Forced normalcy may have returned to major Nigerian cities following organised labour’s decision to suspend protests over the removal of fuel subsidies after the government partially yielded to their demands for the restoration of subsidy on fuel. But the pent up anger that sparked the protests still boils in many Nigerians.
The protest is still firing up online, building on the unity gained across the nation through a shared frustration with government, despite President Goodluck Jonathan successful use of the military to suppress further street protests in most cities.
The internet and social media is rife with frustration and disapproval of the President Jonathan’s refusal to return fuel subsidy fully and prosecute those he earlier called “cabals.” The public also feel let down by labour unions and certainly unhappy with government military suppression of peaceful protests.
The anger is locked up in individuals and only expressed in the social media, where it is connecting with similar interests and galvanising unity against government.
The public view point is that the central essence of the protest was not addressed in labour unions’ truce with the government. Labour unions negotiated only the restoration of subsidy. But the true essence of the protest, the online crowd says, is to seek genuine changes in the way government conducts its business. Many Nigerians perceive the government as corrupt, unreasonably expensive and unable to provide security for its citizens.
One of the gains of the Occupy Nigeria movement is the birthing of Nigeria’s critical mass. This group, comprised majorly of young professionals, is expanding its shared knowledge base in minutes through dynamic channels. Nigerians seem to have snapped, suddenly picking up more interests in governance and demanding more accountability and transparency. Nigerians have become more coherent, informed and vigilant.
Persistent anger is expressed by Nigerian bloggers, in Black Berry Messenger groups, Twitter and Facebook micro blogs. The public has historically analyzed the 2012 annual budget to the point where the president’s feeding budget is viewed as a major setback for the nation.
The government, by the flawed economic decision to remove subsidy on fuel at the point it did, has incurred the attention of the public who hitherto cared less. Nigerians are taking every action of government seriously and analysing them critically.
The civil society is more active, serving as a collecting point for these views, and demanding an accountable government courageous enough to tackle corrupt patrons and the biting security challenges.
In the early days of the protests against the withdrawal of subsidy on fuel, long before the labour unions declared strikes and protests, the public already began the Occupy Nigeria movement. Led by previously unknown activists, protests sprung up in Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Ilorin and Lokoja.
The labour union’s declaration of strikes to join the protests provided the movement with a needed fortress but it also gave the government a window through which the protests were later quelled.
The public has however lost faith in the ability of labour unions to lead the movement that would bring the desired change to Nigeria. The civil society groups, latching on to the unity gained through the protests and the sustained anger in young Nigerians, are going ahead with plans to sustain protests that will force the government to restore subsidy on fuel fully.
A coalition of civil society groups in Nigeria have threatened to continue with the protests, nationwide despite faced with threats of treason from the government.
“Labour is a union of employed Nigerians and most Nigerians are unemployed,” Emsaro Dokus, a member of the civil society said.
“Labour has negotiated their interest but Nigeria is larger than labour unions. We are not satisfied yet,” he said.
In addition to returning pump price to N65, the civil society will be demanding a more comprehensive reform in the government including an investigation into the sudden hike of subsidy costs in 2011 and the prosecution of the “cabal.” About N1 trillion of the N1.2 trillion payments for petroleum subsidy in 2011 is believed to be fraud.
They will also be demanding a concise roadmap for the full deregulation of the downstream oil and gas sector with clear timelines; that the National Assembly enact the original version of the Petroleum Industry Bill into law within 3 months; and reduction of the National Assembly budget of N159 billion to not more than N50 billion.
Central to the demands of the civil society is the elimination of wasteful government spendings on various security votes, welfare packages, food, vehicles, furniture, software, research and development, travel, etc.
The petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, recently announced a few reviews including the invitation to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to probe subsidy pay outs.
The civil society groups speculate that if the investigations are conducted properly, it could indict Mrs Alison-Madueke – who has been fingered in several corruption scams – and by extension, her boss, President Jonathan. They have called for her resignation to allow for independent investigations.
“It is an irony that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke whose ministry is accused of corruption is the same person setting up the probe into her ministry,” David Ugolor, the Executive Director of a Benin City-based civil society group, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice said.
Meanwhile, the exit of labour unions from the movement means hard times for the government as future protests will be difficult to quell using civil means. A forceful approach also holds potential doom for the government as there is the likelihood that it could degenerate into more catastrophic outcomes for the country that is already on the brink.
Although President Jonathan has suffered a huge smear on his credibility and as a president with humble beginning and once beloved by the commons, the nearest future presents an opportunity for him to prove he is serious about the “transformation” and “fresh air” he promised in last year’s election campaigns.