I woke up in the New Year to the news that the controversial fuel subsidy that has generated heated, intense arguments in recent times has been removed. Besides, a state of emergency has been declared in four northern states and the borders with Niger, Cameroon and chad have been closed. Immediately, I sensed that something unpleasant was unfolding on the Nigerian landscape. The last year brought about series of violent events that tore at the fabric of the Nigerian society. As we enter the New Year, Nigeria is gradually falling apart. The spate of bombings is increasing in geometric progression and we are beginning to see the prospects of an all-out conflict as the north is becoming increasingly militarized. Meanwhile we still have the half-solved problem of militancy in the south-south and armed robbery in several cities in the south. Things may fall apart sooner than imagined if the people start carrying out reprisal attacks in the south; an omen seen in the recent Sapele explosions.
We live in interesting times. Indeed, we live in dangerous times and we are treading on a dangerous path. Yet, of all times, the government have decided to go ahead with such a controversial policy as the fuel subsidy removal. The manner by which the president announced the policy, blatantly ignoring the voices of millions of Nigerians as if our voices don’t count is bad enough. But what gets me into livid rage is the response of the ordinary citizens of Nigeria who are suffering the hardship of the arrogant, wicked, selfish policies of our leaders.
I woke up on the second of January to discover that petrol is now selling for between 120 and 150 naira per litre. I boarded a taxi as usual to my destination. The transport fare has soared to double the normal price. As I sat at the far corner of the taxi, ruminating over the situation, I heard the other passengers complaining. Each passenger had something to say about his own ordeal in the face of the new, harsh policy. Then somebody asked; “What do we do now?”
The answer was almost a chorus among all the passengers. “There is nothing we can do but pray to God that we are blessed enough to be able to afford it.”
I was angry. What nonsense! I looked around their forlorn faces; it seemed as if they were all resigned to their fate. They had lost hope and surrendered their right to resist oppression. What is wrong with Nigerians? Why do we feel helpless and hopeless in the face of such denial of our basic human rights? Why do we feel it is our fate to be continually deceived and oppressed by our greedy, selfish leaders? Shame on you! Shame on all you Nigerians, who keep silent while you are being blatantly abused. The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny, says the Nobel prize winner, Wole Soyinka. Why are we silent? Why are the labour unions and pressure groups watching as the gangsters in power plunder our land?
I am angry, I am sad. I am angry because this country was built on lies, greed and selfishness. I am angry because the people in power have taken advantage of the pervading, potent lack of trust among Nigerians to perpetuate themselves. I am angry that the selfishness and greed of the Nigerian elite is tearing this country apart. I am angry because the gangsters that have controlled our resources for the past fifty one years have only thought of themselves and their immediate families. They are like parasites, feeding fat on the collective toil of millions of Nigerians and the crude oil in the Niger delta. All the political officers use free things. They ride in free cars, eat free food, drink free water and drinks, live in free houses; all provided for by the toil of Nigerians and the free, natural resources on their land. Is it not logical and moral that they should serve the people who put food on their table? Instead, they have sought to enslave them. I am angry because the collective exploitation of Nigerians by the elite has become so potent and pervasive that it has become a norm. The citizens expect to be cheated and deceived, the leaders want to fulfil their imaginations. Money is glorified in the society. We celebrate thieves and nonentities in the society without questioning their source of wealth.
Nigeria is one of the most religious countries in the world, yet it is also one of the most impoverished. More than half of the population live on less than one dollar a day. A dog in the United states has a higher standard of living than most Nigerians. The roads in the country are some of the most dilapidated and dangerous in the world. Several people die on these roads every day from accidents. Infrastructure has collapsed. Pipe-borne water is a mere figment of imagination for many, while regular electricity seems impossible. Yet an average Nigerian believes tomorrow will be better than today, despite having no logical plans to lift himself out of poverty. Each day, we look at each other, our smiling faces masking the suffering and hardship we face. We smile to numb our hearts to the pain and shame we feel within and tell each other ‘E go better’ This blind optimism in the face of such misery is what Fela Kuti referred to as ‘Suffering and smiling’
Nigerians love God. They love their religions. They love their religious leaders to a fault. If the average Nigerian Christian puts as much energy into fighting the injustice and deceit pervading our society as he prays in the church, then Nigeria would be e better place. Every week, and sometimes during the week, we troop into our places of worship; mosques and churches and shrines, our bright, eager faces a stark contrast to the degradation of our society. We sing and dance in the church, we chant and bow in the mosques and the shrine. We lift up our arms to the almighty and beg for him to provide, expecting miracles. Yet we fold our arms and do nothing but struggle to feed our mouths with the little crumbs we can get and hope our bosses will be more benevolent to increase our wages. We have slept off, while the vagabonds in charge of our collective resources are busy looting. We have kept silent and so the oppressors and the cheats think they can get away with anything they do to us. They have not only stolen our resources, they have stolen our pride, they have stolen our hope and left us deflated. This is the time to rise and get back our pride, this is the time to get back our hope. Nigeria, arise and fight!