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Nigeria: Was It A 14-Day Dream? – OpEd


By Sokari Ekine

Is the Nigerian ‘revolution’ over? Was it just a brief moment in our history when everyone came together believing that this time things would be different? Or has there been a permanent shift in consciousness? Emmanuel Iduma likens Nigeria’s 14-day revolt to a dream from which we awoke and returned to normalcy.

‘The horizon of your dream was of a better life, a different form of existence, a tangible and measurable difference. You saw that the debate about fuel subsidy removal was the opportunity to dream of change, because this was a protest above all protests, because this protest seemed naturally logical. But you forgot that in dreaming one does not feel; the night happens so fast, and very soon you are awake.’

Nigerians may well have woken up and it may appear that it’s business as usual but people do not experience such an outpouring of solidarity and power and remain unchanged. The apathy barrier has been broken and yes there has been a ‘shift in consciousness’ – how deep and how lasting remains to be seen. The momentum was lost when on 13 Friday, when the labour movement called for a two-day weekend break to ‘recuperate’. It would have been better if the NLC had just said we needed time to negotiate than lead people to believe this was only the beginning rather than the end. It was hardly a surprise to learn by Monday that the unions had sold out after a N100 fuel price was agreed with the government. Threats by PENGASSAN to shut down oil production and thereby bring the government to its knees turned out to be merely hot air. On his blog Notes from Atlanta, Farooq A Kperogi speaks for many when he comments on the NLC sellout.

‘Then Nigeria’s thoroughly compromised labour movement hijacked the revolt, lulled the people into a false sense of solidarity and finally extinguished the revolutionary fire that was burning down the foundations of Nigeria’s ruling elite….The Nigerian Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress didn’t join the mass protests until at least three days after the fact. They were obviously drafted by President Jonathan and his agents to help contain, and if possible snuff out, the conflagration that was going to consume them. From the very start, I privately expressed concerns that the Nigerian Labor Congress would infiltrate and dilute the people’s revolt.’

Exactly one week after the protests ended, Boko Haram struck once again. This time it was a bombing carnage in Kano which left between 180 and 250 people dead and hundreds injured [exact figures differ and the number of dead continues to rise]. The sheer bloodbath and impunity with which Boko Haram continues to bomb northern Nigeria almost on a daily basis has left the country traumatised. Only 48 hours after the Kano bomb, the group attacked towns in Bauchi state and as I write there is news of yet another bomb blast in Kano.

With nearly 1000 people dead since 2009, Nigerians continue to speculate about who exactly are Boko Haram and how they are able to continue killing so freely. There is consensus that they are a disparate group with many heads; they do have support both in government and in their communities; the bombing campaigns have been in response to the murder of their leader Mohammed Yusuf and other members of the sect in 2009. It must be noted that this was almost two years before Jonathan became president.

Olly Owen expands on these factors in African Arguments but also reminds us that there is, like in the Niger Delta, ‘a persistent trajectory of under development and misgovernance’ in the region. I would add there is a similar danger of reductionism whereby in this case the sect is simply labeled ‘radical Islamists’ without considering their origins or the material context in which they have flourished.

‘Media speculation, which pointed fingers at former Governor Ali Modu Sherrif as the ‘father’ of Boko Haram, seems to have been wide off the mark, (devout Islamists and his brand of politics stayed far apart) but it is fair to say that the administration, and others like it in the region created the conditions for the spread of extremism by fostering thuggish, winner-takes-all corrupt politics at the same time completely neglecting basic services and education…

‘Religious scholars such as sect leader Mohammed Yusuf preached a pro-poor message which was admired even by some Christians in the city, and gave more concrete help, such as micro-credit, to their own followers. Neither is it surprising that the movement exhibits a marked antipathy to the state – it is after all born in a region which has seen previous millennial Islamic risings such as the 1980s Maitatsine movement, and in which evading the state through border-crossing, smuggling and migration around the Lake Chad borderlands is a virtual way of life for many.’

President Goodluck Jonathan’s failure to act following the Christmas Day bombings left Nigerians feeling he was either cowered by those Boko Haram elements he claims have infiltrated his government or he is just plain incompetent or possibly both. He has finally raised one eye and woken up to the urgency of the situation by ordering the Inspector General of police [IG] and all deputy generals to resign immediately and for an urgent reorganization of the police. The question still remains why it has taken him so long, particularly following the escape of the only suspect in the Christmas Day bombings when over 100 police guarding the prisoner did nothing. The new IG, MD Abubakar [former Plateau state commissioner of police] has a dubious history including being described as a ‘religious fanatic’ by the Niki Tobi panel. Not exactly great start to a ‘new’ police force. Blogger Yomzie explains:

‘This same MD Abubakar was indicted for complicity in the gruesome killing of Dr Shola Omoshola and was recommended for the sack by the Oputa panel. Also, the Justice Niki Tobi panel on the Jos 2001 crisis has recommended the retirement of Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), Zone 5, Muhammed Abubakar. Abubakar was Plateau State Commissioner of Police during the crisis.’

The Nigerian police force is possibly the most corrupt and violent institution in the country, one which has played a major role in terrorising local communities in the Niger Delta, the north and other parts of the country. They have carried out extra-judicial killings, torture, rape and forced prostitution in the Niger Delta and there is no reason to believe they act differently elsewhere in the country. Owen suggests a ‘quiet revolution’ to create a new model of community policing rather than ‘the anti-terror police, increasing paramilitarism, or increasingly expensive high-tech gadgets. It is these ground-level tactics which can help detect crime and extremism, gather intelligence and build partnership and confidence with the public.’

I would also suggest police drawn from local communities and who might have some vested interest in building a trustworthy relationship with the community.

The sense that the government is fearful is supported by statements by two northern politicians who have called for Boko Haram to be given amnesty. Naija Pundit.

‘The Speaker of the House of Representative, Aminu Tambuwal, has urged the Federal Government to forgive the members of the Boko Haram Islamic Sect and grant them amnesty. ‘Forgive them, bring them to the table and discuss with them to see how to end these problems.’ ’About a month ago, Buba Galadima, the National Secretary of the Muhammadu Buhari-led Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) had told the same BBC that the FG was underestimating the support that Boko Haram had within the population…Buba Galadima had reasoned in that interview thus: ‘Why didn’t the president crush the Niger Deltans? That’s a questions a lot of people in this part of the country are asking. Instead they are being rewarded for the economic destruction they brought Nigeria. Why can’t the same be true for Boko Haram? The people are sympathetic to certain principles and ideas,’ he told the BBC. If people feel they are being denied anything or an injustice is being meted out to them then there is a likelihood that they will take the law into their own hands and help themselves.’

I cannot imagine that the majority of Nigerians would agree to an amnesty for Boko Haram even if it were possible, which I very much doubt. Too much blood has been shed and the repercussions for the country go far beyond the bombings to the whole national project that is ‘One Nigeria’. Nigerian social media crews are at pains to counter the international media’s insistence that the Boko Haram attacks are part of a religious war between Christians and Muslims. I completely support this position. But if we scratch below the surface we find that tensions between religions and ethnic nationalities do exist and cannot be swept under the carpet. Religious fanaticism is becoming endemic in both faiths. The country is drowning in God from all directions but maybe the practice of religion is the one unifying force!

Tensions remain between the Niger Delta and the rest of the country. The region has been largely absent from the protests. On the contrary the loudest voices and by far the most disturbing, have come from some activists and ex-militants who issued a statement on Saturday 14 January calling for all Niger Deltans to protect Goodluck Jonanthan and to return home. The statement by the Niger Delta Occupy the Niger Delta [NDOND] was essentially a preamble to secession. It is not clear what precipitated the statement signed by AnnKio Briggs who in December, and as late as the day before, had expressed doubts about the validity of the fuel subsidy removal. She had also insisted that if it was removed it should be conditional. She described the subsidy as ‘The mother of corruption’, which is pretty accurate.

‘The subsidy itself is the mother of corruption. I’m in support of its removal but there are grounds for taking this position. One of them is that Nigerians will not pay a kobo more than they can afford to pay for petrol. Second, there must be an open investigation into how such fraud was perpetrated in the name of subsidy. It is now very clear that something fraudulent was going on. How is it that Nigeria started paying subsidy in 2006 to three companies but by 2011 there were 77 companies collecting subsidy? So, there has to be a public enquiry and these companies must tell Nigerians how they qualified for the subsidy they received. Third, the government must tell Nigerians the issues about our refineries. Why is it that we have four refineries and none is working? People who were interested in setting up refineries across the geo-political zones in the country were not allowed. What is the problem when people can illegally, as they call it, refine crude in a very crude manner and still bring out petrol to sell? This is my position and that of the organisation I represent, Agape Birthright’. [Sunday Sun December 18, 2011. ‘Reps are anti-people – Annkio Briggs’, By Daniel Alabrah]

So it was with horror and disappointment that I read the NDOND statement which could end up undermining years of struggle in the Niger Delta. Although it appears to be a minority viewpoint it is the voice which is being heard above all else. For example, the article supposedly published by the ex-militant group, MEND [there is no way to verify who is behind the site] ‘Can This Government Do the Job’ has not been reported.

‘Nigeria is literally falling to pieces under the watch and stewardship of President Jonathan. And these are not the words of a detractor or an enemy…it would appear that the Nigerian government under President Jonathan has completely lost control of the situation in the country and can no longer guarantee the security of life and property of innocent and law-abiding Nigerians. For murderers to plan and successfully drop 20 bombs, including grenades, in Nigeria’s second largest city, leading to the death of more than 200 people, and the government and its machinery did not pick up any hint of its coming in any way at all to save this country the horror, scandal and embarrassment that befell it last Friday is, to say the least, quite scary. Even during the 1967-1970 Nigerian civil war, I cannot remember anywhere 20 bombs and grenades dropped on a single city in one day. Boko Haram continues to get stronger, more sophisticated and more ambitious by the day while the federal government continues to look weaker, smaller and more pusillanimous.’

Back to the mass action, much has been tweeted about the absence of women in the Nigerian protests which runs contrary to the history of women’s resistance in the country. But on Monday this changed as hundreds of Kaduna women came together in an action against the eviction by the Nigerian Air Force from their ancestral home.

‘The women were carrying placards with inscriptions in Hausa such as, ‘ Bamu da gida sai Titi’ (meaning, our only shelter left is the highway). The women were also protesting the physical assault on one of them by soldiers who were drafted to control the women. An incident that nearly broke into a security operation between the youths, the husbands of the women who were standing by and the security men drafted to the area. The incident, which increased anxiety in the town, led to the complete blockage of exit and entrance of traffic to Kaduna town for over three hours. It, however, took the combined efforts of the police, the military, government officials and community leaders to calm the nerves of the protesting women who had insisted on remaining on the highway as the only shelter left for them to occupy. Narrating their grievances, the leader of the women, Mrs. Monica Musa who spoke to newsmen, said several years back the Air Force had evicted them from Ungwan Waziri, a village were the graves of their great grandparents lay, without any compensation. ‘We had to move to this present location in 1984. They followed us again in 2008, and destroyed our houses and farmlands.’’

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of the 25 January uprisings in Egypt. The day before, the Egyptian Twittersphere reported that jailed blogger Maikel Nabil had finally been released.

‘Yet 10 months of Maikal’s life have been wasted. He should never have been arrested in the first place. His criminal record must now be expunged and he must be compensated for his ordeal,’ she continued. ‘Throughout his trial the Egyptian authorities have behaved with a total lack of respect for his rights. At times they seemed to toy with his life, allowing his health to deteriorate so badly that many feared for his life.’ Jailed blogger Nabil, considered by most to be Egypt’s first prisoner of conscience after being jailed by the military junta early last year, was freed on Tuesday, his brother Mark wrote on Twitter.’

All roads lead to Tahrir in ‘Happy Revolutionary Day’, Egyptian Chronicles writes of the hope and courage which has sustained one year of continuous protest.

‘The big achievement of this revolution is that it brought hope back to the Egyptians and reminded them that they have got a voice the whole world will listen to. May Allah bless the souls of the martyrs as well the lives of the injured. May Allah bless the Egyptian people even those who think that the revolution was a bad thing.’

This was a revolution in which we all participated even if it was just through watching TV reports or following blogs and Twitter – we were all inspired and deep down wished for it to succeed. In this it brought hope to millions of people around the world. As we celebrate a year of African Awakenings inspired by the courageous act of one young man, Mohammed Bouazizi, I can’t help but feel something important is missing. After one year we still have not managed to create a sense of cross border solidarity. It is as if we are all so absorbed in our own uprisings that we are not taking the opportunity to share and support our actions with others. On one level I understand this – revolutions are hard work. Everyone must be physically and mentally exhausted and really even in Egypt and Tunisia the work has only just begun. But I hope at some point during the next 12 months activists are able to reach beyond their borders if only to touch and say hello.

Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.

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