My Thoughts on the Nigerian Revolution

Fuel subsidy must go, I’m of the do it quick school of thought, don’t drag out the pain. Personally I am really angry that this fuel subsidy issue has been used to regularly and intermittently destabilize my life for the past 3 decades at least that I remember. As a free market social entrepreneur I cannot endorse its continuance.

As a citizen that has had the privilege to travel to many other countries I also know that we as a nation are extremely wasteful of our resources.  Even in Senegal they conserve electricity and think twice before they drive down the road to the super market,  not only in the US.  We want to live like Las Vegas and then complain of poverty when something threatens our very extravagant lifestyle.

I’ve frequently been told that I am privileged and that we have to fight for the ‘poor masses’  who will suffer the attendant economic hardship not me.  I find it all sorts of hypocrite and wrong for all the privileged people constantly speaking for the poor masses.  Is it your plan to keep them perpetually ‘poor’? When do we start treating them like people that deserve  that same ‘privileges’ that we enjoy instead of poor people?

I may be one of those ‘privileged’ (by your insistence not mine) but I come from very humble beginnings. My mother’s family was typically European working class.  They detested handouts, pity and the patronizing rhetoric that told them they were poor or needy.  They conserved their resources not because they were worried about climate change but because that’s how real folks lived.

My father’s family were simple  farming folk, noble but ‘poor’ even though my father and his brother were ‘privileged’ to travel abroad before anyone else in their village. I grew up in the family homestead in the village. My numerous paternal aunts, uncles and cousins didn’t want hand outs either.  They didn’t want subsidies. They too were conservationists by necessity.

Both sides of the family only ever wanted one thing, to do honest work and make an honest living. Anywhere in the world that’s what people want and we the ‘privileged’ few that have the opportunities to make decisions about the future of people and nations should start focusing on the economy. Like Clinton’s 1992 campaign  pointed out “It’s the economy, stupid”.

The removal of the fuel subsidy is about the economy and whether we want to admit it or not we have been making progress on the economic front and in the economic indices.  Growth is up across Africa, led by Nigeria and South Africa, there are more investor dollars and Diaspora dollars pouring in than ever before.  Investors and foreign professionals are coming to Africa instead of running away.

Corruption is a huge problem and it MUST be dealt with sooner than later and while it may not be the reason the protests started it has come to the surface as a key cause of the popular discontent.  It looks like the only way to appease the protesters right now (before they turn into a mob) is by making concrete and measurable goals to cut government waste, tackle corruption and make some arrests.

The faceless cabal that has been siphoning Nigeria’s money into their private bank accounts needs to be exposed and prosecuted. The government can’t get away with not naming them because to say there is a cabal is an admission that they are known and identifiable.  Someone should tell Mr. President Now is a good time to act while the people are out there to support his actions by their presence in the streets.

When the fuel subsidy removal debate started I wrote about it here. The government stated clearly that they wanted to save money. I asked then how much we could save cutting NASS salaries and benefits.  I think it is completely obscene that members of the National Assembly would call an emergency meeting and pass a resolution for the president to reinstate the fuel subsidy without addressing their outrageous salaries and benefits.

Especially after said president has gone on national television and publicly announced a 25% cut in executive salaries.  My advice to the protesters is accept and evaluate the president’s offer first, what are their salaries? What are their allowances? What are the criteria for necessary foreign trips? What are the potential savings? How do we set specific goals to which we can hold the executive accountable?

My advice to NASS, do not insult our intelligence by passing any more resolutions on the fuel subsidy until and unless you pass resolutions to cut your salaries, benefits, allowances and other perks by at least 50%.  If they can’t or don’t I think that that the National Assembly and its officers will completely lack any moral or political authority to make any pronouncements on the fuel subsidy.

Every government needs constant monitoring and babysitting, what mechanisms can the organized citizen sector put in place to ensure we can hold the executive and the legislature accountable on their promises?  Have our existing checks and balances failed or were they merely manipulated because we weren’t watching? How did we let NASS legislate their payroll so high? Where were we? What were we doing?

I believe any demand for a regime change is completely and totally out of order. We are a country that is under the rule of law. There are constitutional means of changing a government regimes and leaders and they have not been exhausted.  Although Jonathan,  like YarAdua and OBJ before him, is the beneficiary of a flawed election he is never the less winner in one of the best elections of the past 10 years.

He is no dictator even if he is a misguided and inexperienced politician.  The Arab Spring ousted sit tight dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Goodluck Jonathan is a democratically elected president in power less than a year. Removing him through ‘revolution’ will not only loss us the respect of the free world it will roll back all the democratic gains of the past 13 years!

When these protests started I was vocal in denouncing them. I felt betrayed that my fellow citizens did not protest the killing of innocents with as much fervor and passion as they protest the increase in fuel prices.  I was scandalized that my fellow citizens did not come out to protest as Boko Haram and its many franchisees  killed innocents across the country, Nigerians of all religions, tribes and ethnic groups and foreigners, guests that  we are supposed to protect.

The more immediate and fundamental threat I still believe is this rogue group that has been publicly threatening to start an insurgency since the Niger Delta militants were given amnesty in 2009 and the shadowy figures that are manipulating them now for different ends.  They are a threat because they dance a war dance on the very fragile fault lines of religion and while the Muslims in Kano protect their fellow citizens as they go to church in other states citizens are being killed in church.

I am a critic of amnesty in Nigeria, it sets a dangerous precedent and seems to reward a group of Nigerians by whatever name they described themselves for taking up arms and terrorizing their fellow citizens and the government.  At the same time I am sympathetic to the plight of the Niger Delta, abused and raped for over 40 years. Fellow citizens why did we not protest the blatant and horrific injustice against them?

I first wrote a paper warning of the consequences of continued repression and neglect in the Niger Delta in 1990 while on national service in IBB’s presidency.  Even then as a young inexperienced greenhorn I could see that militancy and insurgency were inevitable in the Niger Delta unless their economic and living conditions were radically changed.

We’ve making the same mistake now with Boko Haram in my opinion. Two years ago while I was at Oxfam GB we warned that poverty and a drought in the Sahel regions were destabilizing the northern states. We spoke to the media,  the bilateral and the multilaterals, we invited the armed forces, the police and the SSS.  The British and American embassies sent their defense attaches and followed up, the Nigerian Police Force sent their PRO, who never followed up. The rest of the Nigerian security forces ignored us.  Protest that!

While I admire the courage and share the outrage of protesters occupying Nigeria right now I am skeptical that this revolution will have the impact they want. While at Ashoka  I read two papers that studied the growth of the organized citizen sector in Brazil and India. The studies identified the economic and social conditions that supported a sharp growth in the local citizen action and social enterprise.

Level of education and income were key determinants of innovation in the social sector and sustainable home grown social change.  Increase in local philanthropy and funding for social projects were also key and dependant on incomes and economic indices.  These conditions have not as yet been met in much Nigeria and Africa. I believe Ashoka scaled back its operations in Africa after the 2008 US economic meltdown for this very reason.

According to the indicators Nigeria is not yet at the critical moment where the citizen sector  is set to explode and sustain real social change, the kind of social change that goes beyond band aid measures and pro poor policies like the fuel subsidy.  Notice how Nigerian states with a higher population of educated professionals and higher incomes are having more organized less violent protests.

It is in the states with the highest rates of poverty and illiteracy that violence is erupting and this is also where we are seeing increased militancy and insurgency.  While there may be interests that want a civil war in Nigeria it’s not going to happen. Whether the interests for or against civil war use neocolonial, imperial, capitalist or socialist theoretical frameworks to formulate their arguments there are more reasons for Nigeria to stay together than to break up.  A civil war will only be a violent and disruptive turf war.

When I pointed out on Twitter that Nigerian women were under represented in the occupy Nigeria protests some groups trotted out their women but we know their women are not allowed to think for themselves. Some other groups sent their women to church to pray for the nation’s salvation. Surely the God we worship is the one that helps those that help themselves?

Others sent me pictures of women in the front lines of protest and disagreed with my claim. The most disturbing of all those pictures was of a lone female protester half naked in a posture of ‘defiance or despair’ as Minna Salami called it, we can’t be sure but we can be sure that’s not the sort of women’s participation we are talking about.

Will the real women leaders only emerge when their peace keeping and conflict resolution skills are required, after the new partition? I am scandalized that my sisters are paying more attention to this male agenda of violence and dominance than coming out now to mediate this impasse with feminist sensitivity and compassion. This is an opportunity to show a truly transformative feminist leadership and avert more violence, death and chaos.

It’s time for women to come forth and assert their leadership NOW.  Yes we are outraged at our government, at government waste and corruption.  Yes we are livid at the insecurity and the nonchalance and ineptitude of the institutions meant to protect us and our families. Yes we are tired of the broken promises, deceit and lies but we must recognize that the exploitation and oppression is a result of systemic imbalances and inequities that neither a return to NGN65 per liter nor a change in regime can solve.

Now is the time to broker the changes we want to see in our body politic while asking our children out on the streets and our husbands and fathers in leadership  to step back from war, violence and chaos.  Not join them! Not encourage them. We are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. How can we cook in the kitchen and take pictures while our youth prepare to confront the government’s security apparatus and die?

NOW is the time for real women’s leadership, for a truly liberating and empowering leadership that challenges the status quo.  NOW is the time to calm ruffled feathers, sooth tempers and focus everyone’s attention on the issues at hand. Enough is Enough. There has to be a compromise, the protesters, the labor unions and the government must find their compromise and I think women are the only moral authority left in Nigeria to mediate it.

Like the elite of the Roman Empire before its fall Nigeria’s elite are too busy drinking expensive wines and having orgies they have failed to notice the growing discontent of the people. Meanwhile in their struggles for power and neglect of governance they’ve created hungry monsters, the monsters that terrorize them and think their NGN920 billion security budget is going to protect them.

In the 21st century you can’t live large off the people like they did in medieval times. Levels don change, get with the program people but they didn’t get that memo. Apparently they don’t read the demographic data that passes across their desks every day,  just the proposals and news headlines.  Or maybe they do read it and it tells them something else.

Elites don’t care if they destroy this country they all feel they have chopped enough anyway, they would as soon sow chaos and turn Nigeria into another Pakistan as play nice and cooperate. I maybe privileged but I am not elite or elitist, we’re fighting elitism not privilege. We’re fighting elitist exclusion, exploitation and repression. Not democracy and not an elected government.

Elitism is characterized by hierarchy, dominance, competition and entitlement all masculine values. In order to heal the rifts that have emerged at this most frightening of times, to sooth the outrage of our collective brutalization we need the feminine values of justice, reconciliation, egalitaranism and cooperation to prevail upon us.

My sisters where are you? Can’t we speak for peace NOW not after the war, not after our daughters are raped and traumatized by war hunger and desperation? Can’t we speak NOW and not after we have consoled ourselves on the loss of sons, husbands and brothers? My sisters Iheoma Obibi, Bene Madunagu, Mario Bello, Asmua Saduatu, ,Amy Oyekunle, Hafsat Abiola, Pricilla Achakpa,  Amina Lawal, Ngozi Iwere, Bisi Adeleye – Fayemi  and the  many I can’t mention for lack of space where are you?

I know you’ve been active with the men in the mainstream occupy movement but where are you as women? As the counter balancing force political and social that great feminists like Margert Ekpo and Fumilayo Ransome Kuti  and used to such devastating effect against male excess and entitlement before our Independence? We are in need of a second Independence from a male dominated power structure that brings us to the brink of war and conflict again and again.

Traditionally and historically women countered male excess and youthful exuberance among many Nigerian groups just like we mediate it in our homes every day.  Many African women intelligentsia  have argued that that is the true character of African feminism, pro family, pro children and above all pro woman. Women will disproportionally suffer any violent social or political upheaval.

Are we as women going to let this country slip into greater chaos?  How do we prevail upon this situation? How do we bring our country back from the brink? How do we halt the madness of male led corruption? How do we harness our children’s energy at this moment in history to ensure that change comes through means peaceful and constitutional?

January the 16th is Martin Luther King Jr. day in the United States. I grew up admiring that man and studied him as an adult.  He would be proud of the peaceful protests and the people’s emergence from political apathy.  He also saw the importance of economic development in the black neighborhoods and what prevented it.  I hope that his light shines on us here in Nigeria too.

Economic outlook in Nigeria and Africa is positive for the first time in years; any large scale disturbance in Nigeria will affect the whole continent.  There are a lot of interests that will prevent that sort of destabilization from happening.  Perhaps our worst case scenario is that the military will step in and may or may not offer to hold elections within a year like they did in Egypt but is that a solution? Why do I feel that that’s just what some people want.

I’m no international development economist or opinion leader or political scientist and I’m no pundit, I’ve heard so many arguments for and against the fuel subsidy, the PDP, Jonathan Goodluck, Occupy Nigeria and a new kitchen sink that I can’t begin to evaluate them all.  I’ll leave the details to the experts. I’m a Nigerian citizen,  mother and small business owner whose country, whose sons and whose livelihood are threatened.  My only argument right now is for peace and conflict resolution and for Nigerian women to lead the initiative.

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2 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the Nigerian Revolution

  1. Lesley, I admire your role as a foremost feminist icon in Nigeria. However, my admiration of you should not stop me from offering my objective critiquing of this particular note.

    You start your write-up off by pointing out that the removal of fuel subsidy is economically beneficial, although, I haven’t seen any sensible opponent to its removal that disputes the potential benefits economy-wise. You later on seemed to acknowledge that the fundamental bone of contention here isn’t necessarily its removal, but the deeply entrenched corruption that characterises the same government that is asking for more money through its removal. You then start, and this is no ad-hominem attack, an outburst on what you believe to be a misplaced priority of protesters. According to you and without fully appreciating the recklessness of that kind of thinking, you would rather have those people rallying against the Boko-Haram menace. You wish to someday see tens of thousands of people protesting against a highly sophisticated faceless terrorist group that the government, with all the state apparatus at its disposal, has so far failed to tame. Simply put, if I were Boko Haram, thankfully I’m not, that day would be my field day.

    Later, You shift the reader’s attention to the plight of women in Nigeria. Desperately, you attempted to promote feminism as the magic bullet for all our problems and in the process, made some outrageous pseudoscientific claims that hierarchy, dominance, competition and entitlement are masculine values, while justice, reconciliation, egalitarianism and cooperation are feminine values. How convenient! Isn’t it then paradoxical that after all that has been said, you choose the example of MLK Jr., a male, as the light you hope would shine on Nigeria? Your whole write up merely passes for a failed passionate defense of a dogmatic stereotype of what roles masculinity and femininity must necessarily play in shaping our existence. Margaret Thatcher’s unjust; non-reconciliatory and non-egalitarian outlook towards the black South African movement is enough to obliterate your bizarre notion.

    At the end, while I agree with you that there are systemic gender imbalances and inequities that must be addressed, I have either utterly misconstrued your position or your write up is a disappointing, lengthy mesh of non-coherent rants that do your feminist stance no good.

    1. Actually femininist and masculinist vales are not gender specific. During the last US election Obama was judged by some to have more feminist values than Hillary Clinton.

      And I’m certainly no feminist icon.

      But thank you for taking the time to respond

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