Dashed hopes and protests
Many citizens, under the aegis of #IstandwithNigeria, appropriately tested the spirit, culture and practice of democracy in Nigeria the other day when they organised protest marches in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Benin, Ibadan, and some other cities in the country. In London, some Nigerians in the Diaspora also demanded a five-minute reassuring speech from President Muhammadu Buhari upon assembling in the precincts of the Nigerian Mission where he is said to be taking time to rest. While the protests were largely meant to draw attention to the harsh economic situation in the country, in the true democratic spirit, some others demonstrated in Abuja, declaring their support for the Federal Government. This is how it should be. All shades of opinions should be canvassed and tolerated in the polity.
Protesters carried banners summarising their demands. They included “Invest in infrastructure, create jobs,” “People die daily from lack of basic and affordable healthcare,” “There can’t be a set of rules for the poor and another set for the rich,” “There’s enough in Nigeria for all of us to ‘chop belleful,’ and “Food, medicine, everything is three times more expensive but salaries have not increased.’ Anybody living in Nigeria would automatically identify with the issues raised by the demonstrators. Living has become exceedingly difficult and challenging in the country.
Initial feelers from the security agencies were that the protests would be halted. A celebrity entertainer in the forefront of the protest backed out at the last minute, ostensibly because of threats to his liberty. However, the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, ever the thoughtful and wise presence, declared that the right to self-expression through any peaceful means should be allowed as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution.
The protests held finally though with the heavy presence of security men. Their presence they contended was to ‘protect the protesters.’ At the end of the exercise there were no reported casualties and Osinbajo assured the Nigerian people that the Federal Government had heard the protesters ‘loud and clear.’
It is true that the incumbent government has not been in office for up to two years yet. It is also true that some of the issues in contention are the results of many years of mismanagement of the economy. However, the current state of things is appalling. There has been a sharp rise in the prices of commodities, including food items on which ordinary folks live. So, life has been largely unlivable for the majority of the people. Many industries have folded up leading to massive job losses. Most families can barely feed. The naira has plummeted to an all-time low in the history of economic monitoring in the country.
The manufacturing sector, which depends on high level of imports is in dire straits. Power supply has become more epileptic, with citizens being asked to ‘pay for darkness.’ Indeed, there is palpable frustration in all parts of the country. There is great uncertainty in the air. The people are beginning to believe that the economy is not is safe or expert hands. In line with the unwritten covenant between government and the governed, the people have risen to demand answers to all the questions that have made life unbearable. How did we get to this sorry pass?
When the APC government took the oath of office nearly two years ago under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, hopes were raised that the nation would be placed on the route to complete restoration. Although Nigerians did not expect a miracle, they did not bargain for the ineptitude and failure of economic policies, which have currently made the nation lay prostrate. All indices for and of development have dipped. Investors have been scared away. Nigeria is no longer listed among the biggest economies of the world. Growth rate is abysmal. It is against this background that the last protest should be understood.
The Buhari government, now being temporarily led by an Acting President, has an obligation to the Nigerian people: make Nigeria work again. The youths of the country are deeply angry with the Nigerian State. They look back in time and realise that those who led Nigeria in the first 10 odd years after independence were aged between 25 and 32. Sadly, most of them at this same age after graduation have not been able to find their feet in life owing to the level of corruption in the country. A significant percentage of them are certificated with employment. Those who want to do things independently cannot do so because of the inclement economic climate.
While calling on the Federal Government to address the debilitating state of things, it is apposite to call on all citizens to also live up to their moral and cultural obligations in society. The level of dishonesty in inter-personal and business dealings, and the propensity to employ fraudulent means to get on in life are frightening. The old moral values, which dictated life are no longer sacrosanct. They are violated at will. In the private sector, (not controlled by government corruption and bureaucracy) in dealings between persons and organisations, trust and integrity have become short in supply.
The mindset of the average youth is to get to the top through unethical means or any means necessary. Nigerians need a total reorientation and change of mindset in order to create change in the society.
The Federal Government, of course, must sit up and adopt short and long term measures to alleviate the level of suffering in the country. The protests indicate that the honeymoon with the Buhari Administration is over. Citizen awareness is very high right now and the people are demanding action. They want constant power supply. They want jobs to be created. They want something done about the Nigerian currency. They demand the good life. They demand to read about and see vibrant economic policies, which are likely to turn things around. The lacklustre state of affairs is far from reassuring.
The Acting President has done well by declaring that the Federal Government has heard the Nigerian people. The primacy of the people is the cardinal, the most fundamental tenet, of democracy. The next stage is action. In situations of prolonged economic difficulties, both the actions and pronouncements of the national leader and his aides are crucial. The people have spoken. And Acting President Osinbajo has responded very well.
The time to act is now.