Observers and participants now all agree, the ongoing strikes and protests across Nigeria though caused by the country’s federal government’s decision to remove petrol subsidy is no more just about petrol price. Whatever happens and no matter how these strikes and protests end, Nigeria will never be the same again. The citizens of Nigeria have found their voices and they are using them to reject and demand. This has come after years of subjugation through fear of guns and domination through regimentation and by uncertainty through decrees under the military governments. It has come after years of been subdued under a system where every process and relation between the elected and the electors is connoted by paternalism, fatalism, servilisim and dominated by ethnicism under the democratic dispensation.
Like the military rulers before them, the civilian rulers in various spheres of government have over the years developed a habit of impunity and knack for believing they can say, do, fail to do or just get away with anything. Concepts and values like accountability, scrutiny, or any fear of social embarrassment, criminal responsibility, political consequence, or moral stigma have all gradually left the mindset of most public holders and the Nigerian landscape in which they operate.
These rulers have always counted on a largely docile, incompetent and compromised press that for various reason has not been able to force public office holders to thoroughly explain and account for their promises, past, deeds and misdeeds. These leaders have been able to perpetuate their excesses and abuses without caring about the reaction of a citizenry that tends to beg for favour rather than demand for rights, they have gotten used to a citizenry that tends to adjust to rather than rebel against unacceptable use and abuses.
Nigerians, their rulers know, will try to make ends meet and pray; the expression they use for this in Nigerian parlance is to manage.
Well, this managing came to end the on the first day of 2012 when the whole country was touched where it hurt most: their wallets. The pain felt in their wallets forced Nigerians to look closer into the wallets and lives of those telling them to make ends meet, starting from the president and they did not like what they saw. The closer Nigerians looked, the angrier and more disappointed they became.
It is not the first time Nigerians will feel mistreated but there is a clear sense they are now fed up, there is a palpable sense of betrayal by an administration led by someone they consider to be one of their own. The Jonathan Nigerians voted had no shoes and he promised them fresh air and good roads plus stable electricity, good schools, water and lots of jobs. The Jonathan Nigerians voted was perceived as a humble listener, in touch, lucky, very lucky, and God sent. A lot of people were hoping his good luck would rub off on the country, but so far no chance.
Once in power, the Jonathan they got has however been quite unlucky and rather incapable. He was unlucky enough to have the problem of Boko Haram, so far he has proven incapable of dealing with it. He was unlucky enough to have an administration filled with people who do not represent a break from the past, some will argue he chose them, all will agree he has proven incapable of transforming them. He has been unlucky enough not have around him anyone capable of foreseeing and authoritative enough of explaining that if the price of fuel goes up to from N65 to N140, then a worker, let’s call him Ebele, that used to pay N200 might now have to pay N400 a day just on transportation and that if that worker goes to work 23 days a month, then transportation alone might cost him N9200 a month. Nobody was good enough to tell him that general prices will go up more than the percentages Governor Sanusi was predicting during the great Town Hall meeting. This Jonathan could not predict that if Ebele the worker earns N25, 000 a month (which is way more than the minimum wage this administration is being forced to pay) and has to pay for transportation and other maintenance costs for any other dependant, such worker will take to the streets. This Jonathan could not predict that the employer of Ebele the worker, let’s call her Madame Patience, too will loose her patience and jump to the streets pushed by the fear of the request of a salary increase.
This Jonathan could not foresee that if Ebele and Madame Patience should get to the streets just to say no to hike in fuel price but once there, discover that under GEJ our FX reserve has gone from $45bn to $ 30bn and that we have increased our debt stock by about $20bn and that the Dollar exchange rate has moved from less than N140 to N160, then they will want to know more about this sacrifice they are asked to make. This Jonathan could not predict what will happen if Ebele and Madame Patience should discover that those asking them to make all these sacrifices have spent or plan to spend almost 1 billion naira on food and more billions to subsidize luxuries they can’t even dream.
Just in case this Jonathan does not get it, Nigerians are saying no to a hike in fuel prices because they cannot not afford it at all, telling them to bear with you till things get better tomorrow is useless and upsetting because they fear they might not make it till tomorrow. They are not listening to the government anymore because they feel this Jonathan has lost his moral authority to lead.
This Jonathan is made up of people who have so far shown themselves incapable of understanding or caring for Nigerians and the more they talk the worse they seem. For things to work again in Nigeria, this Jonathan must go. We must see a new Jonathan, one capable of listening to the many and standing up to the few. Contrary to what some are advocating, this is not a time for compromise or explanation. Media campaign? Propaganda? Accusing the opposition of hijacking the protests? All that will not solve the problems at hand. Nigerians want to prove they count; they are keen on exercising their sovereign rights. They are convinced their legislators are with them. Now is the time to respect people’s will. Remember Mr. President they voted you into power; rational or not, they, not the economists and advisers voted you into power. Do not listen to those voices saying one has to be tough with children for their own good; Nigerians are not your children Mr. President, they are your masters. Be tough on your advisers and ministers, ask them to come up with alternative means of raising the money you need to govern, tell those who cannot find alternative solutions to hurting Nigerians to go away, you will find replacements. If you genuinely think there is no alternative way to govern than to make Nigerians feel overburdened or unfairly treated then stick to your dignity and principle but resign and go away today to protect your name in history for tomorrow.