#OccupyNigeriaAnniversary: “Hope is not a strategy, let me tell you why #OccupyNigeria failed” – @LagosHunter

by @LagosHunter

The occupiers had no stamina, after a mere five 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 to rest’.

Nigerians woke to a new petrol price regime on January 1 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, but his popularity waned so soon, with things like tenure elongation and petrol subsidy removal.

Following the conversations on and off social media, it was clear Nigerians felt short changed, and increasingly frustrated by unmet expectations. The growing level of insecurity wasn’t helping the state of affairs either. With elections three years away, everybody had suddenly become very impatient was very impatient: “We can’t do this for another three years,” was the prevailing sentiment – especially amongst the opposition which sought every slight move they saw as constitutional breach to call for the president’s impeachment.

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 January 9. Within 24 hours of the first rally, a protest was conceptualised and named OccupyNigeria. Utilising 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 bodies that negotiate with the federal government on behalf of workers 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, Shonekan increased the price by a whopping 614%, in the same year; Abacha re-adjusted the price downwards by 35% and later adjusted it again upwards by another 340%. Abudulsalami further increased it by 107%. During former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure, the price of petrol was increase about four times, starting from N11 and ending at N65. Then in 2012, President Jonathan increased the price of petrol by 116%. In each of these 24 instances, it has been the NLC negotiating across the table with the government.

The protests started peacefully on January 9 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 misinterprete it as determination and stamina.

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

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 a false sense of justification.

Also 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 and 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, it’s about government waste!’

Another problem was that, 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.

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.

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. Most of the artistes who performed at the protest used it as an opportunity to connect with their fans. Most people who took part wanted to be seen as identifying with the masses.

The occupiers had no stamina, after a mere five 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 to 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. 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 Lagos to normalcy and to the best of my knowledge; no life has been lost since the army was drafted to the streets. 24 hours later, the army is rarely seen and things return to normal.

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

  1. 1. No negotiations with the government at all until 100% reversal of petrol price.
  2. 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 a stated percentage.
  3. NLC/TUC’s sit-at-home and OccupyNigeria’s civil disobedience would have kept Nigerians motivated and left the government with no alternatives.

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. Y!

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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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