LAST Monday marked another watershed in protests against any government of the day in Nigeria. It wasn’t a massive demonstration that could drown similar ones in the past. The significance rather rests in its coming at a time of biting recession, and in the absence of the leader of the nation, who’s on medical leave abroad.
Even when the Police were able to persuade popular musician and initiator of the anti-government (termed, anti-Buhari) protest, Mr. Innocent Idibia (aka 2Face) to cancel the march on security grounds, the ordinary citizens, goaded by civil society organisations and student bodies, went ahead with the civil disobedience. That, in itself, sent a disturbing message: The people can take their destiny in their hands.
Taking our bearing from the Unity Fountain in Abuja, where protesters in the capital city gathered, the anti-government group’s leader, Mr. Ezenwa Nwagwu, actually put the government on notice against future eventuality. According to him, the era of waiting for labour unions and other civil society groups to fight for the people was over.
“Our government needs to hear directly from us, not through NLC or TUC, those things we say in our offices, markets, schools, churches, mosques and cabs about how bad things are,” Mr. Nwagwu said, adding, “Nigerians would no longer fold their arms and watch government” not meeting its obligations to the people.
The protesters were saying, unequivocally, that the honeymoon, which they indulged President Muhammadu Buhari with since May 29, 2015, was over and, therefore, wanted solutions to their problems, and not excuses or blame game of the past.
Their request, as reported in the media, was simple: Improved quality of life for Nigerians. This they couched in a theme, “#I stand with Nigeria,” and displayed placards, some of which read: “We demand the change you (Buhari) promised,” “Where are the recovered monies?” “Exchange rate madness,” and “Emiefele must go.”
Of course, there was a counter-protest by those who used a hashtag, “#I stand with Buhari,” with similar placards along that line: “Nigerians are fully with you,” “We are happy with your policies, especially the anti-graft war,” “We believe in President Muhammadu Buhari making Nigeria great again.”
A spokesperson for the pro-government group, Mr. Amos Adaka, while commending Buhari’s achievements, especially in the areas of security and anti-corruption, nonetheless, noted that “the President couldn’t reverse within two years of his administration what past administrations destroyed,” and asked Nigerians to “give the government more time to correct the anomalies.”
What’s apparent in these protests, though, was that the anti-government group seemed to drown the voices of professed admirers, sympathisers and supporters of the President and his government. Which indicates that while majority of Nigerians support the President, the past week equally shows that a greater majority might be against him, and ready to stamp their feet no matter his current indisposition.
So, it’s time to get real with governance, which the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, promised the protesters in his message, “We hear you loud and clear.” On his return to the country, President Buhari should take off from there, to assuage the feelings and anger in the land.
For a start, the President and his team must tackle headlong the multifaceted problem of unemployment, hunger, high cost of goods and fall in the people’s purchasing power. The aphorism, “A hungry man is an angry man,” was the reason for – and was on full display at – the nationwide protests by affected Nigerians.
It was good to have a counter-protest by supporters of the government. But make no mistake! Buhari’s supporters were not against the grievances reeled out by the anti-government demonstrators; what they pleaded for was more time, and support for the government to thrash out the issues in the economy.
Why would Nigeria, so abundantly blessed with human and material resources, the self-named ‘Giant of Africa’ and indeed, the acclaimed largest economy in Africa be ruled by the black market and measured in the dollar? The petty trader and subsistence farmer in the remotest part of Nigeria, who have never seen the greenback all their lives, now sell their wares in dollar-quoted Naira – promoted by officialdom, and leverage upon by corrupt and greedy citizens.
Why doesn’t Nigeria just adopt the dollar as its sovereign currency, so that the issue of speculation would be removed from our lives once and for all?
Nigerians, most of whom have not seen power in months and even years, are tired of hearing repeated promises of improvement in the supply of electricity. The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has been everywhere, inspecting and/or commissioning new power plants or rehabilitated ones without the resultant improvement in supply to consumers. When will the hindering problem of alleged sabotage of gas pipelines or unpaid arrears to gas suppliers be resolved for Nigerians to enjoy electric supply that’s central to domestic and industrial activities?
Save for passing remarks by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachukwu, government hasn’t attempted to douse the growing speculation that it’s planning to increase fuel prices. As if the “rumour” is real, petrol stations have started erasing their displayed price tags.
Add to the mix the sudden increase in the price of cooking gas, at a time ships, laden with gas, had berthed at Lagos ports, then you would realise that the “fuel hike cabal” is back at work, hiding under the dollar-to-Naira high exchange rate. But a reminder, and a note of caution to the government: The proverbial oil subsidy ended when it increased a litre of petrol from N86.5 to N145. No succumbing to reintroduction of subsidy through the back!
The President should timeously speak out, and take decisive action on trending issues; he shouldn’t wait for them to fester. Example is the serial attacks of so-called herdsmen all over Nigeria, and the unending bloodletting in Kaduna.
It took quite a while before official intervention came, and that was after much hollering by aggrieved and concerned Nigerians, thus feeding into the unproved narrative that the attacks were part of a grand plan to islamise the country. Government’s denial has done little to stem this belief, especially in the Christian community.
The government should, at all times, tell citizens what it’s doing, with facts and figures. For instance, the other day, the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, spelt out the government plan to expanding the rail system across the country: How much was got from a Chinese loan ($7.5bn), where to be used and the timelines for completion of the projects. That’s information management at its best.
All said, the President, in dealing with Nigerians, should not leave room for conjecture or doubt; transparency must be the watchword. After all, integrity was the main pillar upon which he rode to power. Transparency begets integrity, and integrity inspires confidence and obedience in the citizenry.
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.