"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik

Occupy Nigeria… ‘Naija Arise!’

by Rick Dutton in International News

If you know anyone from the West African Republic of Nigeria you might find them slightly absorbed by what is going on back home at the moment. Yes, yes, we hear you declare, that’ll be the ethnic tensions and rise of another group of Islamic extremists kicking off, they’re always doing that!

We’ll if you were to take a good look at international media reports it’s understandable that you might have that reaction. What isn’t being reported much is that there’s a movement of protest going on in Africas most populated country which is seeking to rid the country of injustice, corruption, political greed and incompetence. While there are indeed increasing clashes on a religious and ethnic basis these are minuscule compared to what is actually going on in pretty much every state of Nigeria. And that is ‘Occupy Nigeria’.

Cynics among you will no doubt be shocked to hear that this isn’t just a couple of hundred people in tents camped outside the equivalent of Londons St.Pauls Cathedral. Well it’s not. It’s hundred of thousands of people from every section of Nigerian society…hundreds of thousands of people on the streets shouting ‘We have had ENOUGH!’

Occupy Nigeria has barely been noticed by other Occupy groups around the world, hardly a mention. And it’s not like they haven’t been sending messages out asking for support. Yet there’s more eloquence and understanding of corruption in terms of  international and domestic capitalism on display in Occupy Nigeria than from ANY other we have seen so far on our own door steep and indeed across the so-called ‘western world’.

Here’s some other things you may or may not know.

Did you know Nigeria is the sixth biggest oil producer in the world pumping oil to the tune of two million barrels per day? Did you know Nigeria is Americas third biggest oil provider? Did you know that a Nigerian Minister earns $60,000 more than an American Cabinet Minister? Did you know members of the Nigerian Senate earn $26,000 (not including allowances) more than their American counterparts? Did you know the majority of the population of more than 160 million people live on less than $2 per day? Did you know Nigerian ministers travel in convoys ten vehicles long, have their own jets, own properties around the globe, attend international events (whether invited or not) with entourages of sometimes 100 people…all at the expense of the Nigerian people? Did you know money regularly disappears  to the tune of billions of dollars with rarely any explanation or individuals held accountable. In fact it is estimated that $400bn of the country’s oil revenue was stolen by Nigeria’s leaders between 1960 and 1999.

Remember our own expenses scandals? There is simply no comparison.

These are as close to facts as you could possibly get.

Meanwhile there is little to no working public infrastructure let alone any public welfare system. ‘Official figures’ from the Bureau of Statistics puts the unemployment figure at about 20% (about 32million people if based on a population figure of 160 million), but this figure still did not include about 40million other Nigerian youths captured in World Bank statistics in 2009. Average life expectancy in some studies puts men at 47 years and women at 48 years.

With those kind of statistics you’d wonder if there was anything at all that the Nigerian people receive from their government that is of benefit to them.

There was one, but that’s now being taken off them. We’ll call it a ‘perk’.

That one ‘perk’, from the government of Africas biggest oil producer, was subsidization at the fuel pumps.

That one ‘perk’ ended on January 1st causing prices to go from $1.70 per gallon (45 cents per litre) to at least $3.50 per gallon (94 cents per litre). The costs of basic food stuffs and travel also doubled.

Let’s just go over that again…$3.50 per gallon when the average wage of the population is $2 a day.

The only ‘perk’ taken away, just like that…overnight.

The lie from the Nigerian government is the removal of the subsidy will benefit the Nigerian population because there’s a massive hole in domestic finances which they’d like to recoup to rebuild the nation. Nigerians have heard this one before. Many times. ‘Rebuilding the nation’ is a phrase every government has used since independence in 1963 and it has rarely come to much.

As of last Monday the already growing Occupy movement was swelled when unions called out their members on strike in protest to the removal of the subsidy. In turn this has attracted the young, masses of them from every part of Nigeria.

Last night union leaders from the Nigeria Labour Congress, threatening this coming Monday to shut down all oil production met with the Nigerian President Goodluck Johnson and his government officials to ‘negotiate’ an end to the strike in return for the original fuel subsidy. However tweets from inside the meeting made it clear that the government would reduce the price slightly and the unions would meet them half way, much to the fury of protesters and a substantial number of the population who believe that the unions have no right to negotiate away the return of $1.70 per gallon on behalf of the Nigerian people. The popular declaration is it’s ‘N65 or nothing’ (the price in the local currency Naira).

This meeting ended without agreement and today hundreds of thousands were again back on the streets warning the union leaders not to betray them tomorrow when meetings between the two parties continue. Union leaders have called off the strikes over the weekend apparently in order to open airports and allow members of the government to fly to the capital Abuja to make their voices heard. Cynics might also say there’ll be those flying ‘far away’ also in fear of what may or may not occur in the coming days. But there is also a need for those involved in the protests and the population at large to ‘re-charge the batteries’, so in that respect it is to be commended.

Both governments and unions have much to be frightened of at this juncture. Neither parties are likely to quell the current growing anger if the demands of the  public are not addressed quickly. The average working Nigerians are far from being the usual stereotype many bigoted fools in the ‘the west’  hold of scam artists who spam email boxes on a daily basis, they are far more politically astute and resourceful a nation than these bigots at large would give them credit for. Great names such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ken Saro-Wiwa should be forced upon them. In fact they are far more politically astute and resourceful than their own leaders and union heads give them credit for. They should take heed.

Meanwhile the international Occupy movement should get off their butts and support Occupy Nigeria. While it is common knowledge that there is chronic pollution in the Niger Delta caused by oil spillage, it is not the fault of the Nigerian people, it is the fault of their government, lack of accountability, corruption in high places and the oil industries. It is the fault of international capitalism running riot. Nigerians are calling for the outside world to support them.

And this has what to do with us here in little old Norfolk? Maybe nothing, maybe everything in the current international crisis. But keep an eye on the old oil pumps at your Morrissons, BP or Sainsbury forecourt  if Nigeria hits crisis point, better still keep an eye on our own state and its allies because the root of all these problems internationally lies there!

And in the spirit of of Nigerian freedom fighters such as the likes of the late great Fela Anikulapo Kuti there’s a message to the EU, the US, the UK and above all the IMF…

Him no know hungry people
Him no know jobless people
Him no know homeless people
Him no know suffering people

Him go dey ride best car
Him go dey chop best food
Him go dey live best house
Him go dey waka for road
You go dey commot for road for am
Him go dey steal money

Na “Vagabond in Power!


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