Viewpoint: 'Nigeria Spring' here to stay

 
People with their faces painted with the national green and white colours, and different naira denominations on their forehead, pose during a Lagos demonstration Nigeria's dissatisfied youth have vowed to keep the spotlight on government

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The strikes that forced Nigeria's government to restore some of the withdrawn fuel subsidy have been described as "Nigeria's Harmattan".

They did not last as long as the Arab Spring - but Africa's most populous country and biggest oil producer will never be the same again.

Nigerians have long decried their leadership but now young, well-educated groups have organised themselves on social networking sites such as Twitter - using #OccupyNigeria - to force President Goodluck Jonathan to back down.

The seasons might have shifted, but it will take at least a generation for the dust to settle.

People power

For the first time, Nigerian leaders are being held to account, and many seasoned Nigeria-watchers would never have expected it in this way.

They would have put money on a Swiss banker suffering an attack of conscience and returning some stolen loot before predicting people power in Nigeria.

Start Quote

Fear is dead. Unity is possible. Engagement is inevitable ”

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After all, Nigerians are not supposed to do sustained civil disobedience. These preconceived notions no longer hold true.

While battle-hardened union comrades have settled with the government, there are still many dissatisfied young people.

This was their movement.

While the unions were prepared to accept a compromise of 97 naira (about $0.60; £0.40) per litre, young people wanted much more.

A rallying cry around the removal of the fuel subsidy suddenly became a demand for accountability from government and for lawmakers to curb their excesses.

And as Nigerians return to work, it won't be business as usual.

Time to take notice

The key point of any "revolution" isn't how long it lasts, or how many people take part, but what the results are.

Muslim women holding placards asking what kind of democracy is this? Strikes against the fuel subsidy removal have turned into wider protests

When you have a former top World Bank official and minister of finance begging the Nigerian people for their trust, you know times have changed. And when the man voted Central Bank Governor of 2010 appears humbled and contrite, it is time to sit up and take notice.

So what have the protests achieved?

Fear is dead. Unity is possible. Engagement is inevitable.

Protesters gathering in such numbers is unheard of Nigeria. Rarely has there been anything as unifying as the fuel subsidy protests. From Kano in the north to Lagos in the south, Nigerians had one cause.

Sure, the presence of soldiers on the streets intimidated people, and cut short the protest on Monday. However, the reaction was more one of anger than of cowardice.

The people had their victory last week when thousands of people demonstrated every day. Anything after that was always going to be a bonus.

Against the backdrop of attacks by the Islamist group Boko Haram in the north and pockets of reprisal attacks in the south, this was a precarious time for Nigerians to take to the streets.

But during protests, Christians formed symbolic shields around Muslims as they prayed. In Kano, Muslims visited churches on Sunday as a sign of solidarity.

These were not the actions of a nation at peril, but of a disparate people clinging together, refusing to be divided.

Muslims pray while Christians form a protective human chain around them during a protest against the elimination of a popular fuel subsidy that has doubled the price of petrol in Nigeria's capital Abuja, January 10, 2012. The strike brought Nigerians together - here Christians formed a barrier while Muslims prayed during the protests

The head of the central bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonji-Iweala have been forced to explain their actions like none of their predecessors. They have been present on television, on radio, on Twitter - telling Nigerians why they believed the removal of the subsidy was in the best interests of Nigeria.

Doing right by themselves

This prompted a mushrooming of armchair economists. Of course, we're not all economists, but questioning one's leaders is the sign of a healthy democracy.

The author and economist Jeffrey Sachs got a drubbing on Twitter for supporting the subsidy removal. Global thinkers don't always get short shrift from a now enlightened dark continent.

Youth group Enough is Enough's ReVoDa mobile phone app for monitoring last year's general election was just the start of it.

Websites such as Yourbudgit.com have been created so that anybody can carve up the Nigerian budget to their liking. And youth groups such as Enough is Enough Nigeria Coalition are giving a voice to millions of young Nigerians and helping them to channel their anger.

If the government refuses to do right by the people, the people will do right by themselves.

The young people who have created these tools will not forget these past two weeks, and they'll be watching the government's behaviour closely.

Satire is now part and parcel of the political discourse, alongside impromptu music videos from Nigeria's favourite artists crying the tears of a nation.

"I was there when we defied the government", is what this generation of young Nigerians will be able to tell their children and grandchildren.

And any government wishing to enact policies that cause difficulty for its citizens will have advisers whispering: Remember 1 January, 2012.

 

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  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 23.

    The strike was not at all a "win" for democracy in Nigeria but, rather, a very dangerous attempt by the unionists to aggrandize themselves and weaken the government. The fuel subsidy amounts to $8 BN/yr and the government wanted to put this to other purposes. This unnecessary, disproportionate and indiscriminate strike cost more than $5 BN and caused untold suffering to Nigerians and business.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 19.

    I was encouraged and deeply moved by the love and forgiveness shown by Christians who formed human-shield around praying Muslims during the protest. It gives me hope that Nigeria can survive and prosper as one nation inspite of the spate of terrorist attacks by some radical Muslim - Boko Haram. It proves love and forgiveness can overcome hatred and violence. May God Bless Nigeria.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 7.

    I am very happy that positive has been seen in Nigeria. The Youths are holding the adults accountable and as seen by the mobile apps they are monitoring them. Our prayers have been heard now Nigeria will grow to its full potential.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 6.

    Nigerian leaders have had it so good for too long. They play on ethnic divisions while looting billions of dollars from the national treasury. The only way to make them do the right thing is what we have just witnessed: Nigerians coming together and putting pressure on their devious, greedy and corrupt leaders.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1.

    Great inspiring piece, a new take on recent events in Nigeria that I hadnt considered. But so much past dissapointment leads me to say "these are very early days, lets see if Nigerian civil society can continue in this same vein of solidarity, responsibility and political oversight". Lets also give (some) credit where it's due, govt did eventually do the right thing, after making a wrong decision.

 
 

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