GBENRO ADEOYE writes about a rising trend whereby citizens no longer find it hard to physically express their frustration at the political class, whom they see as responsible for their poor living conditions
For long, Nigerians have been regarded as a docile people in the face of poverty, adversity and poor governance with their passive reaction to everything thrown at them by the leadership. The people may have worn the toga of docility for a long time; however, recent events show that the people are gradually losing the tag.
It appears that in the last one or two decades, the gap between the ruling elite and the masses has grown wider, with a middle class that has almost collapsed to join the poor at the lower rung of the economic ladder. And with the increasing level of hardship in the country comes a rising public anger at the government and those perceived to have had power over the country’s economic and political system for a long time.
Therefore, there appears to be a growing resentment against political actors believed to have failed and enriched their pockets at the expense of the people.
So slowly but gradually, the toga of docility that has been graciously worn by Nigerians for so long is being shed for a new one like a snake sheds its skin. More people appear to be taking their frustrations beyond the social media, to physical expression of anger.
Last month, it took the intervention of a combined team of security personnel to rescue politicians, including the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari, and some federal lawmakers from an angry mob in the state.
Some angry protesters had stormed a rally organised by the All Progressives Congress in the state to say they did not want Abu Ibrahim as the senator representing Katsina South. They had reportedly hurled stones and shoes at Masari; Ibrahim; a lawmaker representing Bakori/Danja Federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Amiru Tukur; and other invited guests, putting an abrupt end to the event.
It was learnt that Tukur sustained some injuries during the assault.
Also in April, there was drama at the burial of the late former Osun State Governor, Isiaka Adeleke, as his supporters brought down a canopy under which were seated dignitaries to the event, including governors. Those sheltered by the canopy included Governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun; his Ondo State counterpart, Rotimi Akeredolu; former Governor of Osun State, Prince Oyinlola Olagunsoye; and a commissioner-designate, Idiat Babalola. The irate youth, who had alleged that Adeleke was poisoned by some leaders of his political party because of his ambition to become governor a second time, had insisted that Babalola must leave the event.
Babalola, a former aide to Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, was being touted to be the running mate of the person favoured by the APC to be the next governor of the state, ahead of Adeleke.
Ignoring appeals to let her be, the youth shook the canopy to force Babalola out, until it collapsed. Eventually, Babalola left, but had to be shielded by Amosun from the missiles targeted at her by the mob on their way out.
Meanwhile, Amosun had himself faced the wrath of students of Tai Solarin University of Education, who had protested against an increment in the school’s tuition by his administration.
On February 6, 2017, the same day a nationwide protest against bad governance, tagged #istandwithNigeria# held in major cities, the students marched through the streets of Abeokuta to make their frustrations known to the state government.
In a meeting with Amosun at the MKO Abiola Stadium, one of the students, who addressed the governor, accused him of reneging on the promises he had made to them during his campaign, saying, “If you want citizens to make sacrifices, you must make sacrifices with your outrageous allowances and salaries.”
Another student, who refused to hand over the microphone to the governor after being asked repeatedly to do so, described Amosun’s government as “dubious” and that he was no longer a man of the people.
Another governor, Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, was interrupted and insulted by an agitator for the Biafran State during a speech at the Chatham House in London, United Kingdom, in March 2016.
Speaking Igbo, the visibly angry man, who was holding a Biafran flag, was said to have described Okorocha as a murderer and a disgrace to his tribe.
He accused the governor of killing Biafrans in his state, saying, “I gbue Nnem, gbue Nnam, m’bia ebea Na Akwuru gi Aka?” This was translated to mean: “You killed my father and you think I will come and sit here and be clapping for you.”
Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, reportedly had his share of confrontation with the people when in August 2016; he was pelted with stones and other missiles at the Lokoja Central Mosque, where he was attending a special session to mark the state’s 25th anniversary.
Eventually, the prayer was hurriedly suspended on the advice of his security personnel as he was greeted by boos, jeers, and missiles from some angry youths.
The reason for such reactions from the youth was not clear but the state was one of those that owed workers’ salaries.
Similarly, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and others with him, were pelted with stones and sachets of water by youths chanting, ‘Ole’ (Thief), during Eid prayers at a mosque in Ilorin, Kwara State capital in 2015.
Other persons with Saraki in the VIP section during the attack included the Emir of Ilorin, Ibrahim Sulu Gambari; former sports minister, Bolaji Abdullahi; and a former acting National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Kawu Baraje.
The situation was said to have prevented the mosque’s Chief Imam from delivering his annual sermon and the monarch from giving his usual Sallah message as the programme was disrupted by the aggrieved youths. Saraki was said to have been whisked away from the prayer ground by his security handlers, who fired gunshots and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
According to eyewitness accounts, the protesters had destroyed some vehicles and accused Saraki of holding on to the Kwara State’s share of the bailout arranged by the Federal Government to assist insolvent states pay salaries they owed their workers.
Interestingly, even Presidents can no longer claim to be immune to mob attacks as evidenced on Tuesday, January 20, 2015, when former President Goodluck Jonathan’s convoy was attacked by suspected political thugs in Katsina State.
The former President had visited the state as part of his campaign for re-election but it was not without incident as some youths launched an assault on his convoy, hurling stones at the vehicles before being dispersed by security operatives.
Recently, a video showing a confrontation between Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, and some protesting students of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, co-owned with Osun State Government, surfaced online.
The school had been closed for about eight months and some aggrieved students of the school had taken their protest to the Government House, Oyo State. During their meeting with Ajimobi, the students repeatedly interrupted him, leading to an altercation between them (the youth and the governor).
The governor described the youth as unruly to him – the state’s “constituted authority”.
“If all of you are truly students, you would listen to me. If you are not interested in talking to me, then you shouldn’t have come here.
“If you say you are a student, one of your responsibilities is to have respect. If this is the way you want to talk to me, then I will not address you and if you want to turn the situation into a chaotic affair, we are ready for you,” the governor had said as the angry students interrupted him and chanted insulting songs.
Meanwhile, last July, secondary school pupils in Oyo State had embarked on anti-government protests following reports that Ajimobi’s administration was planning to sell some public schools to private hands- a move that would have increased the school fees of affected pupils.
The pupils had marched through the Ibadan city, chanting anti-government songs and destroying public property.
However, Director, Centre for American Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof. Jonah Onuoha, who described Nigerians as getting more and more frustrated by harsh economic situation, said the situation would get worse.
Onuoha, a former Head, Department of Political Science, UNN, added that if the high rates of inflation and unemployment were not quickly brought down, it would soon trigger an uprising.
“We used to say that Nigerians have very strong shock absorbers but the current situation has gone beyond that. The economic crisis has rendered the Nigerian currency almost useless and workers can no longer survive on their salaries and take care of their families.
“Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gun powder and any moment from now, when people can no longer bear it, there is likely going to be an uprising similar to the Arab Spring. Everyone on the street is annoyed because of the harsh economic situation.
“It is a sign that something terrible will soon happen if the situation is not addressed quickly. Inflation has reached a hyper level and the citizens are suffering so much that they are angry. I see it as a gathering storm which will get worse unless the economic situation is addressed.
“And when it starts, it will be difficult to contain like what happened in the Arab nations. We are likely going to have Nigerian spring and it will start from nothing, not through political parties, military or police, but from the civil society,” the don said.
A lawyer, Mr. Tunde Esan, also described the trend as the fallout of a bad economic situation and greed on the part of the public office holders.
Esan also said the trend would get worse because while the masses are told by their leaders to tighten their belts, the public office holders keep getting fatter.
He said, “The people do not have any means of getting information from the government. What they see in the midst of their poverty is the luxury lifestyles of elected representatives. People have not been paid salaries for months, yet they see governors, lawmakers changing cars every time. It is as if public office holders are making fun of the masses’ state of poverty.
“And when people have been pushed to the wall, what is left for them is to react. Someone who has not been paid for months and has children to feed and pay their school fees will fight back. That is where we are right now and it will get worse.
“These days, we see people committing suicide, jumping inside lagoons, like we have never seen before in this country. A man who can commit suicide can decide to take the governor or someone he thinks is responsible for his condition with him. That may just be the next level. I hope it doesn’t get to that point but these people have nothing to lose anymore.
“Even if things are difficult, is our government talking to the people? What are you telling the man who has not been paid salary for months? Is it like beating someone and asking him not to cry? And he wants to see if you have made adjustments in your own lifestyle as a leader, but there is none. You are living in affluence and asking the poor man to tighten his belt.”
Onuoha, therefore, urged the government to pay more attention to reducing the rates of inflation and unemployment, saying, “Unless inflation and unemployment rates are reduced, Nigeria will soon explode.”
Source: Punch Newspaper