I must confess that I typically ignore the insincere and outright mendacious rant that issues forth like effluence from the Federal House of Representatives. However this morning, seating in traffic and listening to the radio, I was somewhat startled by the media report that the Speaker of the House, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, had reportedly warned that a revolution was afoot in Nigeria. I cocked my ear, turned up the volume and listen more intently to this unusual pronouncement from a key member of the ruling elite. Had I missed the memo, worse still, I found myself in total agreement with an honourable member of the house. Yikes! The apocalypse is upon us! I later went online to track down the story, and found this unedited and select excerpt in the Osun Defender.
“The Speaker, House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, has said a revolution is due in Nigeria because of endemic corruption in the country, coupled with the general disaffection of the people with the ruling elite. He said the kind of conditions that must subsist in order for any talk of revolution to be taken seriously were widely evident. He said, “The most compelling reasons for revolution throughout the ages were injustice, crushing poverty, marginalisation, rampant corruption, lawlessness, joblessness, and general disaffection with the ruling elite. You will agree with me that these describe conditions in our nation now, to a very large degree.”
Tambuwal, who was represented by the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Budget and Research, Mr. Opeyemi Bamidele, said over the years, successive governments made efforts to deal with this menace, but to no avail. That these conditions exist is well known to all persons in authority but the results of these successive efforts have failed to yield the desired results. This therefore is the justification for the radical change from the present approach to a revolutionary one,” he stressed.
A cynical political statement to bolster his political ambition I thought, and besides ‘he’ didn’t actually say these words himself, but through the proxy of someone else ostensibly delivering his speech. Nonetheless, the stark import of his warning, especially against the backdrop of the ongoing events in Egypt, must make politicians like him, shift uneasily in their pampered seats as public disaffection grows with the ruling elite. Does the diarchy in Egypt portend a plausible scenario for Nigeria? The speaker’s pity warning, spelling out in clear terms that the conditions for a ‘revolution’ exists must be taken very seriously, especially because we all have seen a glimpse of ‘people power’ during the fuel subsidy crisis very early last year. That might have been perhaps a foretaste of what the speaker believes is imminent.
To recall and remember that period, the sudden announcement that overnight doubled the pump price of petrol happened against the immediate backdrop of a violent radical Muslim insurgency that a week before on Christmas day, near Abuja, bombed a church full of yuletide worshippers, killing scores, injuring hundreds, sowing nation-wide fear, panic and deeply unsettling the collective sense of nationhood. In the unfolding aftermath, young Nigerians in the thousands spontaneously took to the streets nationwide in protest against the increase in fuel prices, the crux of their complaints very rapidly evolved to a demand for anti corruption prosecution for the venal ruling elite and good governance. While the demonstrations were nominally all under the negotiating banner of the Nigeria Labour Congress (some might argue ultimately hijacked by the NLC), the teeming youths on the streets drew their energy and inspiration from Egypt’s Tahir square and the digital social medial strategy of the Arab Spring.
A year and a half later, we must acknowledge a new phase of political awareness and civic empowerment. Nigeria’s Facebook generation are behind the scenes organizing themselves into new civic groups that are using both on and offline strategies to create new constituencies and communities to challenge the pervasive corruption and incompetence of their government. There is proof of a growing and in some instances angry debate about the principles and practice of good governance-or lack thereof- in Nigeria, a sure sign the public consciousness has quickly shifted to the business of holding government and elected officials accountable for their actions.
The fact that the speaker acknowledges that the ruling class is aware of this important shift is a sign that the revolutionary spirit is trickling up to the middle class, whose growing understanding of their dwindling financial fortunes and their increasingly uncertain future will be the spark that ignites the kindling. Politicians intuitively know that revolutions typically are started and sustained not by the legitimate anger of the so-called ‘masses,’ but by the unmet demands of the rising expectations of the middle class. If you fail to deliver the public goods and services over a long period of time, there will be a push back by a coterie of strange bedfellows; sophisticated middle class urbanites joining forces with the urban poor and then spreading the protests nationwide through the ‘poverty tribe’- the seventy percent of Nigerians under the age of thirty and the seventy percent of Nigerians who remain poor and destitute.
As is clear to all, Nigeria is again at a dangerous crossroad, in which latent and hitherto buried problems and historical fault lines seem to be cracking to the top, all at the same time. While before now, it could be dismissed as the usual hiccups that now and again punctuate Nigeria’s unsteady crawl to nationhood; this time, all are in agreement that something out of the ordinary is unfolding. Nigerians all seem to be saying that enough is enough and that we must somehow move forward. However, the problems we face today have long tactile historical roots of incompetence, corruption and a spectacular failure in leadership and vision over the last fifty years.
So if indeed the apocalypse is upon us, as Tambawal would make us believe, then we can take some poetic licence and consider its four horsemen. From the many possible historical perspectives available, I propose four colliding factors that have converged to create this perfect malevolent storm that will be contributory factors for the fire next time.
The Dutch disease: Ever since crude oil was discovered in 1955 in a place called Oloibiri, the infection of the Dutch disease set in. In Nigeria the discovery of oil had led to the now famous ‘Resource Curse’ that has strangled all other potentially productive sectors, distorted all socio-economic indices, as well as polluted the political institutions and sharpening the struggle for resource control and access to political power.
State Capture: As a direct consequence of these distortions and the perpetual fight for access to and control of the spoils of oil, the political system evolved, especially through the years of military rule, to centralize power and concentrate the nation’s resources into a handful of people (Perhaps as little as 1% of the population control more than 80% of its resources) that roughly constitute Nigeria’s Military-Political complex. Put another way, the Nigerian State at all levels have been captured by oligarchs that actually have their roots in the pre-independence design of colonial Nigeria.
The youth bulge: The teeming millions of angry, poor and unemployed young Nigerians that we all see but choose to ignore are the manifestation of the youth bulge theory. This hitherto silent majority have found their civic and nationalistic voices and are determined to be heard. On the darker flipside is the death and destruction being wrought by Boko Haram and other violent insurgency groups, especially in the oil rich Niger Delta. These protests by millions of disenfranchised young people for whom violence against the state have become their only option of expressing their legitimate dissatisfaction with the ruling elite.
Social Media: Nigeria’s Facebook generation have whole heartedly embraced the power of the social media and are putting the leveraged power of user social media networks to organize themselves as well as challenge both on and offline, the social and economic injustices of the Nigerian state. They have learnt the lessons of the ‘twitter revolution’ in North Africa and are determined to have their own revolution in democracy and good governance. So the issue now is not if, but when, it might be sooner than we think.