By Dr. Prince Charles Dickson
So, Google releases what it calls top searches every year, for Nigeria in 2020 subject matter like ASUU, Rema, Naira Marley, Rahama Sadau, Hushpuppi, coronavirus, pornstar cocktail recipe were top on the list. Maryam Sanda, the woman who was sentenced for the murder of her husband in 2017 was ninth highest-ranked person on the internet for Nigeria this year.
As 2020 rolls to an end, it’s the year that would be remembered for so many things, and I dare say for Nigeria very few of those things are good memories and for a nation that chooses what it remembers, how it remembers and when it wants to remember, it’s instructive to take us a few years back and then maybe just maybe hope is appropriate to hold on to for the years ahead.
A decade has now slipped by since a man named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid on 17 December 2010. Bouazizi, a street vendor, took this extreme step after policemen harassed him for trying to survive. Not long after, thousands of people in this small Tunisian town gathered in the street to express their anger. Their outburst spread to the capital city, Tunis, where trade unions, social organisations, political parties, and civic groups marched into the avenues to overthrow the government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Demonstrations in Tunisia inspired similar outbreaks around the Mediterranean Sea from Egypt to Spain, the chant of Cairo’s Tahrir Square – ash-sha’b yurid isqat an-nizam ‘(the people want to overthrow the regime’) – redolent with the emotion of hundreds of millions.
People poured into the streets, their sentiment captured by the Spanish term indignados: indignant, or outraged. They came to say that their hopes were being crushed by forces both visible and invisible. The billionaires of their own societies and their cosy relationship with the state – despite the global downturn spurred by the credit crisis of 2007-08 – were easy to see. Meanwhile, the forces of finance capital that had eroded the capacity of their governments (if they were favourable to the people) to provide humane policies were much harder to see, but no less devastating in their consequences.
The sentiment that fuelled the slogan overthrow the regime was shared widely by large majorities of people who had become dulled by the futility of voting for evils and lesser evils; these people were now seeking something beyond the horizon of the election games which seemed to bring so little change. Politicians ran for elections saying one thing, and then did the exact opposite when they took charge.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, the student protests that broke out in November-December 2010 were against the betrayal by the Liberal Democrats of their pledge not to raise fees; regardless of who they voted for, the outcome was that the people suffered. Greece, France: now here too!, chanted the students in the UK. They could have added Chile, where the students (known as los pingüinos, or ‘the penguins’) took to the streets against the education cuts; their protests would pick up again in May 2011 and last almost two years in el invierno estudiantil chileno, the ‘Chilean Student Winter’. In September 2011, the Occupy Movement in the United States would join this wave of global outrage, emerging out of the gross failure of the US government to address mass evictions spurred by the mortgage calamity that morphed into the credit crisis of 2007-08. ‘The only way to experience the American Dream’, someone wrote on the walls of Wall Street, ‘is while sleeping’.
Overthrowing the regime was the slogan because faith in the establishment had weakened; more was demanded of life than what was on offer from the neoliberal governments and the central bankers. But the point of the protests was not simply to overthrow the government alone, since there was widespread recognition that this was not a problem of the governments: it was a deeper problem about the kind of political possibilities that remained open to human society.
The uprising had a truly global character. A million people in Red Shirts in Bangkok on 14 March 2010 took to the streets against a state of the military, the monarchy, and the monied sections; in Spain, half a million indignados marched in the streets of Madrid on 15 October 2011. The Financial Times ran an influential article calling this ‘the year of global indignation’, with one of its leading commentators writing that the revolt pitted ‘an internationally-connected elite against ordinary citizens who feel excluded from the benefits of economic growth, and angered by corruption’.
From October 2008 in my personal policy briefs I have constantly reiterated that between the 1980s and the 2000s, inequality has continued to rise in Nigeria.
In the transiting year how swiftly our wealthy politicians have turned from the language of ‘democracy promotion’ to the language of law and order, sending in the police and the F-16s to clear out public plazas and to threaten social activists.
A glance backward to the uprisings of a decade ago requires that we pause at the door of the prisons in Egypt, where some of the young people who had been arrested for their hopefulness remain incarcerated. Two political prisoners, Alaa Abdel El-Fattah and Ahmed Douma shouted to each other between their cells, a conversation which was published as Graffiti for Two. What did they fight for? ‘We fought for a day, one day that would end without the suffocating certainty that tomorrow would replicate it as all days had been replicated before’. They sought an exit from the present; they sought a future. Revolutionaries, when they rise, Alaa and Ahmed wrote, care ‘for nothing but love’.
It is 2020 we have seen and heard the stories of the killed Borno farmers, have their killings inspired a nation, our striking teachers, our uninspired, underpaid and unskilled workforce, the gross betrayal of our political class, a people that was elected to give us roads, hospitals and schools hoarded food from us. We saw how #endSARS provoked street actions around the nation.
Are we seriously unserious or not serious, there’s ‘suffocating certainty’ that there is no future set aside; as the people on the streets seek a future that is a break from the insufferable present, nothing will happen if we don’t become serious, if we continue to dwell on matters like ASUU, Rema, Naira Marley, Rahama Sadau, Hushpuppi, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
Mr. President, you and your team, have been accorded such servile obeisance on the understanding that you inherited a weak state and that anything after GEJ was tolerable, despite the fact that all of you are all the same difference. The people were optimistic that you had the credentials to lead them to the Promised Land. What will now pass as your mystical image of a great achiever and Mr. Integrity prevailed on even the doubting Thomases to believe that you were divinely anointed. But as we navigate jagajagaciously into 2021, it is becoming clear to even your most jaundiced admirers that you are not after all the Messiah this nation has been waiting for.
Like seriously, if we are to escape the approaching social tsunami without any fear of being misguided by party sentiments, political folly, personality cult followership and ethnographic sheepish waka; this is what Mr. Buhari needs to be serious about—need for immediate action to engender sustainable policies and programmes capable of lifting Nigerians out of poverty. There should be a workable social empowerment and security system that addresses the conditions of Nigerians living in extreme poverty. Investment in human capital development should also be prioritised to pave for easy access to basic healthcare, and other social amenities.
The rising security challenges confronting the country are largely traceable to our unserious nature at most things, we are not just serious, if we don’t get serious, the amount of damage in the near future—Only time will tell.
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