Now That The Strike Is Over

Originally Published On Jan 19, 2012

Debo Onifade

Silence never won rights. They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below’ so says Roger Baldwin.

I salute all the Nigerian comrades all over the world that participated in one way or the other in the last few weeks, to start a change process in Nigeria. Many people felt very disappointed that we didn’t achieve our objective because government didn’t revert to N65 per liter, government has not revised the budget as we desire, and government has not recovered our money from the ‘cabal’.  We are also not happy that the government hasn’t cancelled its plans to buy new aircraft and spend lots of money on allowances and feeding, among others.

Most people are still disappointed that we ended the strike without an immediate solution to the N1.3t subsidy fraud.  But I submit that our ‘noise’ and agitations have indeed ‘won’ us a lot.  If we assumed a soccer match between the federal government and the masses, I would say the score was 2:3 in favour of the masses. Remember government was the home team, and we came from ‘away’ to battle and play against the government.  Of course government scored lots of points by quieting some of our brothers in the southeast and southsouth regions, by sending soldiers to stop us, and by ‘convincing’ our union leaders to quickly suspend strike without the blessing of the masses which were represented by the civil society organizations. But I will highlight our own scores.

Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke has recently said that Kerosene accounted for a significant part of the N1.3t subsidy.  Really?? I thought they told us that only rich people using big SUVs and smart cars were benefiting more from the subsidy. Kerosene is for the masses and I am aware people never bought at the subsidized prices. You would always see long queues for Kerosene at NNPC gas stations because it was always scarce and expensive elsewhere.  She also said we consumed about 35 million liters of PMS per day, but PPPRA has now said that subsidies were actually paid for about 59 million litres of PMS per day. Seriously??  Madam has also said she wasn’t the one that approved payments because that was the job of the finance ministry. Customs has also said that they were never allowed to scrutinize imported PMS to Nigeria.  Oh, but I thought they told us that customs just could not ‘catch’ PMS smugglers.

Now we also know that there was absolutely no law backing the use of government funds to fund subsidy beyond N240b in 2011, and some people are supposed to be prosecuted for that.  One interesting fact also is that the position of the masses has finally become the popular and ‘politically correct’ position.  Even those that benefited from the oil subsidy fraud are saying that the government should be probed. House, Senate, Executive, Judiciary, Governors, and even Marketers are saying yes to EFCC involvement.  Resolutions have been passed, EFCC is acting fast, and everybody is denying involvement.  Wow!!  Is that not a big accomplishment for us the masses?  That our position is now the popular one and even politicians are fully agreeing to our request for immediate probe?  Let’s remember that these things were not taken seriously before we protested.  EFCC never swooped on PPPRA, while Senate and House never spit fire and brimstone on the president to probe petroleum subsidy fraud.

In addition, it’s very interesting that a primary school child now knows that the presidency will spend an average of about N1m per meal in 2012.  Oh, sorry, the N1m actually includes a few other things but the summary is that we now all see it as food.  All these exposures have put the Nigerian government a lot on the defensive, and nobody can tell me that the deployment of soldiers in Lagos, Kano and Kaduna is not a cowardice act.  It is an act of fear when you send soldiers against unarmed people. In fact, the Inspector General of Police threatened us with treasonable charges if we marched the streets again!  To cap it all, the government that said there was absolutely no going back on full deregulation agreed to fix a N97 price.  My friends, this is why I agree with my dear pastor, comrade and birthday mate (Tunde Bakare) that the rally on Saturday is a ‘Victory Rally’.  We were the conquerors!

To those who still don’t agree with me that we had the upper hand, and who are seemingly discouraged from going all out in future, I like to remind you of a saying by Abraham Lincoln: ‘that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just’.  We must remain resolute in our quest to see a new Nigeria.  This is not the time for us to relent, but to begin to build on our achievements so far.

Let us put more pressure on the government to progress with reforms, if not, we will go back to the streets.  Egyptians went back to the streets, so we can!  Anybody being investigated should resign to allow fair investigation.  Our pastors should get more involved and clearly let us know which side they belong to – whether they are for us the masses, or for the government.  The current ‘climate’ in Nigeria no longer allows you to sit on the fence.  Let us know where you belong. Prayer is important but far from being the only thing.  Technocrats in government should begin to say the truth to their superiors.

This is where I love the fearlessness in my northern comrades like Nasir El Rufai and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.  Even when I disagree with them, I strongly admire their fearlessness.  This is what we need from mummy Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (if she can please come back to our side), and the other genuine people in government.  Tell the truth publicly and fearlessly.  You don’t have to be right at all times, but tell the truth to the best of your knowledge!  To our dear President GEJ, God can still use you to transform Nigeria if you would please repent, restitute and do all what we masses are asking for.  We’re not asking for too much – fight corruption to your very last blood, and give us basic needs of life. Chikena!

The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed—Steven Biko.  We must not be defeated in our minds.  We must keep working hard to make Nigeria flourish again.  It is not about just hearing nice words from our pastors and imams, believing and confessing it with faith, it is about acting relentlessly.  I have a feeling God has blessed us a lot with all we need to make Nigeria great, and He expects us to put a lot more pressure to make things happen. The struggles in the last few weeks have been interesting and we must keep up the tempo.  If there is no struggle, there is no progress—Frederick Douglass

Nigeria will surely flourish again.

April 15, 2020

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