Dumsor and 2Face: Political Protest in Ghana and Nigeria
As much as this may bother the jumped-up complacent (“We are the Giant of Africa”)Nigerian nationalist, Ghana is better than Nigeria in a number of ways.
Ghana and Nigeria are often compared to one another. After all, they are the two largest Anglophone countries in West Africa. As time has gone on, each country has acquired a different reputation — at least through the eyes of foreign observers. Ghana appears as the calmer, more peaceful antidote to Nigeria’s chaotic, and often violent, environment. As discussed on previous Fourth Republic articles, young Nigerians often yearn for a Rawlings (former Ghanaian dictator who later won democratic elections) type of figure to rescue the country. Regardless, mass protests in Ghana during 2015 and aborted protests in Nigeria a few weeks ago may exemplify what Ghana is doing right & Nigeria’s peculiar political disorder.
‘Dumsor’ is a portmanteau of the Akan words ‘dum’ (meaning off) and ‘sɔ’ or ‘sor’ (meaning on). ‘Off-and-on’ came to characterize Ghana’s power supply in 2001. The situation worsened starting in 2012 when the West African Gas Pipeline was clipped according to Ghana’s then President John Mahama. From then on, load-shedding became a normative experience for Ghanaians. If you were a Ghanaian in, say Accra, in 2015 — you went 12 hours with electricity followed by 12 hours without.
To cope with decline in the government’s capacity to provide the public good of electricity — Ghanaians began utilizing a Nigerian coping mechanism. In cities like Accra, the annoying buzz and smell of power generators became common. Hospitals were forced to deliver babies by the light emitted from a mobile phone.
Those suffering from the heat fell asleep in their cars because they could be relieved by the car’s air-conditioning. Rappers like Sarkodie released songs about the energy crisis and Mahama was dubbed ‘Mr. Dumsor’.
For a country which has the goal of becoming a middle-income country within a few decades like Ghana, such an event is calamitous. Companies, especially those which heavily rely upon power such as manufacturers, were hard-pressed in trying to afford gas and generators to keep their businesses going. As such, businesses began to fail. Risk of contracting malaria increased as fans couldn’t be run when you were without power.
Ghana’s largest opposition party at the time, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) led by Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo held a mass demonstration against the electricity shortages in February of 2015. That demonstration was further emboldened by a report by Ghana’s Auditor General which accused energy ministry official of embezzling money to buy 38 luxury cars from a fund which was supposed to extend electricity to 1,200 communities.
In Ghana, celebrities became involved too. The actress Yvonne Nelson coined the Twitter hashtag, #dumsormuststop on social media. In May of 2015, thousands turned up for the Dumsor vigil in black and red clothing. Discussions between a traditional council, the police and event organizers reached a consensus and gave Yvonne Nelson and other celebrities a chance to have the vigil. There was heavy police presence (some 300 police officers) but they did not interfere with the protest except when a government communication aide, Haruna Alidu — who earlier had to apologize for describing political celebrities as “engaged in prostitution”, was nearly lynched by the crowd.
2Face Idibia, a popular Nigerian musician, went on his Instagram to announce a scheduled protest. He explained: “Since 1999, we are still where we are, poor and desperate. I am just a musician with a point of view and the ears of my fans. This march is about demanding that the government connect with all the people of Nigeria, it is not about partisan politics.”
Nigeria’s inflation, which hit higher than 18 per cent in January of 2017, was a main motivator for the protest. As some analysts have pointed out, a more flexible exchange rate (which is against Buhari’s wishes) would have mitigated the inflation worry.
The protest was scheduled for Feb. 6, 2017 at the National Stadium in Lagos with the title ‘One Voice Nigeria’. Almost immediately, 2Face received backlash.
A professor, Akindele Adetoye, called 2Face “a bloody illiterate” who “had sex with all manners of girls without using condoms”. He later apologized. It’s not like Nigeria’s musical political figures (like Fela) were saints. Counter-protests to praise Buhari (‘I Stand with Buhari’) were almost immediately planned with rent-a-hailers from across Nigeria. The fiercest opposition came from the Nigerian police. They threatened to arrest 2Face and warned him to cancel the anti-government protest. After civil rights organizations accused the police of intimidating 2Face, the Vice-President of Nigeria’s aide had to come out and say that they wouldn’t stop Nigerians from protesting. The Nigerian police did not apologize for their bullying.
The pressure that had been created by his protest must have been too much for 2Face. He canceled the event citing the risk of harm to supporters via Instagram. Echoing Goodluck Jonathan (in a way) he said: “The point I am intent on making is not worth the life of any Nigerian. It is, in fact, motivated by the need to demand a better deal for the ordinary Nigerian.”
Professional protesters like Oby Ezekwesili of #BringBackOurGirls chastised the government for creating an atmosphere in Nigeria where dissent was shutdown. Wole Soyinka described the police’s attempt to prevent protest:
“Again and again, efforts, both under military and civilian orders have been made to stifle the rights to freedom of expression by Nigerian governments — Buhari, Babangida, Obasanjo, Abacha, Jonathan….and now again, Buhari? These efforts have been, and will always be resisted. It is a moral issue, as old as settled humanity. It has been settled in other parts of the world. Nigeria cannot be an exception, not as long as her citizens refuse to accept the designation of second, even third-rate citizens.”
Ruminations on the ‘Zoo’ run by ‘Beasts of No Nation’
What can we glean from 2Face’s cancelled protests and the successful protest in Ghana — which arguably contributed to Mahama’s electoral loss in 2016?
First, we could muse that there is a large segment of Nigeria’s elites who are fine with the structural decline which has worsened Nigeria since the 1980s. After all, it’s not like they rely upon government services. If they are sick, they fly to London. If their kids need to go to university — they send them to America or Canada. If they require security, they bribe Nigerian police officers. If they require electricity, they buy massive generators which don’t make the humming noise poorer Nigerians are familiar with. Moreover, a lot of them are directly involved in the process of looting Nigeria which allows them to be a government onto themselves while Nigerians have to make do with the shrinking commons they call their state.
Furthermore, a celebration of mediocrity (“I Stand with Buhari” hailers) and decline never seems to be out of place in the Fourth Republic. There are bellies to fill, wallets to fatten, ‘stomach infrastructure’ to build. Foreign university tuitions to pay etc.
Secondly, note how academics like Adetoye were quick to condemn 2Face’s protest. Academia in Nigeria hasn’t been the same since it was squeezed in the 1980s by the dictator Babangida into virtual irrelevancy. His self-initiated structural adjustment program created a wage crisis in the public sector which caused a human capital flight from academia. University strikes in 1988 were last chance to prevent the collapse of Nigeria’s university system. Typical with Nigerian history, the villains (Nigeria’s military oligarchy) succeded and Nigeria’s tertiary education system was further hampered by poor facilities, heavy workloads and a brain-drain to the West. In 1993, General Babangida shut down all universities in Nigeria and curtailed the power to strike. He also outlawed the national academic union in the country. What should have been a centre for societal influence along with trade unions and the media has been crushed and co-opted by elements of Nigeria’s oligarchy. Academia in Nigeria hasn’t recovered since.
Third, Ghanaian civil society faced a choice in the mid 2010s. Either, adopt the Nigerian solution of power generators, a worsening quality of life and hindered industrialization — or adopt a robust solution which changed power at the top to save their electricity sector. They chose the latter to their credit. Nigeria’s ‘choice’ is even more tragic in the comparison given that it has the largest natural gas reserves in Africa. The Giant of Africa is Big for Nothing in this respect. Although it is unclear in the long-term whether Ghana will avoid future Dumsors, at least its civil society, political elites and citizenry are on the path towards greater and more consistent electricity provision. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s electricity sector remains in the doldrums in the present administration. They are currently blaming “16 years of PDP”, Niger Delta militants, lack of a census, instability in the national grid etc. Last year, Nigeria produced as much power as the Scottish city of Edinburgh.
Another thing to note is that Ghana’s main opposition party led the way with anti-Dumsor protests, later allowing celebrities like Yvonne Nelson to follow it up. The opposite happened in Nigeria. After 2Face announced his protest, Governor Fayose of Ekiti State said that he would also march. Demonstrating that politicians aren’t afraid to lead from behind in Nigeria.
The final matter to address is the spirit of musical politics in Nigeria. Is it dead? Are conscious musicians like Fela Kuti a thing of the past? Maybe not so. 2Face could embolden other musicians in the future to take a stand — despite his own cancellation. But how many musicians could stomach their mothers being thrown out of windows by soldiers? Moreover, how many musicians could then carry their mother’s casket to the army barracks where the soldiers had come from and then continue making music that mocked the military such as “Coffin for a Head of State”? Not many. This is part of the reason why Fela is still so beloved in Nigeria. He had immense courage.
The individuals who deem Nigeria a ‘zoo’ may have been onto something after all. Nigeria is still run by ‘Beasts of No Nation’. Particularly that “animal in craze man skin”, Buhari.