It has been a full day of protests across Nigeria contrary to the perception that the Government of the day, particularly President Bola Tinubu, will use native intelligence to negotiate a last minute win-win with an angry masses. Against the background of a legacy of bad governance, deep elite fragmentation, dysfunctional institutions, rising poverty, high level of violence and intense struggle for power now in its judicial phase, a quick resolution of this stalemate would be a wise option unless someone somewhere has a different agenda
The last time there was a fuel subsidy-provoked nationwide protest was in January 2012 against the Goodluck Jonathan administration. There is no administration in Nigeria since 1999 that has not raised the price of fuel. It was the case with all previous administrations in Nigeria, except perhaps the short lived Murtala regime from July 1975 to February 1976.
In the on-going case, the protest is everywhere unlike before when any issue hardly fires a nationwide protest consciousness. By making the National Assembly a key site of protest, for example, the protesters are obviously passing a message against perceived waste, corruption and callousness. Perception can be a powerful motivation for meaning and action.
In a country without a centre of gravity, with deep elite division and a history of stressful modernisation, a protest can produce puzzling outcomes.
Almost all the narratives around the black box called fuel subsidy have collapsed following the leap in the price of fuel in the days after the “removal of the subsidy” by the Tinubu administration on May 29th, 2023 although what Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the National Security Adviser, seems to be saying is that the blame should go to the Government they took over from and that people should be patient.
Obviously, the poor have preferred to breathe rather than be patient. Ironically the slogan of letting the poor breathe emanated from careless use of language at the National Assembly. “Let the poor breathe ” was given the interpretation of callousness, contributing to further radicalise the poor and the numerous.
Although the fuel subsidy policy has radicalised the average citizen, a coalition is also at work spanning the NLC, ASCAB, CORE and JAF and other non-identical groups in the struggle to let the poor breathe in wealthy but impoverished Nigeria!