By Mark Amaza.
This is the catalyst, the precursor to a Nigerian polity that is based on ideas…the best thing that can happen for the movement is for the tempo and engagement to be sustained, even long after the protests end, because they will not last forever
It has been a week since President Goodluck Jonathan’s government executed the suicidal move of removing subsidies on petrol, which is about the only form of welfare that Nigerians receive from the wealth of their country. The response has been, as expectedly, vociferous in opposing such a move. Rallies and protests have been held and are being held, newspapers have written tons of articles against it and social media has boiled over with rage about it. It is a deafening response of no.
But one of the most remarkable outcomes of the subsidy removal is how young Nigerians have been able to organize themselves and hold rallies across this country, using mainly the social media as a tool. Adopting the method of the Occupy Wall Street protests and in cities around the world in crying out against the unfair distribution of wealth in the capitalist world, the Occupy Nigeria movement came to be. It was born in Abuja, grew up in Lagos and matured in the city of Kano, where the boundaries of religion and ethnicity disappeared, with pictures of Christian protesters protecting their Muslim compatriots while they prayed; this in a city that hitherto has become a byword for religious riots and sectarian strife. The power of social media was tapped into and harnessed, from tweets with #OccupyNigeria or #FuelSubsidy hash tags, to Facebook posts and notes to BBM broadcasts to blogs, Nigeria saw something that has never been seen before; that millions of Nigerians were gripped and engaged in this political and economic debate and it was all mainly about the issues, and not religion, zoning or ethnicity.
It is left to see how long these protests and sit-ins can go on for, especially with the government’s adamant stance that there will be no reversal of the policy of withdrawing the subsidies. But one thing is certain: a Pandora’s Box of sorts has been opened in the course of the history of Nigeria, albeit in a positive way. Never before has such unity been shown by Nigerians, save for when the national football teams are playing. Not only that, it seems young Nigerians were suddenly woken up from slumber, as they have begun to take more than just a passing interest in our national affairs. This leaderless movement has become more than just an opposition to subsidy removal. It subsumes larger issues in Nigeria such as corruption, waste in government, poor or inexistent government services, lack of infrastructure and so on and so forth.
There is no unified desired end result to these protests, opinion ranges from t those who demand that the entire government should be removed Arab-Spring style, to those asking for a simple reversal of the subsidy withdrawal, to those who are willing to a compromise for a slight increase in the fuel price as long as government pledges and begins to cut down on its size and waste…and this is not entirely a bad thing. Matter of fact, this is a very good thing for Nigerian politics especially in the long term. This is the catalyst, the precursor to a Nigerian polity that is based on ideas, which is something I have forever longed for. Hearing and reading the arguments of various opinion groups within the movement, even those outside it who are in support of the subsidy removal, you cannot help but be impressed by the power of the arguments and convictions.
The best thing that can happen for the movement is for the tempo and engagement to be sustained, even long after the protests end, because they will not last forever. We have to make use of every tool available to us to keep pressing home the solutions we believe are the best to our pressing issues. Whether it is via twitter and tweet-meets with government officials, or through personal blogs and opinion sites, there should be no relenting in the desire to create the Nigeria of our dreams. Also very important is that there has to be an effort from the Nigerian online community to create synergy with the most powerful agents of influence offline. The wonderful ideas we put up on the internet must find a way to get into newspapers, past the editorial controls that usually keep bloggers out. Even though social media’s influence in Nigeria grows daily, we cannot deny the fact that traditional media still wields more influence at this point, especially among the older generation, most of whom still find the Internet a mystery. Not only that, the numerous youth-driven opinion sites must make efforts to facilitate live events and offline activity such as talks, symposia or rallies to drive their points home.
It will just be a matter of time before the point is reached when all these groups will start becoming part of the political process and contribute to governance itself, because it is from the inside that change happens.
Hopefully, there will be a time in the future when we shall look back on the fuel subsidy removal saga as a turning point in the politics of our nation, whether or not the policy is reversed. I just pray that I am not being too optimistic