On Tuesday, March 16, thousands of Nigerians marched on the capital, Abuja, to show their frustration with the woes that continue to besiege the country. This sort of protest has not been a common feature of the Nigerian political scene – at least not in this decade– though this demonstration is one of several that have taken place this year.
The protest was organized by Enough is Enough, a diverse coalition of youth, media, and business leaders. The group marched to the National Assembly building bearing a letter which outlined their demands, four of which they said stand out as requiring “urgent intervention”. Excerpts of the demands are as follow:
1. The Jos situation makes it clear that the Nigerian state is incapable of securing the lives and limbs of its citizens…. We demand an urgent overhaul of the security and intelligence apparatus in our country…
2. The promise of 6000 megawatts was flagrantly broken…. [We] demand that within the month, the government gives a realistic, practical plan to solving this perennial power problem.
3. We also demand that President Yar’Adua should resume, resign or be removed so that Nigerians know who their leaders are…
4. The Uwais report has been lying between the executive and the legislature for months now, and now election timetables have been released… We demand that all its recommendations be passed and implemented before the next elections.
[The Uwais Report is a document containing recommendations for making Nigerian elections fairer and more transparent.]
The coalition's letter emphasized the fact that those under 35 make up 75% of Nigeria's population; it carried a warning for the upcoming election:
We will come out to vote massively this time around, we will be watching closely and we will not leave election centres until all votes are counted. Anyone who rigs elections this time around will have themselves to blame. Young people across the country – from the North to the South – will be coming out in their millions…
The letter concluded:
We grew up hearing ourselves addressed as the “leaders of tomorrow,” and now we have realised that it is time… to take our destinies into our hands if we want to stand any chance of witnessing that much-touted “tomorrow.”
The protest ended relatively peacefully, and was largely declared a success. Olamild gave a play-by-play of the events of the day:
After hours of waiting and chanting, the crowd switched to Plan B Mode – they sat on the bare floor insisting that bankole and mark come out.
The crowd insisted on seeing who they came for and gave an ultimatum – ” It is either we march into the house by force or you bring Mark or Bankole to come out and speak to us.”
The doors were eventually opened and the youths marched into the house where they encountered 4 layers of hand-locked policemen. Serious pushing was involved but they got in. On getting in, they were told that the House of Assembly officials had escaped through the back door. Protesters were then urged by their leaders to head out and end the rally. Angry Stella Damasus yelled “we can't just go like this. “
[Stella Damasus is a popular Nigerian actress]
The youths were shocked at the act of cowardice displayed by the House of Assembly. “They ran away?? Only one who has done evil will run away at a time like this. We will come back again and the next time we come, we will shut this place down.”
Twitter users Gbengasesan and Bubusn posted pictures of the march, and live footage of the event was available at ustream. The demonstration had an online presence unprecedented in the history of Nigerian protest: Facebook, Twitter, and Nigeria's extensive blogging networks were all mobilized in support of the event (of particular note were the Facebook group Save Nigeria and the demonstration organizers’ website Where is Yar'Adua?). Nigerian Curiosity even reported that the hashtag #enoughisenough was the number three trending topic on Twitter (though she pointed out that not all the tweets referred specifically to the demonstration in Abuja).
This is quite new to us Nigerians. We’re not known to protest. We sit back and let things happen to us. Perhaps, the fear of military leadership still rules our life. Give it time…be patient. Keep building momentum and developing a grassroots mentality. We’ll get it together one day. In the mean time, don’t ever give up hope and don’t ever stop fighting for what you believe in. I support this group 100%. Just hope the fight doesn’t end there.
Demiji, commenting on Imnakoya's post, had a similar view:
I’m proud my people have found a new zeal to pursue their demands, how I wish I could be part of this historic moment!
Tolu Ogunlesi wrote of his reasons for protesting:
This sorry state of our country has left an interesting side effect. It has turned us all into comedians, people for whom no lemon is too unripe to be turned into lemonade, for whom absurdity is an instant ‘open-sesame’ for verbal ingenuity. We have made jokes about everything; composed ballads for President Yardie, turned “Turai” and “Mutallab” into verbs; and wondered why, after having a president who suffered kidney failure, we now have an acting president afflicted by “liver failure.”
Increasingly, however, we are realising that it is time to move on, to go beyond Concern, and Comedy, and make our way into the uncharted territories of Commitment. It is dawning on us that it is not enough to be Angry Young Men and Women, trapped in the online factories of Twitter and Facebook assembling jokes and status updates from our ever-increasing frustrations.
We need all the support we can get. So, if you are young, or young at heart, and think it is time to say ENOUGHISENOUGH, to electoral malpractice, to power failure, to fuel scarcity, to the cabals in high places, and to whatever else you may think of, let’s start in Abuja on Tuesday March 16, 2010.
Not all observers were unequivocally optimistic. Imnakoya wrote that he admired the protesters energy and commitment:
They are the ones in the trenches and up against the brutality of the security forces. Putting their bodies at risk and investing their time to make a case for the general well being of Nigerians is a noble task, and I doff my hat!
But he was skeptical of their demands. He outlined his reasoning as follows:
The removal/resumption/retirement of Mr. Yar’Adua is no longer critical at this stage of event in Nigeria. What is important is having in place constitutional measures that will prevent similar occurrences in the future. Let’s deal with the issue of transparency, the root cause of the problem.
We could have asked for the establishment of regional/local/ industrial parks nationwide with 20-24 hrs of electrical power (and other necessary amnesties) where businesses can set up shop and engage in symbiotic existence. Nigeria does not need power 24-7 nationwide at this point, just guarantee power to the industrial and production centers! Ending the five-month scarcity is easy, just get more ships to bring in more fuel! But this is not the solution to the problem…
Oil refinement must be done locally, and open to the private sector involvement. Three refineries are too few to handle the demands of Nigerians and her nearby neighbors! Rid the sector of politics and see how quick a turn-around will happen. Have each geo-political zone own and operate a refinery.
Solomonsydelle was similarly skeptical:
Will any of these demands be fulfilled by the end of March? A reasonable thinking person familiar with Nigeria would be foolish to say yes. There were promises made to my grandparents generation that are yet to be fulfilled by the Nigerian federal government. And for that reason, I personally would be seeking more than a plan when it comes to the second demand concerning electricity. Despite this, I feel that this protest is a step in the right direction for Nigerian democracy, as it is crucial for citizens to express themselves even when the consequences could be dire.