The relationship between Nigerians and their government has never been particularly rosy. Probably the only time in its history when Nigerians had a healthy relationship with the government was between 1960 to 1963. Since then it’s all gone to shit. Nigeria begun her fourth stint with democracy on the 29th of May 1999. But 30…
The relationship between Nigerians and their government has never been particularly rosy. Probably the only time in its history when Nigerians had a healthy relationship with the government was between 1960 to 1963. Since then it’s all gone to shit.
Nigeria begun her fourth stint with democracy on the 29th of May 1999. But 30 years of a brutal experience with military dictators still left its mark. Nothing has really changed. Nigeria is a democracy in all but name, I would stand in tandem with Ayo Sogunro and call it an Anocracy. The Nigerian government abuses its citizens so much that one begins to think, based on the intensity of these abuses, that it is just the government testing how much abuse the people it is meant to serve can take.
I was born during the years of a corrupt military dictator and had my formative years in the shadow of another — the most repressive the country had ever known — and I am a millennial. One of my parents was a refugee during the civil war and the other only heard about the horrors and war crimes going on in the area once known as Biafra.
So, Nigerians living today can very much recount to you their experience with a horrible government that has only interested in stealing from the people it is supposed to serve. Hence, Nigerians had to develop a sense of resilience, cynicism and the ability to adapt to survive. We thank our government for not being too repressive, for performing sub optimally and for doing things that should have been normal — as a government.
But the Nigerian government just keeps testing the people it is supposed to serve. It feels like “let’s do this to the people and see what their reaction would be”. And, as in everywhere else, people who are being oppressed at some point conclude that enough is enough. The Nigerian people do this all too well. But they degenerate from political passivity — accepting whatever horseshit the government gives them to eat — to political violence — burning and destroying the lives and properties of the innocent in the name of protesting a government — eschewing political engagement and activity. At the end, nothing is done, the Nigerian people adapt and that, which was barbaric becomes the new norm.
On the first of January 2012, former President Jonathan announced that the subsidy on petrol would be removed. Overnight, prices moved from 65 naira ($0.40; £0.26) per litre to at least 141 naira. This led to the violent Occupy Nigeria protests that eventually led to a shutdown of all economic activity in the country for almost 3 weeks. As usual the Nigerian government did what it did best — try to quell the protests so it does not have to answer to the people. Over three people were killed by the police men during the protest. There are reports that the order given to the riot policemen was to kill at least one of the protestors, as a strategy to end the protests. An agreement was eventually reached. The price of petrol would be 86.5 naira per litre instead of 141 naira. The subsidy would not be entirely removed.
Fast forward to 2016.The abysmal drop in crude oil prices coupled with a fiscally decrepit system, eventually led to an economic recession in the country — a country where it’s major source of revenue and foreign exchange is oil — the Nigerian government, under President Muhammadu Buhari, after subjecting the people to untold hardships, decided to completely remove the subsidy. The IMF boss Christine Lagarde was also known to have influenced this decision. She said, about subsidy, that “not only do they harm the planet, but they rarely help the poor.”
The Nigerian people have come to accept insane petrol prices as the norm. The government has raped them once against and they have decided to victim-blame themselves. They did not protest when Nigeria was flaring natural gas for decades. They did not protest when Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil were destroying the ecosystems in the Niger Delta — but instead criticized those who had had enough in that area, and resorted to violence against the oil companies and their expatriates — calling them militants. They did not protest the fact that Nigeria is one of the largest oil producers in the world but still imports refined petroleum products. They did not protest the corruption of the NNPC. No! They only came out to the streets when that thing that they benefited from directly was taken away. Now, I say, to what end? The government has the backing of the constitution. If it chooses to be a beast and oppress its people, it finds it very easy to do when most of its populace are political passive and has justification for shutting them down violently when they resort to political violence.
This horrible behaviour does not just lie with the government, but has also spread to university campuses. I won’t go into history to give examples of university students in the 70s, 80s and 90s protesting — some cases violently — the military dictators of their time, because under those circumstances one could argue that their actions were just. But I would give some recent examples.
In September 2015, a student at the University of Lagos was struck by an electric feeder wire, that had been hanging dangerously out of place for a while. She was electrocuted and rushed to the medical clinic on the campus, but was not attended to in time and she was pronounced dead after. This led to a University wide riot on the lack of adequate emergency services and gross negligence at the University’s health center. As usual the protests turned violent, innocents suffered and the University was shutdown.
On the 29th of May, President Jonathan decided that in honour of the late statesman Moshood Abiola, the name of the University of Lagos would be changed to Moshood Abiola University. Again this led to violent protest in the University which then led to the school shutting down and almost the fatality of a young woman as a result of the teargas fire by riot police into the crowd. Finally, the president reversed his decision in February 2013. But not due to the political violence that arose from it, but the political engagement of the students who sued the president.
In 2013, students at the Nasarawa State University were protesting over the scarcity of water and power on the campus for several days. Four students were killed, some say by the police and others day by the army — both denied it. But eye witness reports say the students were killed by the military who tried to quell the protest.
In April 2016, two students of the University of Port Harcourt were killed by the police during a protests of the hike in their school fees.
Usually all these protests lead to the loss of life, property and no change. That cycle of resilience, cynicism, passivity, violence and eventual adaptation happens again. This is because staying out on the streets protesting is hard work. You must work and put food on the table.
What one forgets is that political engagement is easier and cheaper than political aggression or violence. One can do political engagement as one goes about his normal daily activities.
Nigerians still live in this trauma. They still live in this cycle of oppression fed by the dependency on and abuse of their government. The Nigerian child born in 1999 — when Nigeria became a democracy for the fourth time — would be almost 18 now. This child has had no direct experience with an outright oppressive government. Hence this generation — generation Z — seems to be the only hope Nigeria has. They must not fall into that cycle that starts with resilience and ends in adaptation.
The youth, students, younger millennials and upcoming generation Z…
This message is for you. In 2017 do not go out and protest, first, engage in intentional political activity. Some of us were told we would be the leaders of tomorrow, tomorrow has come and the leaders of yesterday have no intention on relinquishing control. To take it from them we must be active. First, you are not too young to be interested in politics. You are the only ones that can do this, because unlike every other group — the elderly and the older working class folks — you are the only ones with a margin to make mistakes and for failure; you are the only ones who have not been swallowed up by that cynical cycle — or the only one swallowed up by choice; if you have been swallowed up, you can still get out. It is time to take the life of your nation into your hands by becoming politically engaged.
I leave you the words of Bertolt Brecht:
“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”
By political engagement, I do not mean re-tweeting something that sounds profound, or a Facebook share, or engaging in pseudo-intellectual arguments on social media comment boxes. Those are good and useful — but only sometimes. I mean buy books and read them; organize politically; lead peaceful rallies; read the 1999 constitution and all its amendments — to know your rights and how much power you have; donate some of your allowances — if you are still at the age where you get those or privileged to have parents or guardians that give those — to grassroots organizations led by you and people like you; reach out to those you call “Agberos”, “Area boys”, “Thugs”, etc.: become their friends, listen to their problems and do what you can to create structures that can solve their problems; setup social enterprises that actually come up with tailor made solutions to the problems around you.
You might be wondering how to achieve all this. How can we do this? How can I lead a grassroots movement led by young people like me? How can I get an unrepentant and greedy legislator removed? I am 18 and just got into the University, what can I do? I have a few ideas that might work.
Originally published here.
Watch out for Part 2.