Abimbola Adelakun, in her Thursday column on The Punch, sums up the crisis of government in Nigeria when she writes of the, "...waste...the corruption, the persistent lies, the inefficiency, the indiscipline," that accounts for the situation in which a country with a daily production of 2.6 million barrels of crude oil, ranked among the top oil producing states in the world, is listed among the world's poorest.
Government's negotiation with Labor over the weekend betrayed signs that many Nigerians might have missed: The Jonathan administration is more anxious about its own security in power than resolving as soon as possible, the deadlock in its negotiation with Labor. Media reports
reveal the fixation of government officials on the fear that civil society organizations may escalate the protests into a popular civil uprising against Jonathan's administration
, and bring about Nigeria's version of the Arab Spring.
In the absence of threat of the protests escalating into a general civil uprising, an obviously attractive strategy for the government would be to maintain a rigid posture until Nigerians, who mostly live hand-to-mouth, and must earn income on a daily basis to survive, are forced to abandon the protests and return to their businesses and other means of livelihood. But civil society organizations that have allied themselves to the nation's Labor organizations have been actively mobilizing Nigerians and raising awareness that the issues at stake transcend the limited goal of reverting fuel prices to 65 Naira per liter. The real issue is the longstanding problem of corruption and mismanagement of the Nigerian economy as a whole.
Professor Chinua Achebe, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor
, quoted estimates that official corruption costs Nigeria about $10 billion a year (compared to the $8 billion government claims it will save by removing fuel subsidy). As Professor Achebe pointed out, corruption in the downstream sector of Nigeria's oil industry is a reflection of a more pervasive problem in the system that needs to be tackled. Merely removing subsidy as a way of fighting fraud in the downstream industry will not solve any problems. As Adelakun expresses it, "If you destroy the subsidy temple, in three days, they'll build it up again."
Plot to force a regime change?
The statement by Nigerian Labor
that it: "[...categorically dissociates itself] from any plot to change the present regime in the country through the mass action spearheaded by it" reflects the tactical approach government has adopted in pressuring Labor to end the protests and stifle the voice of the people. By accusing labor of working for a "regime change," government hopes to intimidate Labor to give up the protests. Government officials continue to cite unsubstantiated "intelligence" that some "outside forces" are working to "hijack" the protests to "political ends." In response, Labor, in a statement, was forced to renounce the growing legitimate feelings in the streets that it is time for the masses to OCCUPY NIGERIA
. Labor's statement said:
“The Labor Movement once again reiterate that the strikes, rallies and street protests must be peaceful and that the objective is the reversal of the petrol (PMS) prices to their pre-January 1, 2012 level. We are therefore not campaigning for ‘Regime Change.'"
Enough is Enough, Nigerians say
Labor is correct in saying that Nigerians should not be campaigning for a "regime change," in the sense of forced or violent removal of the present administration. They are aware of the constitutional way of doing this through the ballot box. What Nigerians, mobilized by such civil society organizations as the popular "Enough is Enough" coalition
are campaigning for is a "regime change," in the sense of change in the way in which government business is run, a change in the regime of corruption that has impoverished Nigerians. The Occupy Nigeria Movement
is not about Jonathan's administration, it is about Nigeria and Nigerians who voted Jonathan to power. The right of Nigerians to protest corruption in government cannot be taken away from them by sounding hysterical alarms of a plot to force "regime change," and deploying fully armed soldiers to hot spots as Gani Fawehinmi Park in Ojota
to stop them for peaceful protests.
Labor was evidently pressured into making the statement that: “We made a pledge that once the price increase suspension is announced, Labor and its allies will immediately suspend the strikes, rallies and street protests." That is, in short, Labor wants us to allow government to go back to the business of official sleaze as usual as soon as it can negotiate an agreement with government over fuel price.
Labor's statement betrays the legitimate long-term goals of civil society to put pressure on the state for a change in the regime of corruption. What would we have achieved if we all return to our homes as soon as Ebele announces that fuel price has been returned to 65 Naira or reduced to 97 Naira? Nothing, because the root causes of the longstanding crisis in Nigeria's downstream sector of the oil industry will remain unaddressed; and that is the corruption and profit racketeering which ensures that the country's four refineries continue operating indefinitely at 38.2% capacity so that middlemen with strong connections in government may import the balance and make huge profits at the expense of the majority. It is the same regime of corruption and profit racketeering in a clientilist state that ensures that after decades of seeming efforts, Nigerians still live under a regime of constant power outages that plunges whole cities into darkness for weeks without any explanations from official quarters. Meanwhile, a politically powerful cartel of power generating set importers cash in on the contrived crisis, making millions at our expense and sustaining Nigeria's position as the global top importer of power generating sets. The interests of business cartels with strong connection in government features again in the transportation industry. Whistleblowers in the transportation industry have long maintained that the nation's railway system was allowed to go moribund in the 1970s to allow the notoriously powerful cartel of road haulage operators prosper.
Occupy Nigeria now!
The signs are clear in the clientilist state setup which breeds corruption like maggots in a tin can that it is time for civil society to Occupy Nigeria. The decisions of Jonathan's administration to impose new pricing regime on Nigerians without due consultation only provided an opportunity for frustrations that have long been simmering to boil over. If Labor wants to suspend the agitation for a corruption free Nigeria as soon as they get their 65 Naira per liter of petrol sop that is their decision alone. Everyone knows that the tempo of protests against official corruption in Nigeria has not been sustained by the efforts of the Labor organizations but by civil society organizations who are closer to the people than the labor leaders themselves.
The civil society organizations are the "outsiders"
government is accusing of planning to "hijack" the protests. Yet, the issue of corruption that has bedeviled the success of the Nigerian enterprise in five decades must sooner or later be addressed, 65 Naira per liter petrol or not. And it is in the sense of fighting for an end to regime of official corruption in Nigeria that one may correctly state that civil societies are organizing the people for a "regime change." "Regime change" in that context is not about Jonathan and his administration that has less than four years of its term left. The issues at stake are bigger than that: What is at stake are the lives of Nigerians and generations to come. If Jonathan and his hangers-on in power can't see beyond the present interests of their administration then, too bad for them. Nigerians have bigger issues to worry about than Jonathan and his administration. Administrations come and go, but Nigeria remains.
The right of Nigerians to speak-out and take charge of their own lives and OCCUPY NIGERIA cannot be taken from them. We need a civil movement that can bring long lasting pressure to bear on government to change its ways. The Occupy Nigeria Movement should not end with the resolution of the fuel subsidy crisis . There are pressing issues of gross anomalies in the Nigerian state that must be addressed. Ibrahim Babangida
, a former military dictator, admitted as much. Only the civil society organizations have the clout to mobilize Nigerians to Occupy Nigeria in the fight against official corruption and mismanagement of the Nigerian economy. This is a higher goal to strive for independent of the temporary fuel subsidy crisis, and in the words of Achebe
"The right to protest, the right to freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of speech…these are all human rights that should be protected in any democracy, indeed in any nation. Any involvement of ordinary Nigerians in a non-violent (peaceful), organized, protest for their rights and improvement in their living standards, in my opinion, as a writer, should be encouraged."