”Young Nigerians rushed into protests, organized labour was unprepared for what hit it and there was no scale up of national economic shutdown because of ethnic divisions and improper coordination. This was the government’s game plan and like fools, the rest of society played its script’’
(Public Affairs Analyst)
On January 1, 2012, the Federal government of Nigeria removed fuel subsidies effectively causing a doubling in petrol price and the prices of transportation and food commodities. It did this after several months of declaring its intentions and while still in apparent consultations with relevant stakeholders.
(Protesters deface a portrait of Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan during a protest against a fuel subsidy removal in Lagos)
By January 2, youths in different parts of the country started to organize for almost spontaneous protests. These protests kicked off on the 3rd of January. Most of the groups of young people that went into the streets that week were members of variously labeled youth groups. They lacked national coordination, failed to move the government and worst of all sustained human losses. In retrospect, while having momentum, this energy went to waste because there was no national coordination or scale up. The pressure they exerted was of no effect.
(Protesters affiliated to organised labour in Lagsos)
Organized labour on its part went to sleep in the months it was allegedly in talks with the government. Perhaps the sweet talk and rich food served them by the government caused them to fail to make contingency plans. They were thus taken unawares when government after promising to remove the subsidies in March, did an ambush and removed it in the midst of national festivities. As a result, it took organized labour one week to organize itself for mass action; by which time, the momentum had been seized from it by young people, who were however unable to achieve critical mass. As a result at the start of the industrial action, the anger was no longer so keen and what should have made the government run out from Aso Rock, became a continuation of New Year celebrations-street rallies and sit-in carnivals entertained by musicians.
In the South-South and commercial areas of the South-East, ethnic and business considerations have assured that business is going on as usual. As a result, the Federal government is sitting very comfortable at a time it should be sweating.
(Members of Nigeria’s FEC banter at the council’s meeting n 04/01/2011)
As most of the barrels of oil from which it gets its revenue are derived from off-shore fields and since the on-going action has not stopped production from these fields, revenue is still pouring into its coffers, and the government no doubt is having a private laugh at the people as we saw from the banter at the Federal executive council meeting on 04/01/2012.
Also the fact that most elite in PDP controlled states are in support of the federal government means that the occupynigeria protests have failed to mobilize all classes of the Nigerian society. Even the opposition controlled states have been alleged to have tacitly asked for the subsidy removal so as to access more funds to their coffers. Now because of populist considerations, they publicly endorse the protesters. The question to ask though is, if they support the protests, why have they not joined the protesters in the streets.
The elite rich therefore feel, it is a fight between them and the poor. Citizens in the south –south feel it is them for their kinsman against other ethnic groups. The business men in the South-East feel it is them against the working class. As a result the whole society rather than uniting to confront the core issues of government insensitivity, prodigal spending and corruption have turned against one another. The government therefore is not feeling the heat.
(Lamido Sanusi, Governor Central Bank of Nigeria)
Another mistake of the occupynigeria protest is to assume that the government is composed of stupid people. In war, it is a big error to underestimate the enemy. In rushing into protests and in seeking to prepare the people for prolonged industrial action, occupynigeria alongside organized labour has failed to acknowledge the pedigree of the government. Even if we refuse to consider the credentials of other members of this government, at least no one can claim not to be awed by the credentials of the ministers in charge of the economy i.e. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Lamido Sanusi, and Segun Aganga. These people, no matter how vilified, are by no means, stupid. They must therefore have a game plan and contingency arrangements to handle the crisis they expected would follow their ambush action of removing subsidies on the first day of 2012.
As the government expected, young Nigerians rushed into protests, organized labour was unprepared for what hit it and there is no scale up of national economic shutdown because of ethnic divisions and improper coordination. This is the government’s game plan and like fools, the rest of society is playing its script.
( Nigerian security forces)
As part of its game plan, it has increased salaries of the military, back-dating it to September 2011 so as to quell any incentive to join the protests. It refused to change the heads of security agencies even in the face of their ineptitude and those of us who asked why then, now understand. It was preparing for these protests a long time ago and therefore could not risk doubting the loyalty of those in charge of its security forces.
(Anti fuelsubsidy removal protesters in Lagos)
Projecting into the future, I suspect that the government’s game plan would involve them reversing petrol price to N65/litre with the proviso, that they should be allowed to hands off subsidies as originally planned in April. Weary protesters, organized labour and society will lash on to this and possibly see it as a victory. The government however will have won. It will be perceived as one that listens to its people by the international community and at the end will achieve its aim of removing the subsidies at its own schedule, which was planned originally for April.
If this happens the goals of the occupynigeria protests will have been unachieved. This is because the occupynigeria movement is asking for reform of government and by getting just a short-term reversal of petrol price will mean it has failed in reforming how the Nigerian government is run.
(Logo of the 6 April Youth Movement that led the Egyptian revolution)
At the start of these protests, azeenarh.wordpress.com called for proper coordination among the different groups floating the occupynigeria banner. It appears nobody listened. The Egyptian revolution was spearheaded by the 6 April youth group and it took them 33 months to prepare for the start of the revolution that changed how government is run in Egypt. On Jan. 25, 2011, they saw the opportune moment and seized it. The mass support they obtained from all segments of the Egyptian society and the energies they exerted was backed by several months of planning. It took Hosni Mubarak by surprise. He could not divide and rule. He was on his own and stood no chance.
( Image of an opportunist)
Young opportunists today seize the occupynigeria platform so as to posture as youth leaders. They regard opposing views with disdain and have failed to build broad base of support for the movement they are trying to build. They think raw energy and force of numbers will get results. However without proper planning, coordination and understanding of the times, the aims of the movement may never be achieved.
Unfortunately, this may mean that the possibilities of reforming Nigeria peacefully in the near future may be lost with attendant negative consequence to the living standard of its people and their country’s continued existence.