by Ibrahim Faruk
On New Year Day, 1st January 2012, the rude shock of the total removal of fuel subsidies on premium motor spirit (PMS) by the Federal Republic of Nigeria, presented as a New Years gift by the government to the good people of Nigeria led to what many have referred to as the ‘Occupy Nigeria’ movement.
Within the next few hours and days, social media, discussion forums and traditional media were saturated with the fuel subsidy matter, its attendant political and economic ramifications. As was usually the case, organized labor was expected to declare a strike and defend the rights of the Nigerian people. Widespread protests, however, followed the government’s decision to remove fuel subsidies which many considered as the only benefit of living in an oil-producing country that has little infrastructure, poor roads, high unemployment and intermittent electric power.
However, before the bureaucracy of organized labor could declare a strike, a young army of Nigerian youth from Lagos to Kano had mobilized using the tools and resources available at their disposal, and the Occupy Nigeria Movement was born.
The movement found an opportunity to vent their anger and frustration with the manner in which the country was being run, and started to move away from being about just fuel prices and the reversal of the governments New Year decision to being about the sickening corruption in government to cuts in government expenditure.
On the other hand, some others preached that the removal of subsidy was the answer to all Nigeria’s problems. They promised fixed refineries, working hospitals, good roads, brand new trains, better schools and abundant petrol products among others.
In a country where there is a widespread lack of trust in the government to provide basic infrastructure — Nigeria is also regularly voted among the most corrupt countries in the world. Despite being the most populous black nation and Africa’s largest producer of crude oil, the nation produces around 2.4 million barrels of crude oil a day; it imports roughly 70% of its local demand for crude oil, because most of its own refineries are inoperative after years of corruption-fueled neglect. The systems and institutions have collapsed and excuses abound as to why nothing has changed. Elected and appointed officials live in luxury while others groan under the burden of the removal of fuel subsidies.
The Occupy Nigeria movement represented a turning point in Nigerian politics especially for its large mass of young people. However, the momentum of Occupy Nigeria has come to an agonizing halt. The special soldiers of this army have returned to the
sidelines to watch as our collective future is being dispensed at the pumps in filling stations all over the country. Still at very exorbitant rates!
For a movement that was drawn together across religious, ethnic and to a certain extent political lines in such a religious, ethnic and politically diverse nation like Nigeria, within
a few hours, using social media – the movement achieved over and beyond what even the leaders of the movement expected.
But now, the momentum has died. Nigerians are adjusting to the grim reality in which we have found ourselves. At least, the discussions about our most pressing problems, such as the size and cost of government and corruption have continued. The agitation for those pressing problems to be solved, either through the media (print, electronic, online), unfortunately, has not continued in a sustained manner.
To further worsen an already bleak situation, over the past twelve months, the ministry of petroleum budget for the PIB awareness campaign stands at N6.2 billion, the President needs N2.2 billion to build a Banquet Hall after spending over N3 billion on foreign travels (despite promises to reduce these costs), over N14 billion is needed for the construction of a new official residence for the Vice President, N2 billion in newly printed notes developed wings and flew out of the National Mint, while investigations reveal that N5 trillion has disappeared under the watch of this administration even as it claims it is on top of the fight against corruption.
Insecurity in the North-East means that mothers and children are getting killed every day, while trillions of naira has been budgeted to provide security yet what we have is more deaths, more kidnappings and more insecurity in every sense of the word. We are the 7th most terrorized country in the world.
So what exactly is the problem? What steps must we take as we move forward? Nigerians have been spewing and planning on what to do when the opportunity presents itself again. We, young Nigerians, the machinery of the Occupy Nigeria movement are like sharks that tasted blood and are anxious for another taste. We may never get another opportunity like that again to unify, mobilize and massively organize on collective issues; the movement, however, can be revived and used as a springboard for action that will restart the process of change. The young men and women with integrity, consistency and the fire of passion in their bellies, regardless of religious, ethnic or political bias and those who paid the supreme cost for us to reach this point are the real soldiers of the movement. We must continue to engage the process strategically until we change this country to the kind we will all want to live in
and leave for our children.
We must never forget.