By Uche Nnadozie
This past week, the talking point shifted from President Muhammadu Buhari’s health or death to a planned protest/rally against the government. According to the main organiser, Tubaba (formerly known as Tuface, the rally is scheduled to take place in different parts of the country to draw the attention of the government to economic pressure being faced by the people. Tubaba stated that his rally is not about politics or a platform for politically exposed persons to hijack to further their own personal interests. He says he wants to support good government policies, ask those who are in the habit of sabotaging government policies to take a back seat, etc.
Because of this public spirited disposition, a lot of government supporters took offence and began to call Tubaba names. It got messy but thankfully, by the close of the week, the narrative has been refocused. Also, the police was said to have threatened to block the rally. Although the Lagos State police commissioner came out to debunk the news that he and his men had spoken of blocking the protest, by morning of Saturday, the police headquarters came out to say it will advice that the protest should not hold. If you add the fact that the vice president’s spokesperson had told the nation that people are free to express themselves in a peaceful manner, earlier in the day, what the police high command did was gross insubordination.
Yet, the more bizarre part of the whole protest wahala came from President Buhari’s media aides. Special Adviser to the President on media, Femi Adesina and Personal Assistant to the President on New Media, Laureta Onochie, were very poor and bellicose in their response. Adeshina, stated that those who want to protest are mostly people who live in the past; folks who are still to extricate themselves from election loss. He said that the protest is about the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Whereas Onochie was even more combative-she abused the hell out of Tubaba and challenged him to come for a televised debate. She had no kind words for anyone associated with protests and you begin to wonder why. Afterall, in 2012 during the anti-fuel subsidy removal rallies, she was prominent on the streets.
I am still to fathom how a government that was born from protests in the past can deride protests this much. The activities of Adesina and Onochie last week have confirmed to me that indeed, President Buhari is being held hostage. If the vice president’s office sees nothing wrong with protests, I wonder why the president’s spokespersons should be so agitated because Nigerians want to exercise their democratic rights of dissent. The way and manner Mr. Adesina and Mrs. Onochie goes about their work shows that they are incompetent, frustrated, angry, or they are deceiving the president. Does it then mean that if Mr. President had asked them what they think about the protests, all they will come up with is that it is people who hate him that are the conveners? That is sick!
I have stated elsewhere that I do not support protests by people who want to secede from Nigeria like the Biafran agitators. I have also said I do not support the Shiites because of the fact that they hardly abide by Nigerian rules. But I support any Nigerian who wishes to express disaffection in government policies. I am a proud supporter of this government, but I will be a hypocrite if I feign ignorance of the hardship in the land, because I feel it too. The people are suffering. Inflation is very hostile. Money has become paper and there seems not to be a way around it yet. So if the people want to protest to draw attention to these facts, by all means why not? Why should anyone try to abridge that right? Because if Adesina and Onochie reacted with such bellicosity, then it is possible that much of the disaffection with Nigerians is presented to the president in sugary terms. It’s time for the president to hear and hear well.
I will not join the protests although I support it. In fact, the narrative from government since the mobilisation for the rally began has attracted more citizens to it. Government has the wrong strategy. The strategy of being combative and trying to stop every protest is counter-productive. Government should allow protests, especially the ones aimed directly at it to prevail. Just provide security or restrict them to a venue. So I will be watching from television. I have done this sort of rally before. We were accused of collecting money from APC chieftains. Although we achieved a measure of success because the price of petrol was reduced, yet we were derided and taunted.
The same people who are happy with this protest were the ones that said in 2012 that everything was fine with Nigeria. They are the ones that said our protest was unnecessary. Today, the table has turned. Unlike them, I support their protest. Then again, I will like to advice, next time, protesters should learn to latch on to an immediate problem. It is fluid to protest on general terms. Protests must be defined. Focus on something. This protest should have happened when fuel price got increased to N145 per litre. That increase triggered the mess that is inflation today.
Another fact! It is time for President Buhari to sack at least 30 of his ministers and 95 percent of his aides. They are not doing well. Therefore, he is not doing well. His support base is eroding. I am no longer confident as I was even six months ago. Time is fast running-out. Buhari needs to shake-up things and disrupt the system. We need to change course fast.