July 15, 2024
Nigeria Nor Be Kenya
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“Kabiyesi, the message which I bring you today is the message of all the women who have left their stalls, their homes and children, their farms, and petty affairs to come and visit you today. They are the suffering crowd who are gathered on your front lawn… they are all the womanhood of Egba, and they have come to say – Enough is Enough” (Soyinka 1981, 208).

There is a trending trailer of a film titled “Funmilayo Ransome Kuti”. I have not watched the film, but I know the event that gave birth to the epochal event which forms the core of the plot. It was the Abeokuta Women’s Revolt of 1946. It was caused by the colonial government’s resolve to tax Abeokuta women. Wole Soyinka (WS), whose aunt, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, and mum, Grace Eniola Soyinka, led the action, captures it well in his memoir, Aké: The Years of Childhood. The quote above explains the central theme of the ‘war’. I remembered it as I watched the Kenya young people’s action last week.

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A friend and I discussed the Kenya riots. He was wondering why nobody appears to be bothered about the shenanigans going on in our government circle, especially in the last year. He concluded that Nigerians have become laid-back. I disagreed with him. I have a different theory about why nobody appears to be talking to protest the recent economic policies of the government that have impoverished the masses. In explaining my theory to him, I adopted the street lingo, Nigeria nor be Kenya, an adaptation of the 2020 political slogan of the Edo State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The then National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, through a video, directed Edo people to vote for the APC governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, against the incumbent governor and PDP candidate, Godwin Obaseki. In reaction to that directive, the PDP coined the lingo, Edo nor be Lagos, meaning Edo is not Lagos, where Tinubu dictates who will be the governor. The people went ahead to demonstrate that they would not be directed by any godfather as they ensured that the APC candidate, who had earlier been the PDP candidate in the 2016 governorship election, Ize-Iyamu, lost 13 out of the 18 local government areas of the state. The margin of defeat was such that the votes the PDP got in Oredo Local Government Area alone cancelled out the APC votes in the five local governments it won in Edo North Senatorial District!

I told my friend that Nigeria nor be Kenya because there has never been any organic protest in Nigeria since the beginning of this present democratic dispensation in 1999. While the Kenya riots over the now rescinded Financial Bill were spontaneous, organic and impulsive, all the demonstrations we have had in Nigeria since 1999 have been politically motivated, sponsored and orchestrated to achieve just one aim – to put the kingmaker on the throne. For the three days or so that the Kenyan youths were on the streets, there was no room for social razzmatazz. I have not seen any video of the youths partying; of any comedian reeling out jokes and musicians dishing out hot vibes to the protesting youths. The Kenyan boys and girls were focused. They knew what they wanted and went straight for it. They mapped out their targets and went straight for them. Everyone in the Kenyan government, who is related, or perceived to be connected to the obnoxious Financial Bill either scampered to safety or was caught in the crossfire.

From Monday to Wednesday last week, Kenya was on fire. Kenyans, mainly young men and women in their mid-30s and below, trooped out in large numbers to protest the insensitivity of the government of President William Ruto. Ruto proposed a bill termed Financial Bill 2024 to Kenya’s National Assembly. The summary of the proposed Bill was increased taxes to be paid by Kenyans. The young folks in that East African country, known as Gen-Zs, would not have any of that. They came out forcefully. The protest, spontaneous as it was, was well coordinated. All the three arms of government in Kenya collected, what in our street parlance, is known as wotowoto! I hate violence. My sanguinary disposition is low, if non-existent. Ironically, I nonetheless found the treatment meted to some government officials funny, though not totally amusing. Kenyans are lucky lots. Ordinary bill led to a three-day demonstration. I saw the video clips of the riots. Nigeria came to my mind. How will it happen that Nigerians will go on demonstration because of a mere bill?

Here, our leaders rape us serially. We don’t groan, irrespective of the bad bed on which we are raped, or the size of the instrument used in defiling us. Nigerians are used to different sizes of punishment from the various husbands that have been taking advantage of our ‘innocence’. Our husbands, especially those we have had between 2015 and date, would never bother to send any bill to our National Assembly before taking any action. They act first and inform our pliable legislators of the actions taken. How many Nigerians can recall the number of taxes we pay in this country? What about our budgets; how many do we run in one fiscal year? Nigeria is a cruise; a country of anything goes. Our resilience is like that of the proverbial woman under a man with a big phallus. She can only moan and thank her God that she survived while waiting in trepidation for when her assailant will be in the mood again. What a terrible situation!

Are Nigerians naturally complacent? I answer in the negative. History abounds about how our forebears fought oppression in the past. The Yoruba race, for instance, instituted traditional checks and balances in its political structures. Once an Oba veered off the acceptable norms and codes, the people, through their chiefs, presented the “calabash” to such a monarch. Many Yoruba Obas of yore were forced to “open the calabash”, a euphemism for suicide, because they did not rule well. The Alake of Egbaland, Oba Oba Ladapo Samuel Ademola, who was suspected to be in support of the 1946 women tax had, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and her fellow women under the aegis of Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU), to contend with. At the end of the Abeokuta Women’s Revolt, Alake was chased out of his palace and town. The Egba Native Authority was expanded to include more women. That was 78 years ago!

The same thing happened earlier in Aba in 1929 when, in November of that year, women in the Bende District of Umuahia and other locations in the present-day South-East, kicked against the tyranny of the colonial government-imposed Warrant Chiefs and their exploitative tax regimes. That protest led to the abolition of the Warrant Chief system in a region that is patently acephalous. The event also marked the beginning of women’s participation in politics in that zone. Those women of Igbo extraction remained heroines to date. They are pointers to the fact that Nigerians are not complacent by nature. However, the nature of the politics we adopted after the fall of the Second Republic in 1983 has changed a lot of things. We have greatly commercialised our politics and it is now a cash-and-carry venture! Again, sad!

The Kenyan incident cannot be compared to what we had in 2020 as #EndSARS! While the first two days of the 2020 youth protest police brutality could be seen and said to be organic, the subsequent days were characterised by politicking. I keep asking: who footed the bills incurred during the protests? I am talking here about the stage, the lighting, sound engineering, refreshments and artists’ appearances. Nobody should tell me about any mass funding, or the love of the “participating artists” for the Nigerian youths. I know enough of showbiz and organisation to know that what went into the #EndSARS was millions of naira. That, however, would never justify the brutality the Nigerian State visited on the armless youths, especially at the Lekki toll Gate axis of the protest. If not now, it shall surely come that posterity will ask for the blood of the poor citizens felled by the armed men sent by the State to disperse the youths.

What about the January 2012 protest codenamed, #OccupyNigeria? Was that also spontaneous? Was it in any way a natural reaction of the people to the removal of subsidy by President Goodluck Jonathan? During his inauguration on May 29, 2023, President Tinubu, unceremoniously, announced that “subsidy is gone”. Immediately, everything that hitherto made life comfortable for Nigerians took flight. Life has been unbearable ever since. Yet, nobody has been on the streets in protest. Why? Is there any difference between what Jonathan announced in January 2012 and what Tinubu announced on May 29, 2023? Why then did Nigerians troop out in 2012 but have remained indoors since 2023?

The answer is simple. Those behind the January 2012 #OccupyNigeria protest are either in power today or have their friends in power. The 2012 anti-subsidy removal protest remains one of the most organised civilian coups against a sitting government. Everybody involved in the planning and execution of that 2012 event had one agenda, to wit: remove Jonathan at all costs. Nothing more. At Ojota, Lagos, the epicentre of the #OccupyNigeria protest were politicians, ‘human rights activists’, ‘philanthropists’ and ‘public-spirited’ individuals. If the late iconoclast, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, were to be alive, he would have “put them together” as political carpetbaggers and profiteers! Check the list of the leaders of the protest and you will see that those who are not in today’s government have friends in it!

While the #OccupyNigeria protest lasted, a one-time Nollywood actor, Desmond Eliot, for instance, asked: “Why does our president need six private jets? Why should our public officials keep their salaries when Obama slashed his? Why should we believe the government when it says the subsidy gain will be properly invested? Bad leadership and corruption must stop.” Three years later, Eliot was rewarded with one of the Surulere seats in the Lagos State House of Assembly, a position he has retained for the third term. Today, President Tinubu is asking for two additional jets for the presidency; corruption has spread its tentacles everywhere, but Eliot is as silent as the water in a clay pot. Corruption has assumed a life of its own, yet the Eliots of this world are deaf and blind to that!

What about Abike Dabiri-Erewa and Lauretta Onochie who were regarded as the ‘Amazons’ of the protests during the Jonathan government? After they found themselves in the succeeding governments, what has become of them? Are Nigerians better now than they were during the Jonathan era? Where are the likes of Banky W, El Dee, Kate Henshaw, Omoni Oboli, Bimbo Akintola, Ufoma Ejenobor and Ronke Oshodi-Oke in today’s Nigeria? Should I also mention the deafening silence of our dear Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka (WS)? Or why the people’s lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has reduced his interventions to mere academic exercises of lectures, speeches, symposia and television screens? One person argued that it is wrong for Nigerians to expect someone like WS to lead a protest in his old age, and I asked: at what age should one accommodate bad governance and State insensitivity to the plight of the masses? If not on the streets, what about incisive statements from the stable of the world-renowned scholar? Our elders say: kìí d’àgbà kí á má lá obè, eegun eran nìkan ni a leè fó mó (old age cannot prevent one from liking soup; it only stops the aged from breaking meat bones)!

Nigerians will also recall the 2014 ‘Salvation Rally’, organised by the leadership of the APC to “draw global attention to the deliberate hijack of the Nigeria police and other security agencies by the ruling PDP.” At that rally was Rotimi Amaechi, who, as a PDP governor of oil-rich Rivers State, joined forces with the opposition against Jonathan. General Muhammadu Buhari, then APC presidential aspirant, was at that rally. So also, were Chiefs John Odigie-Oyegun, late Ogbonnaya Onu and a host of others. All these personalities became the beneficiaries of the government that took over from Jonathan in 2015. Buhari became president, Amaechi a minister, and Oyegun as APC National Chairman.

Many Nigerians who applauded the ‘Salvation Rally’ as a bold attempt at correcting the “bad policies” of the Jonathan administration, realised too late that those behind the rally had just one common goal: to take over the government. Femi Gbajabiamila, who was then the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, said that the rally was to end impunity. Today, Gbajabiamila is the Chief of Staff to President Tinubu. Can we ask him to define “impunity” for us in simple terms, bearing in mind the shenanigans that have been the hallmark of the government in which he serves as the head of the president’s domestic staff?

At the Abuja ‘Salvation Rally’, Chief Oyegun said the ‘protesters’ wanted to end “the raging insurgency that is daily killing and maiming our compatriots. An end to the impunity that permeates the Jonathan administration. An end to the massive corruption that has left our compatriots impoverished in the midst of plenty. An unambiguous effort to ensure that 2015 elections will be free and fair.” Where is the Benin Chief today? Can we ask if the “killings and maiming” have stopped, or if “impunity” has ended, and if our electoral system now is better than what we had in 2015?

The difference between Nigerians and the Kenyans who went on a rampage last week is clear. The history of our ‘fight’ for independence in Nigeria cannot be compared to what was obtainable in Kenya. While our ‘freedom fighters’ were busy drinking cups of tea, the Kenyans were in the bush with their Mau Mau agitation. A Nairobi University professor of Business and Management Sciences, XN Iraki (Waithaka N Iraki), said that the Gen-Zs that led the riots are below 35 years old and constitute 80% of the Kenyan population.

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He wrote: “Several economic factors have come together, creating the perfect storm for these mass protests. First, young Kenyans have endured hard economic times brought on by COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine. Tensions were already evident in the run-up to Kenya’s 2022 presidential elections, with complaints over rising national debt and the cost of living. At the time, President William Ruto’s alliance read the signs correctly and tapped into the discontent. As a presidential candidate, Ruto promised to lower the cost of living if he won the elections. He also promised the downtrodden, popularised as “hustlers”, better jobs. And they voted for him in droves. But in two years the economy did not grow as fast as expected. And the hustlers’ patience ran out. They have seen no transformation in their economic lives. This is despite the economy achieving a growth rate of 4.9% in 2022, edging up to 5.6% in 2023. This growth was not enough to deal with the economic backlogs. Hence, the popular question I have been asked as an economist is: if the economy is growing, where is the money?”

The same promises Ruto made to Kenyans are what Tinubu promised Nigerians. Kenyans took to the streets because they have never had the misfortune of having selfish politicians lead them in protests whenever government policies fail. But, here in Nigeria, political merchants have been the ones organising ‘protests’ on behalf of the people. Now, the ‘protesters’ of yesterday are in power; the people are helpless. Permit this last forecast: a day is coming when the Nigerian people shall take their destiny into their own hands. A day when they will chase the political merchants away and act on behalf of themselves. When that day comes, no fortress shall be impenetrable; not even the Aso of all Rock(s) Villa. That day, the monkey go go market and he no go return! May my generation witness that glorious day.

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