Friday Sermon: Culture of Protest

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By Babatunde Jose

“0 Prophets “you are not to use your authority or influence over your people to acquire benefits for yourselves. You are to use for your own persons, that which the law permits and must act appropriately in accordance with law on all occasions.” (Quran 23: 51)

There are ominous signs in the horizon that if the current state of affairs in this country is not well managed and the current hardship continues, grave consequences await us. Most families are impoverished as a result of the glaring case of misgovernment and mal-administration at all levels. Nothing seems to be working; from electricity to healthcare delivery. The wheel of government is slowly grinding to a halt: Workers are being owed their legitimate wages while the administrators and governors are changing their ‘new vehicles’ to newer ones; voting tantalizing funds for the refurbishing of their villas and other perquisites of office. Add to these, the tottering policies that are now capable of igniting a stream of protest from the masses. We are sitting on a massive keg of gunpowder. The Nigerian populace has been taken for granted as a result of its proverbial resilience and docility; its meekness and passivity; and the absence of a culture of protest. It wasn’t like this in the past. The universities and other citadels of learning are no more vanguards of the revolution, as they have lost their activist quality. Before now, they could have made this country ungovernable and the polity, very hot for our present rascals in government. We remember the roaring seventies with nostalgia; the era of no-nonsense student unionism. But that is no more. The once vibrant labour unions have been cowed and tamed and also pocketed by the crafty politicos. What remains is a hollow shell of the once vibrant and fiery protest movement. No wonder that government can act with utmost impunity; in what the Yoruba term, “tani ma mu mi”, who can question me. But the tormentors forget that there is one who sees and hears everything and is in control of everything and that in the fullness of time, the meek would become the aggressive charger and the whole table would turn.

Who would have thought that an innocuous incidence in Tunisia would spark off the Arab Spring, the end of which we do not know yet? What started the French Revolution? Unaddressed protests may grow and widen into civil dissent, activism, riots, insurgency, revolts, and political and/or social revolution. Some examples of protests include: Northern Europe in the early 16th century (Protestant Reformation);North America in the 1770s (American Revolution);France in 1789 (French Revolution); labour protest led by the Anarchist Movement, New York shirtwaist strike of 1909; Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a key moment in the Civil Rights Movement; Protests against the Vietnam War; The People Power Revolution in the Philippines; The Tiananmen Square protests, China, of 1989; Anti-globalization Protests in Prague in 2000 and Anti-globalization Protests in Genoa from July 18 to July 22, 2001; Palestinian  Intifada; Arab Spring protests; 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests; Gezi Park protests 2013 in Turkey; June 2013 Egyptian protests and many more.

Our leaders should not pretend that protests cannot happen here too. A protest can take many forms. The Dynamics of Collective Action project and the Global Nonviolent Action Database  are two of the leading data collection efforts attempting to capture protest events. The  Dynamics of Collective Action project considers the repertoire of protest tactics (and their definitions) to include: Demonstration, rally, etc. without reference to marching or walking in a picket line or standing in a vigil.

So many things are wrong with this nation and it is not well with us.

The corruption bomb as it were, is ticking and could explode anytime.  In an article by Price Waterhouse it said if we can deal with corruption head on, our GDP will rise to about $2 trillion in 2030, which is possible, considering the volume of money the country has made from the Black Gold since Independence. Once we are able to get these monies which are in private pockets, it can be used to revamp the economy. Between, 1958 to 1966 Nigeria earned N140 million from petroleum resources. The country earned a similar figure during the 30-month civil war. During the nine-year tenure of General Yakubu Gowon, including the civil war years, the country generated about N11 billion from crude oil. In his first coming as military head of state between 1976 and 1979, the regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo got N24.883 billion from petroleum resources. Between 1980 and 1983 during the civilian administration of former President Shehu Shagari, the figure stood at N35.986 billion. In his first coming as head of state (1984 to 1985), Nigeria under Major General Muhammadu Buhari earned N19.18 billion from crude oil. Under General Ibrahim Babangida military regime, which expired in 1993, earnings from crude oil were about N318.121 billion. During the short stint of the Chief Ernest Shonekan-led Interim Regime in 1993, the figure was N106.192 billion. During the late General Sani Abacha years – 1993 to 1998, Nigeria earned N1.415, 507 trillion and under General Abdulsalam Abubakar, the earnings were N394.766 billion. During Obasanjo’s eight-year civilian administration, about N24.179 trillion was generated. Under late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, about N9.535 trillion was earned from crude oil and during the immediate past administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, about N62.253 trillion was raked in from petroleum resources. Vanguard’s investigations show that since Nigeria started generating revenue from crude oil in 1958, the country has earned about N98.293 trillion. A figure corroborated by the Petroleum Inspectorate, NNPC.

The sad thing is that nobody is in jail for robbing this nation blind.  By the time the Corruption Bomb is detonated, there would be an uprising against the political elite.

For too long, people have been taken for fools: Not anymore. The Arab Spring was successful because of the catalytic effect of the now ubiquitous social media. In Nigeria today, nearly 100 million are on one social media or the other. Add to this the live Friday Huthba in mosques all over the country. There is also the Sunday meeting ground of our Christian brothers and sisters in churches all over. And to crown it all, the beer parlour and bus stop social commentators and agitators. There is no doubt of what will happen if the current rot continues. If there could be an Arab Spring, why not a Nigerian Harmattan?

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend.

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