When it appeared that there was concerted effort to deny some Nigerians the right to protest, it just didn’t sound nice to me. In fact, there is some sinister plot afoot anytime a government tries to muscle dissent. And so it came to pass that the protests were held both in Lagos and Abuja, and I think a few more locations. It was not much of a success but the point has been made. Therefore, there must be lessons learnt from that episode and if need be, both government and the governed must ensure it doesn’t go further than we saw.
I must admit that I like how the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo handled the matter. Not only did he issue a statement before the protests to allay fears of a possible government crackdown where he stated clearly that it was the right of every Nigerian to peacefully protest. Even as the protests were on-going his office issued another statement commending the protesters for having a peaceful one, furthermore, he told them that government heard them “loud and clear”. He also admitted there is hunger and suffering in the land. What’s more. He called labour leaders and other civil society leaders into a meeting in his office. Organised labour staged their own version of the protests days after the one organised by the “One Voice” group.
During the meeting with labour leaders, the acting president lectured his guests on issues militating against good governance of which corruption and corrupt people are a major group. Of course, he used the opportunity to reiterate what his government is doing to stem further slide in the worth of our economy. For sure, that was a positive outcome in public relations. Supporting protesters, praising their conduct and calling them into a meeting were a good and matured curve that every level of leadership in Nigeria should imbibe. His approach sure watered down the negative effects of the protest. It was a public relations masterstroke from the presidency and that is the way to go.
On the other hand, this gesture should not be taken from its PR success alone. Government itself should use this breather to think beyond the box. Fact is that things are very tough in the country. For workers, this period is a nightmare. Prices of goods and services have tripled in the last 18 months from what it used to be. Unfortunately incomes by way of salaries have remained the same; even worse, salaries are delayed or not paid at all. In some cases, people have been laid off. It is only providence that knows just how Nigerians are coping with the economic realities of our time. It is worse when we remember that people were generously expectant. This follows promises of change promised by candidate Buhari and Osinbajo.
Things have not turned out as promised via a combination of factors. But those are not the reason for this piece. Apart from lessons for government people, the labour leaders and civil society organisations themselves should look at themselves in the mirror. Right from the petroleum price increment of last year, till the latest protests, it’s as if Nigerians prefer Buhari’s suffering to the platitudes of labour leaders. Most people just don’t believe their sermon again. It appears their credibility has been sullied as a result of perception of corruptive tendencies. It appears Nigerians see labour as people representing themselves and not the people, any longer. This is a dangerous turn of events. Labour and civil society also needs to look at what’s wrong. They should not sleep easy. Something is terribly wrong within them that makes it difficult for them to call for protests and national strike with very little compliance. It is cause for worry because we may know today, its only God that can tell us for sure the type of government we may have tomorrow when real mass action will be needed to bend such regime.
So labour must do a soul search. Labour must reform to align its interests with those of the people of Nigeria. Already, another labour centre has sought registration, it is a wakeup call to those whose only interest (as it seems) is check off dues and patronage from those in authority. As for civil society, they too need reforms. A situation where all they do is to send proposals of all kinds of organisation abroad, get grants and squander it on themselves to acquire and live in upscale homes, drive the best cars and spend grant money as if it’s going out of fashion is unacceptable. A situation where civil society leaders are seen moving from one government office looking for contracts or consultancies must cease. This sort of behaviour will compromise anybody. How do you collect money from government and turn around to protest against the same government? Such protest will be heavily diluted!
No gain repeating that this government is lucky. Although its goodwill is vastly eroded on account of economic turmoil, it is interesting that majority of the people still retain their trust. It is possible to lose goodwill but retain trust. That is what is keeping the government going. This attribute must not be taken for granted. It can snap anytime. And when it does, everyone will look forward to 2019. And that is dangerous for a government that promised change. I know work is on-going. Maybe what is needed is better strategic communication or a bit of tweaking of policy preferences here and there. The people needs economic salvation as quickly as possible and this government although has lost its goodwill must not allow itself to lose the trust. Example, grass cutting with hundreds of millions of naira must not be tolerated in any shape or form.