[This post is an article I wrote for the TCS student newspaper on the Occupy Nigeria movement.]
“If you are raping a nation, then you are not a child of that nation.”
On January 1st, Nigeria woke to an economic crisis that has rocked the largest oil-producing African nation to the core, becoming a catalyst for a wave of peaceful protests and an urge for deep social change.
On average Nigeria, the 5th largest oil-producing nation in the world, produces 2.4 million barrels of crude oil a day. However, the impoverished conditions of its own refineries means the natural resource is internationally exported and refined, whilst the country imports 70% of all the gasoline it uses.
The State claims by slashing the subsidies it will ‘free-up’ money to be used elsewhere, such as improving Nigeria’s notoriously poor roads, infrastructure, unreliable power grid, and maintain education and healthcare facilities. However, for a country that does not have a minimum wage, where the majority of the people live on under $2 a day despite its abundance in natural resources, the subsidies, to many Nigerian’s, are the only ‘helping-hand’ the Government gives. The abrupt hike from N65 to N141, or N100 to N200 on the black market, for a litre of oil has instantaneously crippled both the economic and social state of the country. Businesses cannot function, institutes cannot run and now, with support from the two largest trade unions, the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union of Nigeria, city-wide protests have stirred a social uprising called #Occupy Nigeria.
The aim of the movement is to put pressure on the Government to re-introduce the subsidies, or at least give people enough time to adjust to the new changes. Since Independence, and the discovery of oil, it is widely known that the Nigerian Government ‘suffers,’ from corruption on all scales. Many protesters are questioning whether there ever was a subsidy, and whether this is just another form of State extortion. It is ironic, that a country whose resources are vitally intrinsic to the way in which our world operates, has been unable, through poor governance and a lack of state-citizen accountability, to harvest and nurture its own nation. Whilst it is said Nigerian Government officials are some of the most highly paid in the world, the country is still referred to as a Less Economically Developed one.
On one hand there is the ever-present colonial rhetoric that condemns Western involvement from the partition of Africa through to the oil companies that are ravaging, with no regard to environmental, social, or economic preservation, the country. To an extent it is a valid point. Perhaps there is a degree of external oppression that is preventing such a vital and naturally rich country from harnessing its wealth and flourishing. No doubt if Britain produced even a fraction of Nigeria’s daily 2.4 billion barrels of crude oil, it might not be in the type of recession it is facing, but then again who knows.
“can you live in a house and conscientiously work towards the demolition of the structure?”
The problem with Nigeria is one of accountability. As one protester in California stated, “ those who rape a nation cannot call themselves children of that nation.” Maybe, through corruption instigated by the perpetual fear in many developing countries, of a sudden loss in economic and material security, it is the Nigerian Government that has become the economic colonizers and oppressors of this great west African nation. As one Nigerian lawyer states,“can you live in a house and conscientiously work towards the demolition of the structure?” That, in political terms, is treason, and treason, even in this country, is punishable by death.
In the wake of what may turn into its own West African Spring, the resounding note is that Nigeria needs to put to death this system steeped in a thirst for material security without accountability. A regime maintained through the mentality of self-preservation which has perpetuated a leadership governed by fear of poverty to create a vacuum for injustice. Until Nigeria wakes up and with one united voice calls for a grassroots change, one government will rise, one will fall, and the sickness that plagues that office will remain.
So how does this country that was once hailed as a leading nation, that once saw the Naira equal the pound, and created treasures such as the Ife Bronzes, tangibly move forwards? Some say it needs a system nearing the measure of a dictatorship to flush out this plague of corruption. However, once you remove the people’s voice and the potential for state-citizen accountability, you annihilate the chance for a sustainable change. One may argue that until grass-roots poverty is removed, the people’s voices remain available to the highest bidder, and a rhetoric of accountability is only more voting propaganda.
I would answer the question like this: since the protests have started not only have Nigerians from across the social stratas joined together the world over, but even from religious sects. Where the Boko Haram terrorist group were bombing churches on Christmas day, Christian protestors in Kano protected their Muslim brothers who were praying, and Muslims escorted Christians to church. This shows that what is plaguing Nigeria is not tribal conflict, not religious and it is not social. What we are seeing is a nation rising to its feet with one voice, because it has realised that it is now ready to govern its own country, make real change in its own country, fight for freedom for its own country, as one people for an effective, attainable and enduring change.