• Monday, May 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Abuja women riot: End to docility?

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Donald

I am not a teetotaler but I am not I love with the green and dark bottles with which men pass time, celebrate successes or drown their sorrows. But on July 21, 2009, I felt like downing some bottles of beer as a listened to the AIT news and saw Nigerians for once, do what they ought to do to these our servants who behave more like lords and masters. And like the Aba Riots of 1929, this was an all-women affair.
The Abuja women were tired of months of uninterrupted power outage (when others are celebrating uninterrupted power supply). They were tired of sharing their apartments with special Abuja-mosquitoes, spending an increasing proportion of their budget on generator fuelling and repairs; spending more time and resources on shopping and feeding because their refrigerators were incapacitated. They were tired of the nonchalance and empty promises of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) staff. What irked them most was that while they were in perpetual darkness, the FCT minister was enjoying uninterrupted power supply-more from generating sets powered by the taxpayers. So, they decided to act! They invaded Adamu Aliero’s Residence (Minister of FCT), sang war songs and held him hostage until he came out to address their complaints.
After that rowdy dialogue which was captured by TV cameras, he promised a minimum of four hours of light daily and they even negotiated whether it would be in the morning, afternoon or night. Four hours of light a day is nothing to rejoice about in the Capital City of a country trying to upstage about 170 other countries so as to clinch the global 20th position in the next few years. But in a nation where people do not receive even one-minute ‘flashing’ from PHCN in a month, and yet receive outrageous bills, that was indeed a serious promise. I do not know whether he has kept the promise, but a point has been made: that the citizens should demand accountability from their servants-politicians, civil servants, police men and what have you.

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Truly, our people in all tiers and arms of government have neither been responsible nor responsive. But rather than confront the problem by confronting the people who are the root causes, we resort to escapism and resignation. We go for discarded SUVs (jeeps) because the roads have ceased to be roads. We go to private/foreign hospitals and schools because our educational and health services have collapsed. We buy generators of various shapes and sizes to supply our own light and oppress our neighbours and we sink our own boreholes because many of us do not even remember that there is a heavily funded ministry of water resources.
Of course, we provide our own securities while those with the right connection and resources ‘buy’ the same policemen who should protect all of us to protect them alone. Those who cannot afford these alternatives resign to fate, commit everything into the hands of God and at best organise night vigils and invoke holy-ghost fire against the spirits of power outages, bad roads, sudden-deaths and educational decay. But the visible human elements who are responsible for these social realities roam about the streets freely, having the best of times!
Nigerian docility and passivity is not just about public service delivery. We do not bother about the laws and policies that are obviously against public interest or are skewed in favour of the few who are ruling us and who are preparing their children to rule our children. We are nonplussed when politicians brazenly manipulate the electoral process (I did not mention Ekiti State!), award spurious contracts (this is a national disease) or grant themselves outrageous privileges (as in Osun State where 30 cars worth about N3 million each were bought for wives of LG Chairmen). Even when dealing with private sector operators, we are too busy to complain about the insolent receptionist, thieving accountant, deceptive salesmen or even corporate treachery!

In those parts of the world where things are apparently working and where our elites escape to enjoy their loot, it has not always been smooth for the people. Politicians and civil servants everywhere have that tendency to evade responsibility; to do as little as possible. It took years of conscious and at times uncoordinated struggle to bring public service delivery to the present standard, to maintain that standard and to keep on raising the bar. The people of Madagascar rose behind the 34-year-old Disk Jockey J,Andry Rajaolina to chase out the incumbent President, Marc Ravalomana who was considered corrupt and autocratic. In Thailand they rose in their thousands to protest and insist PM Abhisit Vejjajiva must leave since he came to power unconstitutionally. In April, demonstrators from all over the world greeted the G20 Summit to showcase their anger at the global economic crises and the greed of banks; and In Iran, the heat is still on against the last elections.
Our leaders are always blamed for non-performance. But the followers should bear greater blames for tolerating such criminal negligence. Indeed, there is a consensus of opinion that the citizens must hold their leaders accountable as that is the only way to improve both democracy and governance in any country.
Before Obama made that declaration in Ghana recently, Onuchekwa Jemie, a professor, had argued that followers are guilty for failing to stop leaders from committing crimes against the society (Crime Without Punishment; Business Day, 26/5/09) while Onwudiwe and Duru, two other professors concur, opining that Nigerians, not their much maligned leaders, are instrumental to the impunity with which the political class rig elections and hang on to power.
Our well-known docility fosters the rise of bad leadership, the type that is slowly but surely killing our democracy. Political leaders everywhere almost always prefer to retain as much power as possible. What has stopped every elite’s desire to retain power by all means has been citizens’ resistance (The Problem Is Us; BusinessDay,14/5/09). This is the same strand of argument by Opeyemi Agbaje, who urged Nigerians to reclaim their sovereignty through citizen activism because the political class will not willingly abdicate the power and privileges they have now gotten used to. Nigerians will have to insist that elected and appointed office holders account to them for their performance in office (Deepening Democracy, BusinessDay, 3/6/09).
But long before this flurry of opinions, the late Beko Kuti had admonished that “It is not enough to say you are fed up and therefore that you are resigning yourself to your fate. Not only will it not be in your interest, it will also not be in your childrens’ interest. You must wake up and be aware of what your conditions are and make sure you take steps to arrest the terrible condition we have found ourselves in this country.”
I am elated by the Abuja women riot of July 21, 2009 and look forward to more of such. The politicians, most of whom imposed themselves on us, and the civil servants who have long forgotten that they are there to serve the public interest have become so thick-skinned that they are not moved by verbal outcries. Citizen activism will surely yield results. That is the significance of the Abuja women riots.