25th January, 2012
Perhaps one regrettable outcome of the recent public protests by Nigerians on the removal of the fuel subsidy by the federal government is how it has revealed the wide polarisation of the country, and how government can use that division for selfish purposes.
It was clear that when the crisis began, Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnic background, were unanimous in their rejection of the government policy.
A new twist was, however, brought to the protest when some people, obviously at the prompting of government, began to sectionalise the protests.
The pointer that government was already employing a divide and rule method to change the focus of the public protest started with the pattern of argument by members of the House of Representatives during the House’s emergency session on Sunday.
While the majority of the lawmakers expressed the feeling of their constituents on the fuel subsidy removal urging the federal government to reverse the policy, almost all the lawmakers who spoke in support of the policy are from the South-south geo-political zone, particularly from the Ijaw ethnic extraction of that region.
After the ethnic colouration of the debate at the parliament, the media was awash the following day (Monday) with several newspaper advertorials by prominent Ijaw leaders and youth organisations denouncing the street protests.
Ordinarily, one would not have been really bothered about the opinions expressed by the Southsouth leaders, but the statement from government just about the same time that the protests across the Southwest was being orchestrated by politicians who lost in the last April election elicited some worries.
It is worrisome because by that statement, government had come to a disappointing conclusion that the people of the Southwest do not have a mind of their own and so are easily swayed by politicians.
One is not sure if President Jonathan had the same view of the Southwest people, and in fact, protesters in the North, when the whole country was thrown into a dark tunnel of despair during the leadership vacuum in the country, following the illness of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and civil society groups in the Southwest championed the cause of swearing him in as an Acting President.
When people in Lagos and other major cities in the Southwest called for the then Vice-President Jonathan to be sworn-in as Acting President, the people were exercising their rights to freely express themselves, even when in the circumstance of that time, an unscrupulous security agent could have rounded them up for treason.
But it is laughable that the same government that came into being through public demonstrations, is that same government labelling protesters against an unpopular policy “hoodlums, being used by frustrated politicians,” and threatening them with treason charge.
It is important to re-echo it to the world that the Yorubas are too sophisticated to be intimidated by any government, and that not even a deployment of the entire Nigerian Army could scare the people off the streets in their protest to make the government more accountable and responsive.
That the government could deploy soldiers to the streets of Lagos to ‘chase’ protesters away for fear of initiating a revolution, while hundreds of lives have been lost to the rampaging insecurity in some parts of the country, with government having to wait a long while before declaring a State of Emergency in those states, shows that this government, indeed, sees governance as an end in itself.
Otherwise, one would have expected the government to show the same spontaneity of dispersing the Lagos ‘hoodlums,’ in also rapidly deploying soldiers to curb the senseless killing of Nigerians by the Boko Haram terrorist group.
And, going back to the Ijaw leaders who sponsored newspapers advertorials insinuating that the protests in the North and the south-west were engineered to take the reins of power from President Jonathan, they should be reminded that Nigerians made their son the president of the whole country, and that more than any other geo-political zone in this country, the North and the South-west provided (and still provide) the pillars that the Jonathan’s presidency rests upon.
It should be recalled that it was a northern senator, Bala Muhammed, who moved the motion for the adoption of the Doctrine of Necessity by which the Senate confirmed Jonathan as an Acting President. I very much doubt if any of these so-called Ijaw leaders could have had the courage to raise such a motion as Senator Muhammed did, if they were in a similar situation.
It is also important to remember that while other geo-political blocks were sitting on the fence on the direction to go when there was leadership vacuum in 2010, it was the Yorubas, through the instrumentality of civil society agitations that protested publicly and created the canvass for Jonathan’s presidency.
It is thus an irony of time that the same friendly activists in years past, have metamorphosed into ‘disgruntled elements’ of today.
•Balogun sent this piece from Jericho GRA, Ibadan.