Monday, February 21, 2011

The Arab uprisings; lessons for Nigeria

In recent times, several Arab nations have witnessed intense upheavals. The situation became especially severe in Tunisia where the people have removed their president, and in Egypt where a million people are marching on the streets, calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for 30 years. Angry protests have been going on since December last year. Riots sparked by protests against unemployment, corruption and rising standard of living have claimed over 150 lives in these North African countries as protesters clashed with law enforcement agents. The riots were said to have started when a 21 year old man set himself ablaze as a protest against the poor living conditions of himself and millions of other youths in Tunisia. This incidence happened in a provincial city but the riots soon spread to the capital Tunis and the whole country became submerged under a blanket of violence. In what has been described by international journalists as an unprecedented revolution, thousands of people rose up to challenge the 23 year old government of President Ben Ali. Several people were killed, many others were injured or arrested, and journalists were initially barred from covering the protests. Yet the riots persisted. This was an indication that something unusual was about to happen in Tunisia. The problem soon became too much for the government to handle as protesters began to demand for the removal of the president, who had ruled the country for 23 years. The firing of the interior minister and announcement by the president that jailed protesters and journalists would be freed could not help matters. The government even removed restrictions on the media and announced that more jobs would be created but it was too late. The people had spoken, they had spoken clearly and fearlessly; they needed change. The height of the unrest was President Ben Ali’s resignation from office and his subsequent exile. The speaker of the parliament has since been installed as caretaker president. In Egypt, the atmosphere continues to be charged as the people have demanded their rights from their elite. The Egyptians have spoken; they want Mubarak out. The international community continues to watch the outcome of the crisis in Egypt with concern as Mubarak delicately clings to power.
The events happening in North Africa have shown the world the power of the people and the effectiveness of mass action, which is something we have not been using in Nigeria. While watching the live footage of the Tunisian riots on Aljazeera, I wondered whether Nigerians could have the kind of courage exhibited by the young Tunisians. Can we summon in ourselves the courage to demand for our right to self determination, good living conditions and justice, even in the face of harassment by security forces? Before the resignation of the president in Tunisia, the international media were concerned that the protests were not been covered because of government sanctions. Immediately after the president’s exit, it was amazing how everything changed. Freedom of the press was attained immediately to some level as footage of the protests began to stream in. That is what can be achieved when the people speak out with one voice and march against injustice. Wole Soyinka said ‘The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny’ So is the man dying in us Nigerians as we have kept silent, or we have not spoken out loudly enough in the face of rigged elections, inept leadership, corruption, bad electricity, bad roads, lies by our leaders and debilitating poverty. We pray to God to liberate us everyday from oppression of the elite, forgetting that God will not come down and help us. He has given us the power to liberate ourselves, if only we are ready to pay the sacrifice, even at the detriment of our lives. The forthcoming election in April is an opportunity for us to make our demand loud and clear. We must not only speak out, but also act against everything we know as injustice or tyranny in our country. Then only can we achieve the Nigeria of our dreams. Otherwise we will just sit down and fold our arms as we watch things go from bad to worse.

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