Late Saturday night, Innocent Idibia, caved in. He announced, at the dying minute, the cancellation of the much anticipated anti-government protest scheduled to hold in Lagos and Abuja on Monday, 6th February. After initially assuring intending protesters that he would defy the Nigerian government and proceed with the ‘’One Voice’’ protest, Idibia ate his words and conceded defeat before the fight.
In a video message he uploaded on Instagram, he said that he was compelled to abandon the planned protest because he had learned that it was ‘’under serious threat of hijack by those whose interest do not align with our ideals’’. Borrowing a Jonathan quote, he cast his capitulation as a noble and altruistic deference to peace: ‘’ the point I intend making is not worth the life of any Nigerian. It is motivated by the need to demand a better deal for the ordinary Nigerian’’.
Now, that Tuface, the author of the aspirational script, has retreated, ‘’the ordinary Nigerian’’, whose quality of life is in play, must do themselves a favor: They must take responsibility and design an authentic protest that originates from their own realm.
The Nigerian poor is the demographic most impacted by misgovernance. The poor are the ones who should be least tolerant to a regime of hardship. The rationale behind the Tuface protest is the worsening condition of the Nigerian poor. The Nigerian poor were not supposed to wait for a rich Tuface to motivate and mobilize them.
The poor are the folk who should have taken the initiative to organize. They were not supposed to wait for a comfortable ‘Tuface’ to emerge as the leader of their cause.
The wait for Tuface made the fate of the protest dependent upon the strength of his will. He was the sole visioner and the executor of the protest. Therefore, it couldn’t go ahead once he lost interest.
But the protest of the poor is not supposed to be at the mercy of the guts of a Tuface. Nobody feels the constricting strictures of poverty as well as the man who struggles within it. A sense of empathy does not confer full understanding of what it means to live poor. It takes a pauper to know the desperation for survival.
Tuface probably meant well. But he couldn’t proceed with the protest because he was very loaded. He had something to lose by arraying his celebrity star power against the government of the day. He withdrew upon realizing the enormity of the loss he would incur if he traded his orderly world of a well-heeled hip-hop artist with the turbulent life of an anti-government activist.
In point of fact, naivety informed his call for the protest. He didn’t think through the idea of protest. He has a hit-track titled ‘’Implication’’ but he ironically neglected to count the cost of championing an anti-government protest in Nigeria.
For one, he had expected that, in this season of widespread suffering, his declaration of intention to lead an anti-government protest will receive the support of Nigeria’s 99 percent. Instead, he won the backlash of Stockholm syndrome –from a swath of the populace who are accustomed to the abusive relationship that exists between them and the government.
An internet morality police dredged up his history and pronounced him unworthy to lead a protest on the account of his record of sowing wild oats. Some ‘’educated’’ individuals, who perhaps have more degrees than the thermometer, judged him deficient in the marbles and ruled him unfit to comment on consequential national issues. And the Buharists, hero-worshippers of the incumbent president, simply said Tuface had no valid reason to protest.
Tuface was shocked that people he was infinitely richer than were fans of the government that was aggressively impoverishing them.
Secondly, Tuface had imagined that the Buhari administration would appreciate being gifted the sights and sounds of the most popular contemporary musician in Africa leading a mammoth crowd on an anti-government protest in the two most influential cities in Nigeria.
Tuface didn’t reckon that he would be up against an unreconstructed dictator. A president who has scant regard for the right of Nigerians to protest. A president who hates Bring Back Our Girls campaigners. A president who breaks up Shiite protests. A president who ‘crushes’ pro-Biafra protesters.
Tuface had no plan to challenge the musculature of state coercion that was bound to be deployed against the protest. He had expected that the Nigerian police would undertake to protect the protesters; not the man the Inspector General of Police owes his appointment.
Tuface backpedaled because the Nigerian Police, citing ‘’credible intelligence reports that other interest groups are equally planning to hold a counter protest/matches on the same days at the same place/cities as the Tuface group… strongly advised Tuface to shelve the planned peaceful protest/demonstration in the interest of peace and security’’.
As anyone familiar with the Nigerian Police should know, the threat disguised as an advisory, is in character. The ‘’credible intelligence reports’’ the police referenced was a false pretext for imposing an unconstitutional ban. If the police had foreknowledge of a factor that was likely to disrupt the planned protest, why did the police decline to take proactive measures to address it? Why did the police prefer chose to advise Tuface to abandon the planned protest instead of working as professionals to ensure that citizens enjoy their right to protest peacefully?
The Nigerian police truncated the protest through scare tactics. By warning of the possibility of violence, they frightened people from showing up and made Tuface concerned that he would be responsible if there was any incident. The police spooked him to surrender.
The about-face of Tuface, notwithstanding, Nigerians are supposed to assume ownership of the idea and run with it.
Any other Nigerian could have conceived this protest. Tuface just happened to be the Nigerian who entertained the thought of the urgency of a protest. His artistic frame of mind stood him in good stead to receive the idea of a demonstration as if it was some inspired lyrics.
Achebe once theorized that the lot of the story of Things Fall Apart could have fallen on any ready writer. In the same vein, this protest could have found a human vessel capable of giving it existence. And it still needs a faithful steward to manifest.
So, the Nigerian poor must take their destiny in their own hands. The wait for a benevolent ‘Tuface’ has yielded disappointment before. And this one is similar to that old experience.
In 2012, the Occupy Nigeria protest swept the major cities of Nigeria and drew hundreds of thousands all the days it lasted. But crooked politicians seized the plot from the poor and used that platform to position themselves for 2016 election.
Buhari emerged from the aftermath of that protest as the champion of the poor. He acted poor (wore cheap sandals), talked poor (claimed he took a bank loan to buy his nomination form), and robbed the poor (solicited donations from beggars).
It was only his victory that betrayed his conmanship: His kids schooling overseas. His mansion in Abuja and other assets he refused to quantify in monetary terms).
Buhari’s presidency has been a devastating assault on the poor. Increase in job losses. A stampede of local manufacturers running away with their businesses. Inflation rising sky-high. Food prices becoming prohibitive.
Yes, Buhari inherited an anemic economy from Jonathan. All the same, he has made things infinitely worse with impotent policies that failed him three decades ago.
President Buhari promised to defeat terrorism and fight corruption. He has been warring against both with blatant two-facedness. He kills Niger Delta militants, Boko Haram and cattle rustlers and he pets Fulani headhunters. He prosecutes corrupt opposition figures and he shields the thieves in his cabinet.
The Tuface protest was billed to be a civic remonstration against the abject failure of the Buhari administration and the attendant hardship across the land. It is an idea whose time has come. It should be naturally unstoppable.
The Nigerian poor need national catharsis. They need a protest that is made of the substance of palpable discontent pervading Nigeria today. They need a protest with a formidable and invincible essence. A protest with an indestructible soul.
The salvation of the Nigerian poor is in the hands of the Nigerian poor. The poor will have to be their own messiah. They will have to carry their own cross. They will have to stop selling their votes and expecting more of the crumbs falling from above and start demanding a place at the table.
If the Tuface protest had held, it would have been a one day affair. The poor do not need a quickie. They need to inaugurate a protest culture. A habit of making their voice audible and relevant in Nigeria. They need a strategy for translating their frustration into power.
The Nigerian poor do not need a Tuface to start a protest. They can create a redoubtable protest that has a life of its own. A protest that cannot stop on one person’s say-so.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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