. Found both; was a joy to see so many Nigerians, and on time too! From the list of people signing the petition we were about 100, that number would more than triple by the end of the day.

We sang the national anthem, loud, strong, my mind focusing on every line, arms riddled with goose bumps while my eyelids fluttered to hold back tears. Is it just me, or does the national anthem have that effect on anyone else?

Right. We’d been given permission for about six hours for a static protest, so we couldn’t ‘march’ anywhere. As a matter of fact, when we camped opposite the High Commission, the police (who were lovely and very patient with us), placed barriers around to keep us within the space we’d been allotted (not like it worked anyway).

After we’d been addressed by the organizers, people started chanting, singing, making up new songs as the day went; I busied myself with taking pictures and conducting interviews. And tweeting, thanks to @4tega who I’d never met before the day but is a friend on Twitter. He gave me his phone.

I must say I was very impressed with the amount of information going around; there were fliers and posters printed by the planning committee with basic facts and the figures around the fuel subsidy fiasco.

More people came, the singing got louder, and at some point, the place was filled with reporters from different media. At this time it was obvious the High Commissioner (who was sitting in his office) wouldn’t be coming out to address us or receive our petition. I told a few friends and the organisers to take advantage of the media presence to hold a mini-press conference but somewhere between finding what to say and who to say it, we lost the moment. The High Commissioner sent a representative and she received the petition on his behalf.

Then, I overheard a reporter asking some people why we expected to see the High Commissioner when some of the organisers had gone to see him to collect money some days before, and my heart just sank. I asked one of the organisers and he said we’d address it when everyone was gone. At that moment, I started counting my losses; what it had cost me to be there, the cold and discomfort I had endured (and I hate waking up early), all now sacrificed on the altar of a disobedient lot that had no inkling of the word ‘integrity’.

Well, our allotted time was up, and so everyone dispersed. I had been invited to the briefing/review session by the planning committee members so we camped in a McDonalds, a good number of us clutching hot drinks.

I found out the committee had drawn up rules and codes of conduct for themselves in prepping for this protest. It was explicitly stated on the rules book that members of the planning committee were forbidden from going to the High Commission before the protest. So what did those two go there to do? And why did we have to hear about their trip there from a reporter? “We didn’t collect any money; we just went to make it easy for everyone, besides I’ve known the High Commissioner way before I came here to study”, was what one of them replied us. WHAT! I nearly had a coronary. Not sure at this time what angered me the most; the fact that they actually went or the temerity of their defence.

Amongst other people, I got up, and as calmly as I could, I explained how rules are rules, and any proposed action to the contrary should have been discussed with the rest of the team before-hand. The fact that we had to find out from a reporter on the day was not only dubious, insulting to everyone who had come in from far and wide just to be a part of it, but most importantly, had once again undermined our credibility as young people.

A few minutes after we finally extracted an apology from them (for some reason they didn’t see anything wrong in what they had done), I left; angry, disappointed, and dreading the trip back to icy Birmingham.

No doubt it was a brilliant effort but the only thing I could think of all the way home was if young Nigerians are any different from the elders we are so quick to judge and condemn.

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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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One comment

  1. We are not o. Give us the chance and we may even be worse than our elders.

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail