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the battle as the politicians clearly are: The military got a pay rise, 24 hourcurfews are in place, salaries are being withdrawn for striking workers, some might even face the sack - the People in Power are worried: This no longer looks like a controlled "saving face" union action we had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. 

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