Monday, 16 January 2012

It's not over

Today the government unilaterally announced a partial revocation of its previous fuel subsidy removal, as well as a few nominal concessions to tidying up government. It then put soldiers on the street to make sure nobody protested, shot in the air and fired teargas at protesters to keep them quiet, and temporarily closed down the CNN and BBC offices in Lagos. It had already paid off PENGASSAN, the oil union, not to go on strike as it had previously announced. The general labour unions first suspended street protests and then the strike in a climb down that did not represent the protesters feelings.

Though the totalitarian methods used surprised many, including governors, an ending with unfinished business was to be expected. The protests were of a scale never previously seen under a non-military government, and the awakening of a new, active, young, technologically savvy, middle class protesting group is likely the most important outcome. Discussions were ongoing about how this momentum could be preserved and used in the days ahead, right up to the next general election. There is certainly a lot for this group and others to work towards: Less corruption, better distribution of oil wealth, infrastructure investments, reduced government costs, better representation and reduced costs of living to name but a few. Groups like EIE and Save Nigeria are already uniquely positioned to carry on the protest movement, but others will have to be born to channel the energy.

Importantly the protest needs success: None of the demands expressed in the video below have been achieved. Citizens will now be watching with new found confidence whether the promises governments makes are implemented and sufficient. If our reforming instincts are met with even some success, then the protesters of today will be uniquely positioned to lead change through the 2015 elections.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A new dawn?

I'm way behind on this one, I have to apologize. In part I've been holding back, observing: This is not my battle no matter how much I support it. In part I am as surprised by the intensity of the battle as the politicians clearly are: The military got a pay rise, 24 hourcurfews are in place, salaries are being withdrawn for striking workers, some might even face the sack - the People in Power are worried: This no longer looks like a controlled "saving face" union action we had thought it to be.

The People in Power might well be worried. The subsidy removal is just the tip of a very big iceberg that has been growing for the last 50 years, and has only grown more rapidly since military rule ended. I hesitate to speak about the advent of democracy, because you can't really call it that if those elected into power fail to represent the people that did so. The social contract that ties government to tax paying citizens has long since vanished, washed away by oil money. It has left the life of the 99% a daily, basic, violent struggle for survival. 

Others can and have more eloquently described the ongoing battle for a better Nigeria. But in the face of the sacrifices some people have made for this cause I cannot be silent. While I seek more effective ways to support the protest, I have to at least try to make my voice heard and highlight others. Meanwhile I weep for every soul lost to the defense of their basic rights. The blatant murder of civilians, and the collective shrug which seems to have followed, is the real tragedy of this saga. 

What now? If all we come away with from this is a reduction in fuel prices, then the protesters will have lost. The real target is the leadership rot that got the country into this mess in the first place: 'We are not broke', say the protesters, paraphrasing the finance ministers's justification of the subsidy removal, 'we are mismanaged'. They demand a slashing of exorbitant government wages (MP's reportedly earn 12 TIMES what their highest paid European counterparts, the Italians, earn), an analysis of where the money's gone and punishments for those driving and those benefiting from the emptying of state coffers, and, more than anything, a clear and decisive plan to getting basic services up and running pronto.

But how is this to happen? Right now it's not clear: Unions are said to be paid off by governments, the Twitter elite can't carry the masses, and the intellectuals get caught up in "grammar". There doesn’t even seem to be a collective manifesto of demands, though some try. There is currently no uniting force, and so I fear the governments hold strategy will work in the end: Things will peter out for lack of leadership, in the face of adversity, attention diverted by another disaster, and driven by the sheer necessity to get back to work, to earn a few cents, to get some food. But maybe not, maybe the countries rightly enraged citizens can transform some of that anger into real change. Inspired by the Arab Spring, goaded by the ostentatious wealth that surrounds them, provoked by the violence and fear they encounter every day, maybe Nigerian’s can craft a better future for themselves. I certainly hope so. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


I started posting in the Our Lagos series only a month or so back, but the feedback has been phenomenal. There's clearly demand for positive stories coming out of Lagos. And yet, I'm not the only one living on the Lagos bright side. Thus, I've decided to move Our Lagos stories to a different website ( and open it up to other contributors. If you or anybody you know wants to contribute, just hit me up. In the meantime I've  removed the relevant posts from this blog and will continue to post intermittently on other interesting stuff I've come across.

Hope you enjoy it.