RIGHTSView, By EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO: Nigeria’s obituary of popular uprisings

Posted by News Express | 13 May 2015 | 2,791 times

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Arendt Lijphart is winner of the 1979 Ethnic and Cultural Pluralism award of the American Political Science Association.

He authored a beautiful book titled Democracy in Plural Societies, which received global acclaim as a good encyclopedia of information on politics of many diverse nations, even as the book has been widely recommended to scholarly-minded persons around the world. On the thematic area of “Consociational Engineering,” he enlightens us on the fact that popular uprisings are essential elements that sustain democracy, and respect for the rule of law. He wrote: “This book’s message to the political leaders of plural societies is to encourage them to engage in a form of political engineering: if they wish to establish or strengthen democratic institutions in their countries, they must become consociational engineers.”

Turning to researchers on political thematic issues of contemporary age, the author stated: “Political scientists have generally been far too reluctant to make macro-level policy recommendations. Particularly as far as issues of development are concerned, the contrast with their colleagues in economics is a stark one.”

As Giovanni Sartori puts it: “With reference to economic development, the economist is a planner; with reference to political development, the political scientist is a spectator. The economist intervenes: his knowledge is applied knowledge. The political scientist awaits: he explains what happens, but does not make it happen.” Continuing on the fundamental basis why societies without vibrant civil society community suffer from politico-economic emancipation of the multitudes of the citizenry, he asserted:  “Yet we find ourselves in a genuine dilemma. On the one hand, if we conceive of political development not as any change but as induced change towards an intended goal, such as stable democracy, the need to specify the means whereby this end can be re ached is self-evident. On the other hand, are we justified in engaging in political engineering or in advising political engineers when our knowledge is imperfect? Specifically, is our knowledge sufficient to justify the recommendation of the means of consociational democracy for the objective of an effective and durable democratic regime in a plural society.”

Writing on The Philippine Democratic Uprising and the Contradictions of Neoliberalism, Ben Reid from the University of Newcastle stated: “The mass uprising against and subsequent collapse of President Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada’s government in the Philippines provides both an illustration of many of the main forms of and prevailing attitudes to political struggles for democratisation in the contemporary Third World.” The uprising which occurred in late January 2001, he stressed, generated responses on a variety of overlapping scales: international, regional and national. Simultaneously, it demonstrated the increasingly limited capacity of elites committed to neoliberal development policy to endorse or countenance the use of democratic methods of mass mobilisation as a means of securing political and social change.

Many proponents of the neoliberal commitment to market-orientated approaches to development and economic growth - purportedly achieved through price stability, trade and investment liberalisation - in his considered thinking, are increasingly finding themselves opposed to the demands and methods of democratic mass movements.

The precise reason for this reflection is because of the overwhelming evidence that suddenly, civil activism and constructive non-violent uprisings have taken the back seat in the affairs of Nigeria, thereby exposing millions of Nigerians to the vagaries of mass poverty, social inequities, mass unemployment, and the collapse of the basic infrastructures of health and education.  Once upon a time, when Nigeria had the likes of the musical maestro Fela Anikuapo Kuti, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Senior Advocate of the Masses and, of course, Mr Chima Ubani, co-founder of Campaign for Democracy and the Civil Liberties Organisation, the ruling political elite were kept constantly on their toes; even as these elite were circumspect in adopting or implementing draconian economic measures that only impoverishes the civil populace. 

As soon as these great personages passed on to the great beyond it seemed like Nigeria was now under the totalitarian stronghold of a range of forces that have emasculated the fundamental freedoms of the common Nigerians to be able to chart the best course of their collective social and economic advancements. Those of us who are struggling to succeed these great iconic civil society figures are still miles away from attaining their lofty positions due to a number of factors that are within the frame of human concupiscence.

Some arguments have been advanced that the reason why some of these great personalities I mentioned above were very active was because Nigeria was then under military dictatorships, so the rest of the democratic world were willing and, indeed, were predisposed towards the provisions of essential monetary and capacity-building assistance and the technical know-how that enabled some of these civil society leaders to pose effective challenge, through active mass mobilisation of the rest of the fearless civilian community, to protest massively on the streets even amidst threats to their lives by the gun-wielding soldiers from the military barracks. There is also this side of the debate that because civil democracy arrived in Nigeria in 1999, the Western world completely shrunk the frontiers of technical and monetary assistance to the civil society community in Nigeria. The few available international donor baskets have also been effectively cornered by some few members of a powerful cabal within the human rights community who have made sure that whatever funds trickles down from the European and United States communities are shared among their ranks, leaving the rest of us as onlookers who would then be forced to look around frantically for local funds to be mopped up to enable us remain relevant; and by so doing there is usually the tempting tendencies to collect some funds from some bad sources within and without government circles.

This is not to say that the rest of us who still remain relevant in the civil society community have not managed to raise local funds from credible local sources. But the presence of rotten eggs within the civil society community has substantially affected the vibrancy of mass mobilisation for effective popular uprisings and constructive non-violent actions that would make the society better. 

Questions still linger: Why is Nigeria under the suffocating throes of a number of forces, both centripetal and centrifugal, especially on the economic front? Why are there forces that have made social life difficult for Nigerians and have vowed that the petroleum sector will never be well with Nigerians? Why should Nigerians suffer because there is scarcity of petroleum products for the common man, even when Nigeria has crude oil resources on our soil in the neglected Niger Delta region? Why is civil activism in the tertiary institutions in a state of comatose and student's union hijacked by elements from extraneous forces, especially the political wing of the elite? Why are the labour unions virtually dead and the leaders marooned and ensconced in air-conditioned offices of some hurriedly set-up government contraptions such as SURE-P and boards of educational and labour ministry agencies? Why are market women only heard during campaigns and after that market activism dies a natural death? Why? Why? Why?

Simple: Popular uprising is dead in Nigeria because of unbridled quest for quick cash, and we must reawaken it and prune away the egotism tearing the civil society apart. Popular uprising must be resuscitated or Nigeria is finished. Constructive, non-violent civil uprising and non-violent conflicts are imperative for a sustainable democracy in Nigeria.

Few years back, when the outgoing Federal Administration wanted to unilaterally remove the so-called petroleum products’ subsidy, the civil society community protested, forcing government to put that plan on hold. But a significant chunk of that so-called subsidy was withheld and a fund known as SURE-P was created as a scheme to finance the construction of basic social infrastructures across Nigeria. This contraption known as SURE-P, which is a dubious duplication of the jobs of federal ministries however created room for a board of directors and two groups – Labour and Civil Society were allotted one slot each – completely emasculating the independent fervour of labour unions. But from among the government handpicked civil society representatives is a person unknown for any civil society activism credentials.

For many years Nigerians have been going through grave economic problems. There is no fuel anywhere. Education and Healthcare have virtually collapsed. But what do we see? Women and youth-led groups have gone silent, apparently because government officials have bought up all those who are mouthpieces of these vital social organs, and those who may wish to operate independently are not being heard because of limitations of popular media space. The private sector-led media industry is dominated by persons with affiliations to government officials and, therefore, the news contents are anti-people mostly. To be fair to the private owners of the media, their businesses must be sustained and, if they are to remain afloat, they need patronage by way of adverts. From time to time, little spaces are created for the views of the oppressed to be presented, but most times these spaces are negligible.

There is, therefore, this class struggle in Nigeria between owners of businesses and ordinary Nigerians. The beautiful treatise of Karl Marx is true of present day Nigeria; and the only strategy for the people to take back ownership of the democratic process is for popular uprisings to become fashionable once more.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).


Source: News Express

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