Embattled Nigerian Central Bank Governor on ‘Overcoming the Fear of Vested Interests’, in TEDx Talk

Embattled Nigerian Central Bank Governor talks about Overcoming and Confronting the Fear of Vested Interests in TEDx Talk in August 2013 Abuja, Nigeria.

Some excerpts:

“…I have learnt in the past 4 your years in Abuja that if we understand that (vested interests), we may begin to unlock the key to how to change our world, the world of a country in which we live”

“Everyday we talk about potentials, everyday, and yet China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Vietnam, Brazil…all of those countries have turned the potential they had into reality. What is the one thing we need to do to turn this potential into reality? In my four years in Abuja, I have come to the conclusion that we need to overcome the fear of vested interests”

“I came to the Central Bank (in 2009) knowing that banks had problems believing that these problems were caused by a global crisis… And that they would be fixed by addressing the normal risk management issues in banks. Shortly after… I discovered that the Nigerian banking system is infested with the same corruption of the rentier system of this country, that a number of banks chief execs had fleeced their banks, using depositors funds to buy property all over the world just like people do in ministries or government agencies”

“The fundamental character of the Nigerian state is that for decades, since we found oil, it has existed not to serve the people, but as a site for rent extraction by a very small minority that controls political power and it doesn’t matter whether this group comes from North or South, or Muslim or Christian, or Military or Civilian, the state has always been a site for rent extraction”

“The system that was supposed to protect depositors and handle criminals was used and manipulated to promoted a Judge so that he would not convict a thief (bank CEO). Now this is an example…of the kinds of things that stop a country from reaching its true potential”

“After we discovered the things that happened in the banks, the critical thing was we had to make a decision that would pitch us against powerful economic and political forces. We were dealing with chief execs that in 2009 had become invincible. They were in the seat of power. They had economic power and they had bought political protection. They were into political parties, they financed elections and they believed that nobody could touch them”

“Banks do not fail. When people say banks have failed, it is like saying a man whose throat was slit has died. He did not die. He was killed. And those that murdered the banks, those who destroyed these deposits have always walked away. They become Senators, they become governors, they become captains of industry, they set up new banks and they continue… And [for] the millions of poor people! that’s it”

“But the banking industry is just one part of Nigeria. What is happening to other parts?”

“We don’t have development because vested interests continue to rape the country and take the money out. And the only way to move from potential to reality is to stop preaching and to start asking ourselves : how can we overcome the fear of vested interests and how can we confront them?”

The one thing I learnt from banking is that they (Vested interests) are not to be feared, they stand on quick sand, they’re not very intelligent people and they’ve got only two tools: 1. Their ability to bribe/induce 2. Their threats to destroy reformers

“We have to ask ourselves as a country: how have we been reduced to a level far below our potential?”

“We have 65 million young people in Nigeria. What does it take for one of you to get your votes and be president of the country? What does it take to address these issues sector by sector, identify the interests and confront them? Why does it take the fuel subsidy removal for us to come out and challenge the rot that is in our country? What are we afraid of? We are afraid of losing the security that we have today”

“We must recognise that at the heart of 90% of our problems from Boko Haram to ethnic crises to unemployment to the lack of education to the lack of healthcare is that there are people who profit from the poverty and underdevelopment of this country, and these people are called ‘vested interests’… So long as they remain entrenched, so long as we don’t overcome the fear of them and dislodge them, we are not going to find a solution to this problem and we are not going to reach our true potential”

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Neither the Washington Nor the Beijing Consensus: What then?

It seems Africans in the Diaspora generally and Nigerians in particular have reached a saturation point where any public event which features high profile African guests or speakers especially public office holders, is regarded with a “so what”, “what’s new” and “haven’t we heard it all before” attitude. This much was somewhat palpable in the atmosphere at the Eirenicon-Africa Lecture on 27th March 2012 titled “Neither the Washington nor the Beijing Consensus: A New Developmental Paradigm to fit African Realities and Cultures” which, as the title implies, was meant to discuss the way forward for Africa in terms of economic and socio-political development. One can hardly blame those who take this cynical stand point though, given that a number of African policy makers only tend to put on their thinking caps at such public events and put them away once the event is done as they resume “business-as-usual”. However, this event — one of a series of lectures organized by Eirenicon-Africa, a league of established young forward-thinking Africans — and the themes of the discussions focusing on home-grown solutions arguably signal a gradual change from the norm.

 

Distinguished Speakers/Guests:

Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor was the keynote speaker, a fancy term denoting that Sanusi did most of the talking for the duration of the event. Sanusi is a man famous not only for his radical banking reforms, but increasingly for his exceptional oratorical skills because, as the moderator of the gathering accurately described, “…whatever he says is always fascinating”.  The two respondents at the Lecture were Ambassador Tesfamicael Gerahtu, the Eritrean Ambassador to the UK and Ireland who exuded tremendous passion and nationalistic fervour for his country – though many an Eritrean activist in the audience held different opinions – and Professor Paul Collier, the distinguished Professor of Economics and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University who became (in)famous amongst Nigerians in January this year, for an article he wrote in which he used unsavoury terms to strongly condemn the nation-wide protests against the removal of fuel subsidies in Nigeria. The moderator was China Danforth Onyemelukwe, Managing Director responsible for Africa coverage at Goldman Sachs in London. Each of the speakers took turns outlining what they perceived to be the challenges inhibiting Africa’s development and how they felt Africa could unclasp those fetters.

From left to right: Ambassador Gerhatu, Danforth Onyemelukwe and Mallam Sanusi.

 

Challenges Inhibiting African Development:

Mallam Sanusi

All three guests seemed to have a problem with the title of the event especially the reference to development models: the Washington and the Beijing Consensus. The CBN governor Sanusi for instance stated that there is nothing like the Beijing Consensus because the Chinese “didn’t go round begging people to adopt their own model” as was the case with the Washington Consensus. Ambassador Gerhatu underscored his aversion to such development models which he regards as “myths rather than reality” because they do not sufficiently capture the diversity in Africa and even within a country like China which he states “doesn’t have one single economic system, but has a diverse system”. Collier was in agreement with Gerhatu’s assessment that development is based on internal dynamics which vary from country to country and little to do with models and ideologies.

Sanusi speaking with an economist’s slant pointed to the “structurally deformed” economies in many African countries, with particular reference to Nigeria, and the problem of “value linkages” as the fetters to development. He refers to the Nigerian economy as that which “imports everything we produce and export what we don’t produce… even democracy” referring to how the Nigerian Military government under late General Abacha conducted free and fair elections in Liberia. He added that in Nigeria “we literally consume our GDP” and goes on to cite examples of how Nigerians consume meat from cattle (beef) along with the skin (kpomo, a delicacy), rather than using hides and skins to produce leather. He further stated that no country in the world developed from exporting primary commodities such as crude oil, mineral resources or cash crops — despite the prospects of earning foreign exchange — but that development comes from building the economy and from industrialization.

Sanusi attributed this structural deformity of African economies to both internal and external factors. Internally, he blames the rentier status of resource-rich countries like Nigeria and the attendant rent-seeking behaviour of the society and the political elite in particular, which is “not productive like primitive accumulation” as the acquired wealth is squandered. External factors he cited include the difficult uncompetitive position of many African economies in the global economy, aggravated by Washington Consensus policies driven by the US, World Bank and IMF to liberalize trade (free trade), take huge loans, remove subsidies etc. Interestingly, Sanusi noted the unfair prescription by the Washington Consensus policies and their drivers, for African countries to remove subsidies especially on agriculture while the US and Europe heavily subsidize agriculture – for example, Sanusi says cotton and cattle, the main exports of Mali are uncompetitive in the global market because a subsidy of 300 Euros per cow in Europe is higher than the per capita income in Mali, while the subsidies given to the US farmers is higher than the GDP of Mali. He however believes fuel subsidies are an exception, which as he argued in a talk at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in January this year, amounts to “subsidizing consumption” when developing country governments should be “subsidizing production” instead. Thus harping on this kicking-the-ladder argument, Sanusi said “every (developed) country builds its country, its economy and productive capacities, based on protectionism, then preaches free market.”

Sanusi at LSE earlier this year.

Gerhatu speaking from a socio-political perspective attributed the challenges to development in Africa to that of nation-building, the fact that “nation-building has not been properly consummated in Africa” thus affecting the prospects for creating “viable states, sound economies and a viable future for Africa”. He however placed more emphasis on external factors, the “geo-political influences and world agendas” which have “held back” developing countries and African development in particular, such as the Cold War, the Digital Divide and Globalization.

Collier regards the failure of African development as a failure to build a sense of national identity as Gerhatu noted, but rather than attributing these to global geo-political agendas, he blamed the attitude of African political elite, mainly the “plundering of resources” by the political leadership in many resource rich countries. He also underscores the weak institutions and rules in such societies which make it difficult to efficiently harness and manage resources.

 

The Way Forward:

As was the case with outlining the problems, the speakers differed on some points and converged on others. Sanusi advocates for African economies to be built on comparative advantage based on their factor endowments — agriculture and extractive industries for instance — and creation of better value chains within individual economies; a change that regards Africa as the prime market for African countries; greater integration between African countries by building first class infrastructure in Africa which would make African exports competitive against non-African exports on the continent; investing in technical training to make African labour competitive; and importantly encouraging Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) which build productive capacities and discouraging foreign firms which import goods: whether Europe, China or the US he fimly notes, “imperialism is imperialism”.

Gerhatu on his own part advocates for “ownership of decisions and solutions for the sake of national interests” by Africans in order to create self reliance and capacity. He also emphasizes on economic liberation by ensuring a paradigm shift from a system of dependence on foreign aid which he regards as “a system of practice, a system of thinking and a system of organization which does not help… NGOs create parallel systems of administration” therefore “we cannot make aid effective”. He referred to Eritrea not only as a country where international NGOs have NOT been active since 1995, but also as an example of successful economic diversification where “agriculture has been the target of structural transformation…” According to the Ambassador, Eritrea’s increased agricultural productivity ensured the country was not affected by the Horn of Africa famine, in his words: “despite what you have heard on CNN, BBC or from the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton” referring to “efforts and conspiracies” aimed at destabilizing Eritrea’s successes in the name of Al-Shabab or Somalia which have been largely unsuccessful.

Professor Paul Collier

Professor Collier posited that the challenge for Africans is to “avoid repeating the same mistake”. This he believes could be achieved by taking the “never-again” approach Germany took, to resuscitate its flailing economy after World War II, such that it is now the best run economy in Europe. Translating this “never-again” feeling to reality Collier asserted can be achieved by:

(i) Legislating economic rules for decisions, for instance Ghana last year legislated that 30% of oil revenues have to be saved for the future;

(ii) Creating dedicated institutions for these rules;

(iii) Existence of a critical mass of citizens who understand why the rules and institutions matter.

It was tempting to ask whether this three-pronged process was feasible given that those in authority who will legislate these rules and ensure the institutions work are sometimes not particularly interested in doing so, but thankfully Collier explained that young people in North Africa using technology to coordinate, presented positive prospects as young people in the rest of Africa are waking up to the reality around them.

 

Interesting Highlights:

As is usual with such events, some of the most intriguing points were made during the Q & A session. One of the most profound points made was Sanusi’s reflection over the Nigerian fuel subsidy protests in January as comprising of two conversations: the removal of subsidy itself and government accountability. He throws the poser on why it had to take the removal of fuel subsidy to start the conversation on corruption and accountability by ordinary Nigerians and the civil society and why this conversation stopped after the protests. Sanusi indicts civil society in Nigeria of shirking their responsibility in keeping the political elite in check as he believes Nigerian politicians are not more corrupt than those in US or Europe, but that the difference lies in the fact that Americans and Europeans do not tolerate lack of accountability from their leaders. He stresses on the need for those conversations started by Occupy Nigeria to be kept alive by civil society in order to bring about the change Nigerians yearn for.

During the event, reference was made to African countries such as Botswana and Ghana which are “working” relative to others which aren’t, so this writer posed a question: that perhaps the reason why countries like Ghana and Botswana are relatively successful is because they are smaller in terms of size and population with relative homogeneity compared to large countries such as Nigeria and Kenya which arguably have been unable to successfully harness and manage their diversity thereby obstructing the process of nation-building and economic development. To this, Sanusi responded by blaming the competition for rent-seeking by the political elite and the failure of the elite to “allow us develop our national identity” in their rent-seeking quests. He advocates for social justice and pursuit of a path even development in order to give everyone a sense of belonging.

Lastly, if it is any consolation to Nigerians who were deeply irked by Collier’s op-ed piece, in which he compared the mass protests in Nigeria to the Tea Party movement in America, and referred to Occupy Nigeria protesters as “loudmouths of the street” and “opportunists”, Collier acknowledged receipt of angry emails, the fiercest and most overwhelming feedback he has ever received on any write up. We can smile smugly in satisfaction to that.

Overall, one could argue that events such as the Eirenicon-Africa lecture series organized and hosted by up and coming Africans, featuring African decision-makers, discussing home-grown solutions to the challenges bedevilling the continent’s development present bright prospects for the future, and a clean break from the norm, as more Africans are realizing the need to effectively arise and take charge of their destinies.

A People in Terminal Decline

For a while now, I’ve had reason to believe that the people of Northern Nigeria, especially the (in)famous “dominant” group, the Hausa-Fulanis seem to be in terminal decline. Could this conviction have stemmed out of the aftermath of the 2011 Nigerian general elections and the rampage of the Northern youths against the so-called Northern leaders or the recent spate of Boko Haram attacks in the northern cities of Kano and Kaduna? Perhaps it is the intensification of the unfair media bias and the recent vitriolic, virulent and hateful diatribes against the mostly Muslim Hausa-Fulani Northerners in the mainstream and social media or the serial decline and retardation of the economy in the north and/or the region’s growing political irrelevance in the scheme of things in Nigeria. This conviction is coupled with a growing realization that little or nothing is being done by us, the victims, of our mostly self inflicted problems to salvage our future which is in dire jeopardy.

The most obvious problem is the serious leadership deficit in the North which became magnified before and after the 2011 general elections. There is almost a general consensus that Northerners who were at the helms of affairs in the country for several decades did little to better the life of ordinary people in the region in terms of provision of healthcare, education and other infrastructure, direction of useful investments and creation of economic opportunities for the population. The leaders are seen to have enriched themselves and their cronies while using an adept mixture of religion and ethnicity to keep people subjugated in the shackles of illiteracy, ignorance, poverty, and misery. Few leaders have utilized accumulated wealth towards establishing profitable enterprises that employ people, philanthropic organizations that empower others or other productive ends. Rather accumulated wealth is squandered in consumerist behaviour, in opulence in the midst of absolute and abject poverty. Interesting exposés on the leadership deficit have been written by analysts such as Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed and the columnist Adamu Adamu amongst several others.

While the deficit of transformational leadership is not exclusively a Northern phenomenon, it is more magnified in the North. It is these leaders who are perceived by many to have “sold out” the north during the 2011 elections hence the rampage of the youths against various emirs, a former speaker of the House of Representatives amongst others. Consequently traditional, religious and political leaders who used to command tremendous respect from people have lost their credibility, and to an extent legitimacy to speak on behalf of the people. Certain enigmatic “geniuses” have been de-robed of their toga of mystique. The people in turn are plagued by frustration, helplessness and hopelessness in the wake of un-inspiring leadership. The newbreeds like Nuhu Ribadu and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who are viewed with suspicion or seem more interested in embroiling themselves in political controversy provide virtually little solace.

Closely following the heels of the leadership deficit is the economic decline and retardation of the region. This economic decline has been accelerated by the Boko Haram insurgency, thanks to which the holy grail of foreign investments will now become ever so elusive. Once the basket of the nation on account of its agricultural productivity – the legendary, towering groundnut pyramids of Kano come to mind –   and its budding industrial activity, the north is now plagued by rapid de-industrialization. 

Buildings housing hitherto bustling factories lay derelict and abandoned in ominous gloom in Kano, Kaduna and Zaria. Poor incentives to farmers, lack of storage facilities and access to credit has led to a decline in agricultural productivity as state governments are embroiled in one fertilizer corruption scandal or the other. With the exception of Kano and to a lesser extent Kaduna, few businesses, and enterprises especially SMEs are owned and managed by Northerners. In many state capitals, the bulk of the labour force engaged in the formal sector are civil servants. The neglect of agriculture, manufacturing and other economic activity for easy oil money coming from the federal government by the state governments has aggravated this situation as the allocation is hardly directed towards reviving infrastructure, capital projects, empowering the populace or investment in non-oil sectors of the economy. The CBN governor recently stated that many states, especially in the North are economically unviable without such allocations. Instead, monthly allocations which run into billions of naira each month are expended towards recurrent expenditure and unproductive ventures such as subsidies on annual Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage trips mainly to reward cronyism. This dependence on oil revenues which has done little to benefit the ordinary Northerner has created an impression of the North as an unproductive region, a “liability” which contributes virtually nothing to the nation’s kitty but consumes so much because of its population and its size. Though a cursory look at history deflates this impression since the proceeds from agricultural produce of the North virtually sustained the nation before the discovery of oil.

A socio-cultural aspect of our numerous problems and which lies at the heart of it is our mind set as a people, especially amongst the Hausa-Fulanis . We have developed a mind-set that paradoxically makes us feel culturally superior when infact we are progressively retrogressing in many aspects. We look down on fellow Northerners of a different religion and ethnicity, we feel our own brand of Islam is better than the Islam practiced by a Yoruba man, an Igala or a Tiv such that you’d forgive anyone for thinking the Holy Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Hausa language somewhere in Kano. We feel many career choices especially those which involve working our way to the top are demeaning; our educated youths have been brought up with the mind set to only aim for the ultimate “secure government job” or bust, and as a result many an enterprising and creative youth’s dreams have died at stillbirth by the patriarch’s final fiat.

This paradoxical superiority complex has pitched us against other “minority” groups in the north who used to be our brothers but now regard us with contempt and derision and has been played upon by mischievous people to ferment ethno-religious tensions.  Many are quick to blame Islam or the mixture of religion and politics, but a comparison of predominantly Muslim societies who are doing relatively well-off such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Malaysia and Indonesia for instance shows Islam is not the problem, rather a crude cocktail of ignorance, and the perversion of religious teachings and cultural prescriptions. While in Iran, women outnumber men in Universities as many are highly educated and articulate, female literacy in Northern Nigeria by contrast remains abysmally low, one of the lowest in the world and ditto women empowerment though attitudes are positively changing at snail pace. The problem appears as a friend once stated that we haven’t found the right interface between culture and religion in the North.

Lastly is the all-out media war and propaganda against the North. From the mainstream media to social networks, online forums to blogs, it is hunting season for anything Northern (in this context, synonymous with the Northerner of Hausa-Fulani extraction but also any of the predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in the north: Kanuri, Nupe etc). At most you need an advertorial on the pages of the numerous dailies, at the very least, you need an internet connected mobile phone and you are set to begin unleashing your full arsenal against “Northerners”. The activities of Boko Haram which have claimed more Muslim lives, wreaked more havoc to Northern cities than anywhere else are attributed to desperate Northern politicians who lost out in the political chess game, a view peddled around even by erstwhile respected intellectuals; sectarian crises and conflict which abound in every part of the country, but more frequently in the North are mostly attributed to the Hausa-Fulani Muslims who are seen to be the culprits even in situations where they are victims; even the lacklustre performance of the Jonathan administration is attributed to the “evil Northerners”. The problems highlighted above: leadership, economic decline and socio-cultural challenges have rendered us a voiceless people in this media war and propaganda, we are unable to tell our stories strongly from our own perspective while others do it for us, and they paint their version of the truth in whatever colour hue they deem fit.

Alleged Boko Haram Members Arrested in 2009

We are a people bedevilled by so many challenges which of course, this writer has barely scratched the surface of. The leadership deficit has aggravated our economic decline and retardation, and threatens not only our social cohesion but our very identity as a people. In times like these, a strong and transformational leadership is what is required to mobilize our abundant human and natural resources for us to realize our full potentials, but this deficit forms the bane of our problems. Paradoxically, while we acknowledge the failure of leadership, and the incapacity or inability of the present crop of leaders to do much to salvage our pathetic situation, we are still waiting on them.  Obviously our leaders cannot do much because they are constrained, because they are not interested or because it is a Frankestein’s monster has turned on Dr. Frankestein situation. While we “wait”, Boko Haram seems to be the only force filling this leadership vacuum in a very destructive and warped sense by co-opting the vast number of idle, unemployed and frustrated youths as willing recruits to its campaign of death and terror. Gradually, Boko Haram could become the only thing that defines us as a people, if this leadership vacuum persists and by then we WOULD BE DOOMED!

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau

To further buttress my point, when I googled “Northern Nigeria” and “Arewa Nigeria”, at least 50% of the images that came up in the search results were of Boko Haram, scenes of its attacks or images of its victims. That speaks volumes.

Whatever the case, it is our generation which will suffer most because the present crop of leaders have little to lose; we will live with the consequences of their actions while our children’s future becomes increasingly uncertain. Perhaps the tone here is a tad too pessimistic when this writer concludes that the numerous problems we face in the North crowned no less by Boko Haram’s deadly insurgency gives a gloomy premonition of a bleak future . We are in a terminal decline, the question is are we doing enough to address this? What can we or should we do to reverse this certain reality?

Fuel Subsidy Removal: Messing With the Middle Class

ANNOUNCING A CALLOUS POLICY WITH IMPUNITY

A liberalization move by the government to deregulate the downstream sector of the oil industy by removing subsidy on petrol was announced on Sunday 1st January, New Year’s Day just when Nigerians were reeling from the shock of deadly bomb attacks on Christmas day and a spate of sectarian killings in Ebonyi state, the South-East of Nigeria. This unilateral decision by the Executive arm of government took Nigerians by surprise as it was meant to take immediate effect, and as government was supposed to be conducting “wide consultations” with stakeholders on the controversial and highly unpopular policy decision, and even as the National Assembly was yet conclude deliberations on the issue.

NIGERIANS TAKE TO THE INTERNET… AND TO THE STREETS

Despite our renowned resilience and almost legendary perseverance in any situation, the removal of subsidy seems to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. We took to the internet, especially Facebook and Twitter to express our vehement disapproval of this insensitive policy and its callous and untimely implementation on New Year’s Day. That same afternoon, people started mobilizing on social media for mass protests the next day in Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna and other cities across the country. Even the leading opposition parties and professional associations like the Nigerian Bar Association and the Nigerian Medical Association issued strongly worded statements condemning this move in its entirety and threatening mass action.

Most Nigerians are particularly incensed because this policy is not only highly unpopular, but also because the government has had little consultation with the public. After the last (public) meeting it had with the media and some stakeholders in Lagos in December where people expressed their extreme disapproval, government promised to continue consultations before fuel subsidy would be removed from either January 20th 2012 or April 2012. The government’s unilateral decision on New Year’s Day which appears to be a stealthily well-planned siege on Nigerians has further heightened Nigerians’ extreme distrust for the government and vindicated our view of government officials as highly duplicitous. Most importantly, Nigerians are infuriated by the immediate effect of this policy which has resulted in inflation in transport fares, food stuff and basic commodities by as much as 200% as fuel prices have increased from N65 ($0.48) to over N140 (almost $1) per litre. In some places like Calabar, fuel is reportedly sold for over N200 per litre.

In Lagos the commercial capital, mass protests began on Monday which were largely peaceful:

In Abuja the capital city, scores of youths led by a former Federal Legislator, Dino Melaye on Monday marched to Eagle square carrying placards and signed a protest register. The police tried to foil the protest and to confiscate the protest register but they later returned it. Several protesters including Melaye were arrested by the police and taken to the Anti-robbery Squad but were later released.

In Kaduna on Monday, scores of protesters gathered at Murtala Square to peacefully sign a protest register but were later dispersed by anti-riot policemen.

In Kano, the turn out, just like in Lagos was huge. Hundreds of protesters turned out en masse on Wednesday 4th January and even spent the night at Silver Jubilee round about which was christened Kano “Liberation” Square.

In several other cities across the country, scores and even hundreds of protesters have been pouring out onto the streets as the pictures below show: from Kebbi, Katsina and Bauchi in the North, to Ibadan, Akure and Benin in the South. Nigerians are angry and are not hiding it.

The two images above are from the Northern city of Katsina.

These two images above are from Benin city, the capital of Edo state, one of the states in the President’s home region, the Niger-Delta.

The image above is a picture taken of Ijaw youths (from the President’s ethnic group) protesting the removal of Subsidy on Wednesday 4th January.

Protesters in Bauchi in the North East, at the Emir’s palace. Unconfirmed reports later stated that the Emir joined the protesters in marching through the city.

Abeokuta, Ogun state.

Ibadan, Oyo state.

WHAT ARE THE DEMANDS?

The demands of Nigerians basically centre on the reversal of this decision: mainly restoring fuel subsidy, cutting government waste, tackling corruption, provision of infrastructure, repairing the ailing refineries and building new ones. While many protesters have been calling for the President’s resignation and indeed the popular use of the term #OccupyNigeria by protesters could mistakenly give that impression, there are really no explicit political goals from protesters. The protests are simply an expression of indignation at a policy which will and is already bringing untold hardship on Nigerians. The labour unions – the Nigerian Labour Conress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have given the government an ultimatum to reverse the decision by Monday 9th January or face nation-wide protests which would shut banks, schools, offices, oil installations, airports etc and effectively cripple the economy.

This video below sufficiently captures and encapsulates the demands of many Nigerians:

TECH-SAVVY YOUTH MOBILIZE… AND BROADCAST TO THE WORLD

With a population well over 150 million people, Nigeria is reported to have over 43 million Nigerians (educated middle to upper class) on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and connected to the internet. Nigerian youths have mobilized to take to the streets and challenge the government’s unpopular decision. In the face of scant media coverage and even blackout towards the protests by government owned television and radio stations like the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) and some government friendly newspapers, it is social media savvy youth who have broadcasted images and updates to both local and international media. Citizen reporters on ground tweet pictures, videos and live updates of events and use Facebook, Youtube and blogs. These updates are sent to local and international media like Channels TV, BBC Africa, CCN i-report, Al-Jazeera stream and others using the hashtags #FuelSubsidy and #OccupyNigeria. Notable citizen journalists and activists include Sahara Reporters, Japeth Omojuwa, Kayode Ogundamisi, Gbenga Sesan and scores of others.

In an ironic, but not surprising twist of fate, President Jonathan’s Facebook page which he and his advisers have severally used to brag about his social media savvy-ness and popularity has been bombarded with tens of thousands of highly critical messages by his Facebook fans expressing raw fury and emotion, with some comments bordering on downright insults and curses. President Jonathan seems to have set the record as the “most cursed person on Facebook

THE GOVERNMENT’S OBSTINACY, HALF-TRUTHS AND MANIPULATION 

Knowing the Nigerian government’s antecedents of its brazen disregard for the feelings of ordinary Nigerians, its actions, statements and responses to the mass opposition and protests against its deregulation policy since New Year’s Day did not disappoint in the least bit. It only served to vindicate Nigerians’ massive distrust and growing disdain for government officials. Here are some instances:

The Minister of Labour, Chief Chukwuemeka Wogu in his reaction, on Channels TV, to the threat by Labour Unions to embark on massive strikes said: “As a government, you don’t succumb to threats or pandering… from the people you rule…” You can watch the video clip HERE.

Ahmed Ali Gulak, a Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs, in an interview with the BBC World Have Your Say programme on Wednesday 4th January claimed that “majority of Nigerians are in support of the removal of subsidy” to which a Nigerian, Nicolas Adikwe, present at the BBC studio countered and said it was an “insult” to Nigerians out on the streets, and that it was misleading.

The Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minster of the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (believed to be the arrowhead of this allegedly IMF-backed policy) have rehashed the same well worn-out economic arguments to justify subsidy removal, albeit with complete detachment from the reality of the Nigerian socio-political environment.

The government in an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday has stated that it remains firm and resolute on this decision and will not reverse it.

GOVERNMENT BRUTALITY AND REPRESSION

While protests have been largely peaceful, the government has in some cases used violence to brutally repress peaceful protests.

In Lagos, this video shows a protester being beaten and brutalized by the police:

In Ilorin, witnesses say an unarmed protester; Muyideen Mustafa was brutally shot by the Police on Tuesday, while Police Officials claim he was stabbed by protesters. He was the first casualty of the protest and his remains have been laid to rest.

In Kano, though the police behaved well on Wednesday towards the protesters, they waited until the early hours of Thursday from around 02.00am local time to lay a cowardly late night ambush on protesters, beating them and firing tear gas cannisters. It was a hair-raising moment for social media users keeping tabs on the events in Kano as most liaisons and citizen reporters giving live updates from the Silver Jubilee roundabout (Liberation Square) in Kano were unreachable for several minutes. An estimated 40 people were reported to have been injured.

In Ibadan, protesters, mostly students were tear-gassed by security forces.

UNITY IN DIVERSITY: A SERENDIPITY

One of the most remarkable serendipity of sorts to have occurred so far is a growing sense of unity amongst Nigerians hitherto known to be deeply divided along ethno-religious lines. Perhaps the shared sense of frustration, anger and oppression by a ruling class cutting across most ethnic and religious groups is finally uniting Nigerians and achieving what political scientists, sociologists, historians, religious leaders, donor agencies, countless government committees and integration policies have failed to achieve.

This bond and unity was most evident in the city of Kano, hitherto a hotbed of inter-religious squabble, where Christians on Wednesday 4th January stood guard to protect Muslims as they prayed. A mutual agreement for peace was said to have been reached between Muslims and Christians where Muslim would protect all non-Muslims and escort them to their places of worship and vice-versa. They vowed to resist any attempt to use religion to divide them with a register opened to that effect.

Similarly in Kaduna, an agreement is reported to have been reached between Christians and Muslims today (Thursday 5th January). The photo below shows Christians surrounding and protecting Muslims as they pray.

It is too early to tell whether this bond would grow stronger and whether it would be replicated in other parts of the country, but it certainly is a welcome development

“EMINENT” AND “RESPECTED” RELIGIOUS LEADERS: MUM IS THE WORD

As some Nigerians are gradually uniting over their shared sense of frustration, virtually nothing has been heard from most of the prominent Islamic and Christian leaders, neither on the fuel subsidy removal, nor the mass protests enveloping the entire country. With the exception of local imams, pastors and some catholic bishops, “eminent” leaders such as the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President Ayo Ortisejafor, the Sultan of Sokoto, the Jama’atul Nasril Islam (JNI) and others who are usually very vocal towards many national and political issues have surprisingly maintained a deafening silence on this. You tend to wonder…

A SENSE OF HUMOUR, AGAINST ALL ODDS

Trust us Nigerians. Our resilience always unleashes bursts of creativity and even humour, as these pictures and video show:

“Praying”  that water turns to  fuel?

FINALLY, A NIGERIAN “ARAB SPRING”?

So is this the start of a Nigerian “Arab Spring”? There are certainly a number of similarities with the uprisings in the Arab world: a shared sense of anger and frustration; a growing unity amongst hitherto divided people; protests mobilized by an educated, sophisticated and tech-savvy youth; wide use of social networking and growing support for the protests and so on. However, as mentioned earlier, there are no overt political goals yet as most Nigerians simply want a reversal of this policy. Therefore, the labour unions could reach a compromise with the government as is usually the case with unpopular government policies. What seems to be different this time around though, is the widespread anger and disenchantment by the public and also that Nigerians poured out onto the streets without waiting for the go ahead from the NLC/TUC. Nigerian youths also for the first time in a long time feel as if they are really part of something, by expressing their displeasure and protesting. It remains to be seen how things pan out in the next few days.