This is a short post.
It is a short post on a very long story.
On January 1, 2012, the Nigerian government decided to implement the widely debated policy of a fuel subsidy removal. Fuel pump prices were hiked from N65 to N141, and that consequently affected the cost of living, majorly commodity items and services, especially transport.The people were unhappy.
I watched the complaints bud and sprout wings on Twitter, but I could just imagine the same occurring in local neighbourhoods – the men at the car wash, the women at their market stalls, lamenting this new move by the government and wondering how they would survive the new year.
People began venting their displeasure with the government and the implementation of this policy on the social network. Government representatives who had Twitter-Handles bore the brunt of the heat – whether they did so in a satisfactory manner or not should be an essay Q for students of Public Relations & Information Management (check out the Kathleen NDONGMO story of her encounter with an official). Better still, what do you think?
The Federal Ministry of Information Nigeria decided to set up a Twitter account to further “educate” Nigerians on the benefits of the policy, and set up a Tweet-Meet. A tweet-meet is often regarded in online circles as a Twitter-Townhall-Meeting, where all the participants decide to meet up online at a particular hour (irrespective of geographic location), and hold a discussion using a hash tag. I do not suppose this particular tweet-meet was successful in calming fears and ‘balming’ pains because shortly afterwards (or during the meeting), the protest took to the streets.
Tweet-izens in different states started announcing different points of meet-up joints for their respective protests. I watched people mobilize themselves in Ibadan, Minna, Lagos, Abuja etc. and before long, OCCUPY NIGERIA was born. Oc-Nigeria also went global – from London to DC. Alas, the protest at this time was all about “reverting the pump price to N65”.
TIME magazine was one of the first to publish a full story on the Nigerian development, ingeniously weaving it into the top story on US politics- the primaries.
…Alas, the protest at this time was all about “reverting the pump price to N65
In no time international media organizations were on the story. Aljazeera through their social media arm, AJStream, curated stories, BBCaFrica (HaveYourSay) lent its global microphone to citizens to express themselves, CNN albeit so much ongoing drama in US politics, managed to give Nigeria a few spots after Nigerians actively mobilized votes for the protest story on iReport.
As the protests gained momentum, the police brutality began. A blogger’s narrative of his experience brought tears to my eyes. I suggest you hold a tissue close by as you read Azeenar’s blog. Although “Azeenar” survived (hence she can tell the story), another young man called Demola didn’t. He lost his life at the mouth of the barrel early on in the protest. This did not deter the people . Amnesty International urged Nigeria to put an end to the police attacks on fuel protesters. This was how the international community viewed the protest – it was simply a protest against the new price of fuel. But was that really it?
Not too far into the protest, the tune changed. It became about the people questioning the accountability of the government. “Can we really trust you to put in effect all the lofty ideals you have enumerated? Based on past experiences, we think not.” Jeremy Weate sent me his article on The Fuel Subsidy Removal Protests for Dummies – very good read. I will pick on the last line of his post:
Come what may, underlying events this week a deeper shift is at work: a new generation of Nigerians well versed in events to the north in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya is demanding that the terms of the social contract in Nigeria are re-written, in favour of increased accountability in political leadership.
Information started wheezing around Twitter on the contents of the Nigerian budget allocation. In fact, I found a Twitter handle for Nigerian-Budget-Made-Easy. The most popular point of discussion was the President’s Kitchen. Catchy phrases on the President’s huge kitchen allocation started making the rounds – “does the President eat Louis Vuitton rice and Gucci beans?” The people began demanding that before the government sacrifices their subsidy, the allowances enjoyed by those in the government should be checked. Their theory was that there was too much waste in government circles.
The next challenge was for Nigerians to get the international media to swing to this new tune. Global media was mostly stuck on the old story (which was easier) that this was a protest about the pump-price. I critically observed the situation, they were not really wrong. The placards said it all. The response of an average Nigerian to why he was out there on the street gave the ‘pain in the pump price’away. Only a handful (in comparison to the population of Nigeria) understood the bigger issue and decided to be vocal about it. May I call the enlightened ones the Twitter-Elites?
In my opinion, this new agenda for the protest – to contest corruption and demand transperency and accountability from the government didn’t make it to the majority platform. Hence, when the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) joined the protest, organized an official strike and entered into negotiations with the government – it all came crashing down the moment the government decided to NOT revert to N65 but leave pump price at N97. At this juncture, NLC called off (they say suspended) the strike, signalling the end of Occupy Nigeria protests (but not Occupy Nigeria).
The people were dumbfounded and aghast. Many citizens accused the NLC of selling out and betraying the people- this wasn’t what they were crying about. I had a friend send me a really long lamentation on my phone about how he doesn’t blame the citizens who have left this country because he is beginning to lose hope for a better Nigeria.
I tweeted last night that I refuse to see Occupy Nigeria as a failure, rather as a Pilot-Study. From being a silent observer of proceedings, I have learnt a lot from this experience on how best to champion the cause of democracy in a society where the culture is developing – that’s the crux of my thesis.
Just a food thought, not every revolution needs the ‘Spring Format‘.
I say the true revolution has just begun in Nigeria because now the people KNOW (knowledge) and they will continue to seek to know, as they deliberate and implement . After this OCCUPY, Nigeria would never be the same again.
This was meant to be a short post.