Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Social Revolution in Nigeria Requires More than Radicalism

For some time now the spectre of unrest amongst the Igbos in Nigeria has been rising. This has now evolved into protests and fervent calls for secession and independence. These are based on actual and perceived acts of discrimination and unfair treatment towards Igbos. This has been combined with a longstanding feeling of outrage at not adequately benefiting from oil wealth generated in the Niger Delta. This has resulted in a wave of resentment at what is seen as marginalisation in social and political life in Nigeria; and a growing desire for more control over the natural resources coming from the Delta. 

There is certainly an argument to be made about a systemic lack of sustainable development in the eastern and southern regions of Nigeria. This coupled with significant environmental damage and a lack of appropriate infrastructure development and maintenance has greatly increased deprivation and poverty in the areas. The previous government's militant 'Amnesty Programme' did not promote sustainable development or properly invest in infrastructure. It turned out to be a less than veiled attempt to divert money to key militant leaders and pacify militant fighters. 

For many years successive Nigerian governments have been negligent and complicit in the exploitation and destruction of the Delta area. It is long overdue that the government puts in place a federal development plan for itself and resident oil companies in the area to jointly fund a long term programme to establish much needed infrastructure, and begin to reverse the extensive damage done. Any plan needs to include the creation of jobs, the development of an integrated transportation system, improving health and wellbeing, and promoting education and training for indigenes. This should be an urgent priority for the federal, state and local governments. 

Those people who are now agitating for change need to recognise that progress can only be made by developing a comprehensive dossier of deprivation in the area, and proposing strategies to make improvements. Even though the prominence of social media means it is possible to instantly reach out to and mobilise vast numbers of people; in order to press for change advocates need to be presenting these concerns through political channels. This can be done through a combination of elected representatives, influential persons or paid lobbyists. The key issue here is they need to articulate a case for change and then get it into the public consciousness through legitimate means. You can't reasonably expect to win support if you don't first win the argument before attempting to win the fight. 

Violent demonstrations and protests are not going to create the right platform for policy change. The likelihood is that in areas where deprivation, poverty and unemployment are rife a lot frustrated people will merely be galvanised into violent dissent. Given the inclination of Nigeria's military and police towards the use of excessive force any clashes are likely to lead to tragic outcomes. If there is one thing Buhari's government of change should address it is how communities are policed. Not only is a radical overhaul of law enforcement needed; there should be concerted effort to move policing away from the use of force against unarmed citizens. 

Nigeria must continue to encourage free speech and debate on issues that affect various communities. It must also respond to regional underdevelopment and environmental damage caused by oil exploitation. But any reparations and compensation must come in the form of capital and community investment and development. People advocating for change must turn away from violence and disorder, and pursue their grievances through available legitimate channels. There is more freedom to be gotten from fair and equal treatment than from agitating for secession.