In Tunisia the people said they had had enough of their president, and so they gave him the boot. Egypt saw it and said, “Why can’t we do it? This is our time,” so they poured out in the streets and after a few weeks their president of more than two decades was subdued and sacked. Thereafter, the whirlwind started blowing across that region. Bahrain caught the “contagion”; Yemen was not left out. The Iranian people felt an irresistible nostalgia and turned to pick up from where they left off barely two years ago; they felt a generous chance lurking around for the taking.
Libya, whose strongman once threw caution to the wind and called for the break-up of Nigeria, has not been left out of this people tea party. In fact, his son is threatening a civil-war and split-up of that kingdom, under King Ghadaffi, who started ruling that country in 1969; King Ghadaffi, at the time of writing, was blowing hot in his usual recalcitrant manner, vowing to die a “martyr”. But time is definitely not on his side.
So, an Egyptian court has now approved the launching of a new political party in Egypt post-Mubarak? Wonders shall never end. But that is what makes human living exciting—wonders! But Saudi Arabia is not taking kindly to the move by some of its citizens to form the first political party in that kingdom. What audacity! Hope must truly be audacious to initiate things like that which few days ago would have been a taboo to even contemplate.
Where in all these does Nigeria fit in? People are asking, “Can these events we have been witnessing recently in North Africa and the Middle East happen in Nigeria; if so, will it be any soon?” I would like us to reason together about this question. I propose to examine some few conditions that have prepared and stirred the North Africans and Arab people to rise up at this time. Then we shall determine whether those premises or their parallels exist in Nigeria.
Besides Iran, all the other countries I have mentioned above have or have had monarchical rulers who have presided over the affairs of their countries for at least two decades, with no efforts to open the door for people to have a role in effecting change in their political leadership. Although there is at least 25 percent unemployment level in Egypt with soaring poverty, and poverty, exacerbated by rising unemployment in countries such as Tunisia, were the immediate causes of the people revolt in those countries, such conditions could not be argued to have triggered similar revolt in Libya, where a welfare arrangement is in place and standard of living is much better than in many countries in Africa and the Middle East. In fact, Libya is a middle income country, with huge reserves of more than 100 billion US dollars by the end of 2010 (although about 30 percent live below poverty level, compared to Nigeria, also an oil-rich country like Libya, where over 70 percent live below poverty level). Ghadaffi seems to have used the oil wealth of his country to improve the quality of living of majority of his people. But he withheld from them freedom. When freedom, described in several human liberties, has been snatched from any people, although in exchange they are feted with the king’s portion, a day comes when the feeling of oppression will create discontent that will boil over. In the case of Libya, there appears to be the threat of a civil war or break-up of the country because some part of the country is against Ghadaffi’s continual reign while another wants him to stay on. This situation is most probable in Nigeria with divided ethnic and religious royalties that could be manipulated by any smart but mischievous politicians.
On the other hand, when freedom is dispensed in handsome quantities to a people, and yet the quality of life deteriorates in the midst of this oasis of freedom, discontent creeps in, which can be expressed promptly through the weapon of the freedom allowed at the ballot (Americans do that quite often, inflicting “shellacking” time and time again on perceived non-performance). There is an extreme yet. When both freedom and welfare are taken away from any people, and their captors boast that the silence and unceasing “prayers” of the people are their best response, blindness or poor judgement has corruptly deceived the mind of repositories of those perceptions. When the captors mistake patience for elastic endurance, the day comes when this misreading will be matched by a vehement intractable mass revenge. A pretence or assumption of a gift of rights and freedom to effect political change, and thus, hopefully, social uplifting, being every so often betrayed after the ritual, will someday unleash massive revenge by the people. In their hopelessness, death is no longer feared but courted and welcomed as a friend. When the fear of death is lost by the people, and they only see death as an escape route from the results of oppressive and debilitating rule, the oppressor has lost a restraining tool—the fear of death. His rule has come to an end. How many bullets are enough to wipe off the people? The armies of the oppressor suddenly realize that although they may empty their guns on the people, the bullets will be spent, and then the people shall exact their sweet revenge.
Which of the three scenarios fits Nigeria? I think many will agree that the last does. Although at most every four years Nigerians are told to exercise their franchise in “voting for who should represent them”, it does appear that they really don’t possess such powers. The political godfathers have taken those powers from the people. Ideally, power belongs to the people in Nigeria’s democracy. But by our experience it is just not true. Quality of life in Nigeria gets poorer every election (the ritualistic carnival of Nigeria’s godfathers) day. With this, swells up an army for the day of reckoning. Nigeria’s politicians are building up an army that will be used to send them away for a long time:
1. Political thugs: Every Nigerian politician has little or no trust in the Nigerian police. They know how deprived they have made the Nigerian (politicians’) police to be. The Nigerian police have become the toy of the Nigerian politician. It is what they want the police to disclose that they will; it is those they want them to arrest that they do. Those they want released must be released, and those they want tormented and killed must suffer such fate at the hands of their police men and women. The police in Nigeria are “zombies” to the politicians and their godfathers. Accordingly, Nigerian politicians have recruited an army of thugs that do their bidding. Although they may have a few police officials attached to them, the real police are the thugs that stick to them like flies on an enticing chunk of red fresh meat. After each election ritual many of those thugs are dispensed with until the next election, during which quite a number of past hires never get re-hired. Consequently, discontent is fuelled in growing number of ex-thugs who have had promises made to them broken by politicians whose last virtue can never ever be integrity.
2. Hungry and hopeless unemployed: Every day many more Nigerians are thrown out of jobs or working at under-paying jobs that can never provide for their families. Politicians take advantage of this very situation they have created to taunt and tantalize the people with handouts like crumbs to starving dogs. The people behold the obscene wealth strutted by their politicians, and are biding their time to strike. But will it be very soon? I say yes, except public officials start investing in the people from this moment and start giving back their outrageous salaries and allowances. Except the politicians take pre-emptive steps such as are being taken by governments of Algeria and Jordan to appease the people.
3. Unemployable graduates: Nigerian students, after long gestation periods in Nigerian tertiary institutions (no t
hanks to intervening strikes by their lecturers) are realizing that they are simply unemployable; they are seething with rage that shall soon find expression. Public schools in Nigeria have become mainly centres for mental disorientation. Those graduates cannot bottle in much longer the frustrations of their devalued certificates on which their poor families had pinned their hopes. Children of Nigerian politicians hardly attend those devalued universities and colleges today. They have got over-priced private universities for their children. Nigerian students will soon wake up. What is the source of this confident? Knowledge about their dire situation and the implication of doing nothing is swirling around them so fast. The reality is gradually hitting home as they find in their quest for jobs that employers are picking graduates of over-priced private universities even within Nigeria over them at job interviews; and that is if they are short-listed at all for those interviews.
4. Frustrated politicians: Politicians with enormous resources who have been squeezed out by some power brokers may become ready financiers of future mass revolt. Tempers are steadily rising. The 2011 elections provide a delicate trigger point.
5. Unusually bold elite: There is a growing number of elite in Nigeria who don’t fear death. These shall become the arrow heads when the time is ripe; those arrow heads may be at local, state, and national levels. The 2011 elections, if not properly handled may just present the opportunity for change one way and another.
I would like to warn Nigerian politicians and public officials that the days of measuring economic growth by inanimate indices have come and gone. Building wonderful infrastructure is wonderful, and that should be done. But policies that add to people’s hardship while they watch their public officials live like emperors will only endanger the lives of those politicians. They and their children shall be the main targets in the great awakening in Nigeria. The wastes we see in government with dozens of ministers, commissioners, advisors of advisors etc., being maintained at great cost to the nation, shall hasten the judgement day. The absence of public assistance or welfare to Nigerians is dangerous. The complete absolving of government of its responsibilities to the people as enshrined in chapter two of the 1999 constitution will be paid for dearly. Those Nigerian commentators and politicians such as Speaker Bankole, who think that Nigerians cannot rise up like their colleagues are doing in the Middle-East, are mistaken. Those of them who allege that Nigerians rose up during the June 12, and now we are reaping the benefits of June 12 need to re-examine their assumptions. The wilderness is not the promised land; and the people must get a new set of leaders to get there. Those we complain about now have done their best, and it is not anything beside the best of national disappointment.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and President of the Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org ).
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