#OccupyNigeria : Far From Over
After days of protests triggered by an increase in fuel price by about 125%, uneasy calm have returned to the streets of major cities in Nigeria. The protests christened #OccupyNigeria in line with the global #Occupy movements against corruption and inequality started out in slow fashion but picked up with the declaration of a nationwide strike by the labor unions which lasted nine days. This ultimately proved to be the Achilles hill of the movement as protests literally fizzled out with the suspension of the nationwide strike after the presidency settled for a pump price of N97 per litre. It was a grave error of judgment in retrospect though as the #OccupyNigeria movement was largely misconstrued as an industrial relations movement when it actually is a movement for good governance and eradication of corruption and inequality.
The protests might not have succeeded in ensuring that fuel prices were reversed to N65 or in ensuring an immediate reduction in the cost of running government but it cannot be denied that the movement was successful in several other areas. Perhaps, the major achievement of the movement was the socio-political awakening of a largely apathetic populace. The role of social media in the quick and massive spread of information assisted in orientation of a large number of citizens who hitherto were oblivious of the scale of corruption and waste in the government. Information dissemination in Nigeria must have reached an all time high during the protests with millions of Nigerians questioning the rationale behind the government decision on removal of the subsidy on petroleum products. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Nigerians have now taken more than passive interest in the 2012 budget, identifying major sources of leakages, waste, duplicity and other irregularities in the budget. What we have now might be described as a new generation of Nigerians who have finally discovered the power of new media in effecting change and coupled with the population of Nigerian youths, the political landscape of our nation might never be the same again.
The display of love and unity of purpose by Nigerians, regardless of ethnicity, religion or social inclination proved that the nation is not doomed as several observers are wont to believe. It was quite heartening seeing Muslims in Christians in Northern states guarding Muslims while praying and Muslims securing churches during Sunday service. The display of unity was surely heartwarming especially in this period of instability in some areas of the North of the country due to threats by the radical Islamic group Boko Haram. An attempt by Niger Delta leaders to introduce some sort of ethnic coloration to the protests was met with condemnation by Nigerians who clearly understood what was at stake and could not be swayed by tribal sentiments. It should be noted that majority of the people on the streets last week were the same people who walked the streets to ensure that then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as acting president. They also probably forgot that Goodluck Jonathan is not the president of the Niger Delta but President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that Nigerians regardless of origin or social status have a right to demand good leadership and governance, irrespective of the occupant of the office.
In addition, it was obvious that the government realized that the awakening of the people was quite different from whatever had happened in the past. Public officers unsuccessfully tried to confuse and convince citizens but all efforts were futile. The presidency, having realized the loss of its goodwill, embarked on a series of actions to defend its decisions, majority of which ended up complicating the matter and exposing government officials as ignorant of the workings of several of the administration’s policies. The government’s decision to attempt to quell the protests with the use of brutal force against protesters was as callous and inhuman as it was unnecessary. 20 people reportedly lost their lives in the course of the protests in the hands of police and military officers. Civil society organizations must ensure that killers of these citizens are brought to book and that their lives were not lost in vain. No Nigerian deserves to be killed for exercising a fundamental human right and efforts must be intensified to ensure security of the life and properties of the average Nigerian.
However, achievements in the struggle will all come to naught if the pressure on the government is not sustained. Nigerians have finally found their voices but words alone do not build a nation. Nigerians must continue to take active interest in the conduct of the affairs of the nation. Nigerians need to continually assess and monitor the activities of elected officers. Also, having discovered the massive waste items in the 2012 budget, it will be an act of irresponsibility if measures are not taken to ensure that such items are cut from the budget. Already, a probe into activities of the NNPC and the role of government officials in fuel subsidy payment has begun. It is necessary to ensure that the probe is carried out to a logical conclusion and guilty parties face the wrath of the law. Also, promises made the presidency over passage of the ‘Petroleum Industry bill’ and inclusion of stakeholders in decision making must be monitored. With the passage of the Freedom of Information act, monitoring and assessment of government policies and activities of public officers should be easier, especially with the advent of new media.
Also important is the need for sustainability in order to ensure that the gains from the struggle and those who paid the ultimate price will not be in vain. It is most important that the movement is not allowed to die a natural death like some other before it. Abandonment of the movement half way will not just be an act of injustice to those who lost their lives but might also mean forfeiture of a once in a generation opportunity to get things right. The movement must be sustained not just through street protests, but through intellectual engagements with public officers. The need to engage public officers cannot be overemphasized. Our apathetic attitude to government decisions and policies have brought us thus far and it is pertinent that the average Nigerian citizen knows and understands how every government policy affects his/her life and those of generations yet unborn.
From continuing to educate the man on the streets to speaking at public forums and debates with public officers, the struggle must continue until all demands and aspirations of the movement are actualized. There must be an end to corruption and mismanagement in government and an overhaul of our sociopolitical and value systems. This can only be achieved if we do not falter in our march to freedom. The battle to reclaim Nigeria is far from over, it only just started. A new Nigeria is possible.
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This article was originally published at blogger.com in January 2012.
Originally published at blaqeagle.blogspot.de on April 30, 2016.