by Wilfred Okiche
The #OccupyNigeria battle may be over but who can forget in a hurry those long days of uncertainty that played like a movie, the key players who kept the tempo going, the notable supporting actors and the wildly appreciative audience. We bring you our list of some of the winners and losers of the movement! If you think there are some we left out, share your list in the comment box!
Say what you will about his ‘agenda’, but Nasir el-Rufai emerged from the movement as the undisputed leader of the Nigerian opposition – easily straddling traditional and new media with information, depth, confidence and a genuineness that made him a brave knight during the struggle. Whether leading the Abuja protests, engaging an adoring audience on Twitter or provoking the government officials who kept referring to “opposition politicians”, the Mallam came out looking good.
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi
You may love to hate him but he left no one with any doubt as to why he is the nation’s chief economist. Intelligent and artiulate, he was easily the government’s most effective and credible surrogate, doing the television rounds and aggressively marketing the government’s case for deregulation. No one’s going to ask for his head.
Pastor Tunde Bakare
Yes, he became a flashpoint for disagreement – moving towards calls for regime change and using extremist language on the Ojota pulpit, but as long as he was the primary organiser of the historic Ojota protests, especially through the Save Nigeria Group, this pastor-politician established his profile as a national leader with influence. He may have taken his contempt for Mr. President a little too far, but it might be difficult to argue that his heart wasn’t in the right place.
The Afro-beat icon stepped into his father’s extra large shoes and became a hero for the times. For a movement that needed visible leaders, Femi was just in time. He was there at Ojota from day one and promised to be there everyday till the government caved in. When the government’s troops kicked protesters out of the freedom park, he graciously opened the gates of the African shrine. Alongside his brother, they proved they were the sons of their father, indeed.
The movement that was born during the days of president Yaradua’s incapacitation and spearheaded the call for the transfer of power to president Jonathan became a thorn in his flesh, quickly leading on the issues and demanding not just the decrease in the price of fuel but a cut in government waste and a serious battle on corruption amongst others. In a sea of misinformation and rumours, the movement was all about passing the right information and leading the charge – powering the rallies at Ojota and Falomo.
Call it the Ojota Mega-Jam. Whether they were genuinely concerned or trying to kick-start stalled careers, it doesn’t matter at this point: fact is they were there when it mattered. Nollywood players, musicians, stage, TV and radio personalities – Kate Henshaw held down the rallies at Falomo, Charly Boy stood up to be counted in Abuja, and Eldee took to educating ‘area boys’ at Ojota. They came through.
The last we saw of Funmi Iyanda, she was on the cover of the StyleMania magazine issue that ignited a raging online battle on whether her impressive backside was photo shopped or not. The former queen of daytime TV, deliberately or not, reinvented herself as an activist (some will say she has always been one) during the protests and was there on the streets everyday. Her Chop Cassava video blog was in the thick of the news, providing news, videos, links and editorials from the movement, and – just for a while there – we saw the Funmi we used to know and love.
Social media commentators
Thanks to social media, the ordinary man at home became more than that. With his new found freedom of expression, he dared to be heard. And he was heard. It got a little out of hand sometimes – but hey, what doesn’t!
Battling an unfair image crisis stemming from his popular Ovation magazine international platform – seen as promoting Nigeria’s unpopular leaders though, as he has consistently pointed out, this is consistent with global lifestyle journalism – the former presidential aspirant underwent a useful transformation that will serve him well. He was a voice for the opposition and his essays, tweets, reflections and suggestions provided deep insights – he also joined the protests in Lagos, London and Accra.
You’ve got to acknowledge the efforts of the press, both traditional and online, local and foreign and we pay particular respects to The Punch, Vanguard, Channels TV and Al Jazeera. Their detailed, professional and unbiased reporting kept us informed and sparked discussions. They re-established confidence – and we say kudos.
Irrespective of how the strike ended and the later disillusionment that dawned the NLC/TUC were heroes that took on the government and brought them to the negotiating table – sharply crystallising the anger. The nationwide strike provided steam for the #Occupy protests and they played their parts during those long days and nights of meetings and negotiations.
Comrade Abiodun Aremu and Femi Falana began it with the Lagos spontaneous protests the day after the announcement of removal. Soon, everyone was out – Joe Okei-Odumakin, the Fawehinmis, Olisa Agbakoba, Pat Utomi Ayo Obe and others. If ayone had accused them of being obsolete and irrelevant, their unrivalled organisational powers certainly served the movement immensely well.
The resilience of the long suffering Nigerian has never been called to question but this time Nigerians were resolute with demands – across the country. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of active participation in affairs of the state. Perhaps, this is after all, the turning point generation. Add to this, Nigerian Abroad – from London to The Netherlands, New York to Capetown, Nigerians abroad stood up to be counted; taking time when it mattered most to connect with their homeland, and passionately link arms with Nigerians at home. For those who argue that those outside Nigeria do not connect with the issues at home, this was a wake-up call.
There’s no sugarcoating this, the one person who came out of this looking oil-stained in the most damaging way was Mrs. Madueke. The honorable minister for petroleum (first female Nigerian in that capacity) comes out of this with, fair or not, an image as a corrupt politician – which is sad, as it wasn’t long ago that she was acknowledged as an amazon. Forever to be remembered as the minister who shed tears over the horrid state of the Benin-Ore expressway and promptly did nothing about fixing it, her handling of the subsidy removal left a lot to desired. Her petroleum ministry was at the fore front of the subsidy removal cry but could not explain convincingly to Nigerians, why. Little details like how much fuel is consumed daily by Nigerians and volume of product produced by our refineries eluded her and under legislative questioning, she always appears in her own world, attributing all her problems to a ‘cabal‘. Here’s another image to remember her by, she’s the minister whose hands are – according to her – always tied during impossible situations.
Oh dear! The Kokomaster’s case was that of your past sins coming back to haunt you. As soon as the occupy protests started, people started calling his name, demanding his participation as he was so quick to support president Goodluck Jonathan during last year’s elections. While his fellow artistes were identifying with the movement, he preferred to quietly sit it out only to tweet his “heartfelt sympathies” later. The verdict was swift – too little, too late.
Where D’banj was understandably silent and withdrawn, his musical soul mate, Don Jazzy put his foot forward too early and tweeted his regrets about voting for President Jonathan. Even worse, after his much-ballyhooed regret Tweets, he disappeared, lending no support to the protests he claimed to agree with – only to resurface conveniently after the strike was called off. While he still has his supporters, young Nigerians let him know exactly where to shove it.
She won at least three PR coups – one, she immediately beat down the image of an uncaring, wicked Jezebel who threatened to resign if the fuel subsidy removal policy was resciended. With a rapid response movement that included a pro-active use of social media, she refuted rumour after rumour including the IMF agent storyline and managed to come out with her integrity unquestioned. Still, she was hardly as effective a surrogate as her colleague at the Central Bank. And while her image might have been softened, as the economy’s coordinating minister, she became the primary target for angst and vicious insults. No madam, it is not a bad thing to come back and serve your country – Nigerians just now hold their ministers to higher standards.
The network service of the NTA needs aggressive restructuring, and they need it now! From the moment the fuel subsidy was removed, the continent’s largest TV network (so they claim) came down with symptoms of selective amnesia. The propaganda in announcing ‘favourable’ fuel prices could be cut with a knife and clearly, any report that so much as cast government in a negative spotlight was promptly discarded. For a station that seemed to regain its credibility over the past few years, this was a bad season.
Far be it from us to play media critic, but while NTA was unashamedly on the side of government (they are afterall government’s mouthpiece), we could not fathom AIT’s girm. Their reports kept flirting with support of the subsidy removal decision, their presenters became devil’s advocate only for the government’s case and online folks kept referencing their skewed presentation in favour of government. Hmm.
Minister of Information
Labaran Maku was a sterling example of how not to speak for the government. Prone to gaffes, and knee-jerk reactions, he was even less effective as spokesperson than any other minister, and he was soundly embarrassed on Al Jazeera. When it seemed he had run out of ideas, he declared that the protests had been hijacked by looters and called out young people for insulting the president on social network sites. At least, he didn’t blame the president for causing this by bringing Facebook to Nigeria!
Minister of Labour
With ASUU currently on strike, many Nigerians were blissfully unaware we had a minister of labour and productivity until Barrister Emeka Wogu was credited with saying that people should not dictate to the government that “rules” over them. With a seemingly unconcerned mien on television broadcasts to boot, Mr. Wogu reminds us of government officials from a long time past. We wish to keep those memories with the military era.
The secretary to the government of the federation proved to be a failure at negotiation as all his initial attempts with labour were deadlocked until David Mark stepped in. He then took out his frustrations on protesters, referring to them severally as miscreants – being the closest reflection of a government that seemed self-satisfied. For a former Senate President who left office in a blaze of glory, this was far from his finest moment.
He was looking to be a hero – and this would have been a boost for his much-talked-about 2015 presidential bid. And for a while it looked all it was all going according to script – as he assumed the role of peacemaker and statesman, brokering negotiations between Labour and the Presidency. Until it fell through – and his public bravado seemed to fizzle out. Back to where he was before – one of the leaders everyone distrusts.
Whether it was Godswill Akpabio, governor of Akwa-Ibom, claiming that the entertainers at the Lagos rallies had been paid, or Rivers governor and his worrisome ‘subsidy’ for local transportation, Niger State governor’s “it’s-the-opposition” war cry or Governor Babatunde Fashola’s strange “Now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t” dance with the government, none of them came out looking good. It didn’t help matters when it slowly dawned on everyone that the governors made this decision for the government many months ago.
President Goodluck Jonathan
Seriously, do we need to explain this?
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