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Nigeria’s protests and the Garden of Eden


Many countries, including Singapore, do not allow protest, even for peaceful reasons

Sir: To go on a protest when the need arises is a fundamental right of the man. But many countries, including Singapore, do not allow protest, even for peaceful reasons. Regardless, Singapore is ranked among others as a country in the First World.

As important as protest is to express disgust at the status quo and promote positive change(s) in the social structure(s) of a country, it seems not to be effective in Nigeria. Protests seem to be targeted at people, region and not causes. They are clothed with hatred, jeering of people, not systems. They give us some sort of relief to engage in the escapism of blaming people for all of our woes.

In eras gone by in Latin America, peasant farmers protested against landlords who deprived them of arable farmlands and estates, in cahoots with the state. These landlords were agents of the state and were so rich but the peasantry lived in massive poverty. The peasants farmed the lands but got little for their efforts, unlike what obtained elsewhere.


The protest movement that followed campaigned for the redistribution of lopsided farmlands and wealth. Although not quite successful, it assuaged the feelings of many people. Suffragettes, a women’s organisation in the UK, went on jags to campaign against the denial of the rights of women to vote. They earned the right to protest having proved that, as men, they could work as army officers, volunteers on farms, postal workers coal merchants during WW1 when men went to war. In consideration of their efforts in the war, the right to vote was given to women over 30 and subsequently extended to women over 21.

Somewhere, people protested the fall in the standard of living. In Nigeria, for instance, during the civil war, more than 300 farmers in the rural hinterlands of Ibadan were jailed for not paying their taxes. The price of cocoa was low and harvest of the same was a problem due to the war. This prompted farmers sympathetic to those jailed to embark on a protest in Ibadan and thereafter they stormed the prison to free their colleagues. Historians recorded that more than 30 persons lost their lives due to the altercations that followed with agents of the state, in the bid to win freedom for those incarcerated. Every man-jack in every locale can go on a jag on his own because the problem of man is relative, not universal.

After all, poverty is relative and not absolute. No one can measure poverty in absolute terms. As poor as many states are in Nigeria, some fare better than others. All states in the country have different aspirations. Wouldn’t it, therefore, be queer to have a campaigner go on the streets to protest on behalf of these states? What people in Nigeria suffer is not as holistic as what Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jnr suffered in the U.S. of their time. And so the protest movement in Nigeria should be different.

I see people going off on a tangent, giving divisive speeches. Many are protesters with abbreviated intelligence who do not care about human dignity, political equality, and social justice. After a while, we may begin to see a power tussle. Aren’t we all privy to the average Nigerian ego-driven mentality? Besides, from antecedents, doesn’t the oppressed ultimately become an oppressor? We love to paint a picture of a virtual utopia and to recreate the Garden of Eden in Nigeria. Protest movements come about as a result of relative deprivation in different environments. When protesters decree that elections wouldn’t hold somewhere, they miss the point.

Protest movements do not spring from absolute deprivation. Those people somewhere may be very rich, in comparison to what is enjoyed elsewhere. The standard of living of people, the population, political promises and expectations in relation to other states in Nigeria are also different. When protesters try to control the state, it leads to anarchy. Real protesters are bothered about people’s livelihood, in interdependence, the rule of law, in a brotherhood of all men, not brotherhood of tribe. They know that their language is a source of unity not one for the division. Further, their speeches stir up expectations for which they would be held responsible.
Simon Abah wrote from Abuja.

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