I remember with nostalgia
an incident that took place in my first one month in the university. There was power outage, which according to some older students, was becoming the order of the day. Students were forced to study with candles and lanterns. That obviously did not go down well with the generality of the students.
So, on this fateful day, members of the Students Union Government went round the hotels ordering students for a protest. They said it was our rights to study under conducive environment, and that students could no longer take the excuses given by the university authority for the prolonged power outage.
That became my first experience of students’ protest and it was really fun. Students came out in their numbers, matching all around the university, singing solidarity songs. Of course, all academic work was halted and some students who had things to do outside the campus used the opportunity to do so.
It was a two-day peaceful protest which usually terminated in front of the Vice Chancellor’s office. On the first day, both the VC and other senior members of the Senate addressed the students, assuring us that sincere efforts were being made to restore power on campus.
For some of us, the assurances would have been enough to make us suspend the protest but our leaders insisted there was no going back until our demands were fully met.
Fortunately, late in the evening of the second day, power was restored, the protest ended and normalcy returned to the university.
For me, that was an unforgettable experience as it made me realize how powerful students could be.
Almost everybody who attended higher institution, both within and outside Nigeria, had similar experiences. Student, all over the world use protest to make their collective demands and express their displeasure over unfavourable polices of their institutions and even government. It is on record that due to students’ protests, certain unpopular government policies had been reversed and several amenities lacking in universities provided.
In this context, one therefore has to commended the Students Union Government of the University of Port Harcourt for staging a protest against a policy which did not go down well with the students. UNIPORT management had in 2015, adopted a policy which made tuition fee a prerequisite for students’ participation in examination, a policy which compelled defaulting students to repeat a whole academic session.
Indeed, it is the right of the students to demonstrate but what one does not understand is why the protest was not carried out strictly within the university premises. Why did the union leaders allow the protesting students to take the action to major highways, thereby disrupting movement on the road for several hours? A neigbour of mine who was coming back from Warri but caught up in the fracas spent over three hours on the traffic.
From the experience I narrated earlier, I believe students protest, especially when it has to do with university management, ought to be carried out within the university compound and shouldn’t be used to cause commotion in the larger society. The danger is that once the protest is taken outside the university, anything can happen. Hoodlums can hijack the exercise and use the opportunity to cause mayhem.
Perhaps that was what happened at UNIPORT as the protest which started on a peaceful note, later became violent with students allegedly destroying school property and looting property belonging to the university and members of the public. One therefore think, students should have a boundary when carrying out protest, so as to make room for firm control of the exercise.
Having said that, one also has to condemn the action of the police in trying to quell the situation, which allegedly led to the death of at least one student. It is sad that the Nigerian Police is yet to comprehend how to deal with protest. There is no justifiable reason why the Police should go with life ammunition to quench students’ protest. If they were a group of tugs on protest, carrying of life ammunition would have been understood. Almost everyday, we see riots in many other countries where the Police are even stoned and attacked, but at no point do they fire life ammunition. Instead they dispel the protesters with teargas, riot gear, batton and the likes.
Reports have it that the Police has set up an investigation team to find out who truly shot the student(s) as the Police claim they were not responsible for the act. Let’s hope a thorough job will be done to unravel the mystery behind these deaths as we cannot afford to keep losing innocent lives carelessly. If anyone during a protest breaks the law, arrest him, have him prosecuted, but don’t shoot or kill them.
Most importantly, those in authority should learn how to handle issues before they get out of hand. Many people believe that the UNIPORT authorities should have been able to dialogue with the students at the introduction of the policy and make every student see reasons why the policy was important. Again, the school authorities should have genuinely and promptly looked at the grievances of the students. We all know how tough things are in the country presently and if some people have some cogent reasons why they could not meet up with payment of school fees before the deadline, they should have been given some considerations.
In the history of the country, there has always been issues when it comes to introduction of 1978 policies of increase of school fees. The “Ali must go” riot, which is the greatest students protest in the country was caused by an increase of 50k to the cost of the students meal.
It should also be stated that whoever wants to go to the university must be ready to bear the expenses therein. Everyday, people complain about poor facilities in our higher institutions, yet many are not ready do their own beat in ensuring that the situation improves. What quality of education are we going to get with this attitude?
So, it is high time all the parties concerned did the needful to ensure a better atmosphere both in our universiteis and the larger society.
Conditions For Sustainable Change
Obviously, Nigerians are longing for a meaningful change this new year, because what they experience, as promised in the past, is not considered satisfying enough. A sustainable change is a change for the better, which does not wear a meretricious face and cosmetic adornment that cover up ugliness and decrepitude. Rather, a sustainable change comes with values that bear qualitative durability, but also demands readiness on the part of the masses. Readiness to embrace a sustainable change can be compared to clearing and preparing the ground before the planting of crops would take place.
Crops planted in farmlands that have been properly tilled can be compared to structures built on firm and solid foundation, capable of withstanding storms and jolts. It is obvious that where and whenever there are mass clamours for change, there must be some cracks in the foundation and health of the nation. To continue to ignore persistent clamours for a meaningful and sustainable change, or to resort to padding and cosmetic measures, is comparable to postponing an inevitable stormy change. Those who can feel the pulse of the Nigerian masses, know that there is a diminishing sense of meaning, neither would duplicity and subterfuge be able to revamp the feeling of despair.
Like the Rome of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, a few embittered Nigerians have been heard to describe their country as “a wilderness of tigers”. Such symbolic tigers are comparable to a situation where a nation is helplessly held hostage by a faceless cabal; nor would any honest observer say frankly that no such situation exists in Nigeria. Such state of anomy is not new in history, but usually man-made.
It is gladdening to say that Nigeria is blessed with the presence of citizens who can be described as seeing and knowing, even when they would maintain a silent reserve in the face of gloom and social anomy. They choose such a posture largely because they know how unhelpful it can be to offer peal to swine. Therefore, the essence and principle of readiness as a precondition for a change that would be sustainable has to do with letting the masses stew in their own juice. Then value would be given to appropriate change at the appropriate time. In plain language, it can be said that Nigerians are not ready yet for a meaningful and sustainable change.
Even if a radical group of armed men and revolutionaries brings a forceful change in Nigeria now, such effort would be bloody and futile, because the ground has not been prepared to embrace and sustain such change. So long as there are Nigerians who are capable of offering themselves to serve dark purposes for a fee; and so long as there are Nigerians whose decisions, choices and actions do not arise from deep personal conviction, readiness for a sustainable change is lacking. It is also obvious that the cabal that has held this country hostage, deliberately use mass poverty and terrorism as tools for social control.
Let it not be forgotten that meaningful and sustainable changes, where they succeeded, had a long period of incubation and nurturing, which must be rooted and anchored in the minds of the people. Then readiness for a change would not accept gold for a bride, or be cowed and intimidated by Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC). The study of history would confirm that sustainable change of status quo does not come easily or quickly because oppressors and predators are not known to choose the line of class suicide. They always fight back!
The uniqueness of the Nigerian situation is that the game is not an exclusively Nigerian affair; rather, Nigeria is merely one of the theatres of action. Countries that pledge support and offer to help would not send their drones and weapons of mass destruction free of charge, neither would the loans they give be forgiven. They would insist on their “fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth” Shylock. The situation is such that 85 per cent of Nigerians are not aware of what is going on, neither do they see the benefits or dividends of democracy. Frankly, it is better for those who are ignorant of the realities on the ground, because the situation is scary.
Historically, wars of survival, especially class or ethnic ones, do not take the face of aggressive hostilities at the beginning. Rather, foundations are made long in advance to build bridges of support, understanding and partnership, whereby a trap comes in: “If you cannot beat them, then join them!”. Condition for joining them can include having to serve against the interests of your own people or constituency. Similarly, the political economy is skewed to service the game of monopoly.
The Nigerian version or variation of this cold war of wits has many interesting episodes, one of which has to do with the secrecy involved in oil blocks allocations. Another episode has to do with the structure of the nation’s security and intelligence arms of state. Long ago, Professor Omo Omoruyi had the courage to say that these arms of government were deliberately structured to serve the interests of a definite ethnic nationality. It may also interest readers of this material to know that the death of General Maman Vatsa as a coup plotter and Gideon Okars’ failed coup, raise a number of issues which we deliberately ignore.
Therefore, the issue of readiness for a meaningful and sustainable change goes beyond “restructuring” and the glib talks associated therewith. Neither would reviving Biafra address the jinxed situation. My late friend and colleague, Professor Tam David-West, knew so much about the issue of a sustainable change in Nigeria, that his verdict was that Nigerians are neither ready nor serious. According to him, so long as there are billionaire oil barons who rarely know what a barrel of oil looks like, and Nigerians whose conviction or conscience can be bought over with oil block allocation, we are not ready for any sustainable change. There predators hold sway!
So, the predators and caterpillars of Nigeria’s commonwealth know the game at hand and the strategies of setting asunder the ranks of those who are jealous of them, so that the coast gets free for them to cruise unchallenged. Their tentacles are numerous and strong, such that those who would not want to die a dusty death dare not upset the feast of the winning champions. Happy New Year to readers.
By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
Mr President Can Tweet Now
It is exactly twelve days since the Nigerian government announced a lifting of the suspension it imposed on Twitter Incorporated, following its claim that the social media giant permitted the spreading of fake news and misinformation which had the capacity to gravely undermine the country’s security.
According to the announcement, Twitter could resume its services to Nigerians from 12.30 am on January 13, 2022 – having accepted all the terms and conditions presented to it by the government.
A number of foreign missions in Nigeria were said to have condemned the ban. They included Britain, Canada and Sweden. Organisations like Amnesty International, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had also kicked against it; with the last two going ahead to challenge the action in court.
Twitter reportedly opened an office in Ghana sometime in April last year, from where it serviced customers in Nigeria and other African countries. Trouble started for the American tech outfit after it deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari wherein he reacted to the growing insurrection in the South East geo-political zone and warned the Igbo on a likely repeat of the 1967 Biafran War in which he played a very active role.
The microblogging blue bird, alongside Facebook and other social media platforms had, in keeping with their respective ‘abusive behaviour’ corporate policy, suspended Buhari’s accounts from their services following numerous complaints from customers who detested the tone of the presidential tweet. Recall that erstwhile US President, Donald Trump, was a victim of such action while in office. Reports said that he wasted no time in congratulating Nigeria for the Twitter ban.
Prior to its action against Twitter, the Buhari government had long romanced the thought of regulating the social media in the country. The All Progressives Congress (APC)-dominated National Assembly had made several attempts to pass an anti-social media bill. At a time, they even tried to introduce one to further tighten the noose on traditional media practice. But all were vehemently rejected by the rest of Nigerians who saw it as a way of gagging them while the government went authoritarian.
The use of social media outfits, particularly Twitter, to mobilise people and fund for the EndSARS protest of October 2020 did also serve to frighten the government as to the power of microblogging. The platform was said to have handled 48 million tweets in just 10 days for the protest alone. Its then chief executive officer, Jack Dorsey, reportedly encouraged bitcoin donations to the protesters in defiance of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) suspension of accounts of groups that supported the protest and also the ban on transactions in cryptos.
The Twitter ban was with effect from June 5, 2021. While it lasted, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had bragged that the suspension would be lifted only when the firm agreed to a list of the government’s conditions. Meanwhile, all arms of government, including ministries, departments and agencies were directed to strictly observe the ban. Generally, Nigerians were instructed to avoid any further patronage of the Twitter platform. Even so, some there were – and mostly top state officials – who still circumvented the ban through discreet use of virtual private networks (VPNs).
It was also reported that businesses which rely on online transaction suffered the most during the stand-off, particularly the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which use such media to showcase their products. In fact, it is being estimated that Nigeria may have lost about N500 billion in the seven months of the Twitter suspension.
Except for these people whose means of livelihood hinged on the services of Twitter, I doubt if many Nigerians had wished for Alhaji Lai and his federal government team to triumph in this matter. Frankly, I had not given them a chance in a stalemate with a firm that called the bluff of a sitting American president – the strongest human being on Planet Earth! I had also believed that even if Twitter did eventually capitulate in the seeming face-off, it would not happen so soon. Yes, somebody needed to cut an irritably loquacious Alhaji Lai to size. And here was a multinational firm well suited to execute the job; or so I thought.
In any case, I still think that, for once, the Buhari government has pulled out something for which it deserves resounding commendation. The President had in his Independence anniversary address, last October, read out the conditions on which Twitter’s suspension would be lifted. These include: open an office in Nigeria; employ a country representative, register with CAC, and obtain a licence from NBC; remit fair taxes; pay attention to national security and cohesion; and promote local content in IT and strategic intelligence.
Even as the Presidential Technical Committee which negotiated with the Twitter team is yet to submit its report to Buhari, any right-thinking Nigerian will agree that these are fair conditions. No matter how pissed off we may sometimes be with the conducts of our politicians in Abuja, I want to believe that no patriotic citizen of this country will condone a situation where a foreign firm stations its operations in Ghana or wherever, and for whatever reason, while it employs local labour, pays taxes to the host government and then stays there to leverage on our far larger market here. No, sir!
And just as SERAP had earlier requested, government should endeavour to widely publish the agreement it signed with Twitter. According to the rights group, “The government has a duty to demonstrate that the conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter would not threaten or violate the enjoyment of Nigerians’ human rights online, and that the conditions are in pursuit of a legitimate goal in a democratic society…”
In all, the good news is that Twitter is back. The government will earn more taxes; some Nigerians will get employment; local contractors will be hired; and Mr President and the rest of us will resume tweeting, though more responsibly, this time around.
By: Ibelema Jumbo
Electoral Bill: Why Buhari Withheld Assent
On 21st December, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari alarmingly declined assent to the long-awaited Electoral Act Amendment Bill through a letter to the President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila. From the tone of the memo, Buhari exuberantly, largely aligned with the Act amendments except the clauses that provided for mandatory direct primaries for all political parties.
Discernibly, the president amid the rebuff acknowledged the energies, nonetheless urged the lawmakers to review the objected clauses, and also requested it be transmitted back for his assent after review. Least expected, Buhari’s major critic, Dr Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor, overtly backed the president’s decline of assent over the direct primaries.
Irrepressibly, the president’s action has continued to generate controversies in the polity with the civil society organizations (CSOs) threatening fire and brimstone and many public commentators seething over perceived mischief and insensitivity. On the whole, three categories of thoughts exist.
Whilst one backs the president against mandatory direct primaries, the second group; mostly from opposition parties, endorsed it. Then, the third category which includes Chief Nyesom Wike, Rivers State governor, admitted the flaws but argued that the assent ought to have been given, notwithstanding the defects, for a review later as Buhari handled the Petroleum Industry Bill (now PIA).
This idea isn’t bad. However, the big question is; what will be the fate if after giving assent, the anticipated review hits the brick wall? It must be carefully noted that the Electoral Act, if flawed, can set the polity ablaze unlike the PIB due to vast interests.
In the legislative zone, the experience is not different. While some accepted the development in good faith and progressively prepared for a critical review, the other side seemingly insisted on a supremacy battle to override the president’s veto. However, the leadership of the two chambers so far, astutely arrested the situation, and opted for wider consultations. Be that as it may, Section 59(4) of the 1999 Constitution, Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended provides a window to override the president by the National Assembly where he withholds assent to a bill presented to him after 30 days.
Buhari’s divergence is the clause for mandatory direct primaries for political parties citing the financial implications on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to monitor primary elections across all the wards. There are 8,809 wards in the federation. Buhari also argued that political parties must be given a free hand to determine how to elect their flagbearers within their strength, and also, that security factor must be put into consideration underlining that security agencies could be overstretched in ensuring hitch-free primaries which may overheat the polity.
Ostensibly, many frowned at Buhari’s objection — having vetoed the Bill earlier in 2018 ahead of the 2019 General Elections principally on grounds of wrong timing. In fact, a lawmaker while reacting on Channels Television fumed that a bill, overwhelmingly passed by the two chambers after legislative processes which he participated in was ‘insensitively’ rejected by the president; just one man. Logically, his concern was an ego thing, widely far from objectivity. Incidentally, that’s the rule of the game – democracy.
Besides, the oversight of the lawmakers is glaring as the reasons adduced by the president against adopting mandatory direct primary are compelling.
Possibly, the lawmakers didn’t look at it broadmindedly. For instance, if signed into law, it will require INEC to seek a larger budget on logistics and allowances to monitor primary elections across the 8,809 wards in the country for each political party to validly choose a presidential candidate. Let’s say 20 political parties plan to field presidential candidates respectively, it will require INEC’s workforce to go round all the wards for each of the registered political parties to ably elect a valid candidate which has a heavy financial implication. To conduct the 2023 General Elections alone, INEC demands a whopping N305 billion from the treasury.
Sensibly, for INEC to monitor the primaries of all the political parties across all the wards in the country, the task could push the commission’s budget up to many trillions of naira. Then, where there are security challenges that discourage public gatherings, people must notwithstanding embrace direct primaries at the risk of their lives or end up in an inconclusive primary election. In other words, failure to conduct direct primaries across all the wards may deny a political party an opportunity to field a valid candidate in any election.
Deductively, these arguments strongly suggest that mandatory direct primaries could spontaneously force smaller political parties into extinction due to financial constraints and also create unmanageable logistics and security crises.
Another strong fear is beating the time frame for primaries by political parties. As known, primary elections follow INEC’s timetable, and it is rare to find any political party that produced its candidate without internal squabbles which, most times, resulted in late primary election leaving members to resort to any possible means; direct, indirect or consensus to be able to field a candidate within time. If the law should exclusively endorse mandatory direct primaries, practically, it will lead to inconclusive primaries in virtually all political parties. Government is a team work and that’s the strong reason laws must pass through the two arms – Executive and Legislature.
In fact, the bureaucracy for INEC to mobilise workforce alone including ad-hoc staff, managerially allocate tasks can frustrate many political parties due to time. It will also put a heavier burden on the Judiciary to entertain frivolous lawsuits from wards where direct primary perchance didn’t hold by circumstances beyond the control of political parties.
Thus, primary elections should logically, remain flexible and at the discretion of political parties. To be emphatic, the financial implications on the treasury, overstretching security agencies, operability to political parties and also, overstraining the Judiciary are cogent reasons to reconsider the Bill in overriding public interest.
By: Carl Umegboro
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst.
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