Who are the hoodlums in Nigeria?
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In the past few days, the Federal and state governments have tried to find a straw man to bear the responsibility for the turbulence they stirred, in ways and manners to break the collective of citizens rising against the system they represent and its insensitive
policies such as 'deregulation' & 'removal of fuel subsidy'. The straw man's other name is 'vagabond'. Several top functionaries of the Federal Government have cried themselves hoarse that the streets have been seized by hoodlums.
Mohammed Bello Adoke, the Attorney-General, has threatened to bring the full force of the law to bear on them for causing breakdown of law and order. Anyim Pius Anyim, Secretary to the Government of the Federation went a step further, demanding that organised labour condemns these 'vandals'. In a number of states, including Kano, Kaduna, Edo & Oyo states, curfews ranging from dusk to dawn to 24 hours have been declared ostensibly to forestall further violence by these same hoodlums.
Who are these hoodlums and how can they be explained as anything but cancerous outgrowths of otherwise peaceful processes of protest, that we are made to believe they are? Are they Martians or simply deranged? Is it possible to make any sense of their activities? Are they some different species from other more peaceful demonstrators?
It is important in my view to point out quite clearly that, first and foremost, they are citizens and no less so than the rulers of this country. They are the wretched of the earth who have lost faith in the system and hold only a thin line of faith in themselves. They are not a species particular to the unfolding revolutionary situation in Nigeria. No revolution has or can occur, in modern urban society without these sans culottes or if you like in the Nigerian parlance, area boys, as -in their own way- players . Their own way, no doubt could come with destruction. Revolutions though are by nature, both destructive and creative.
Is this to glorify destruction, vandalism, or hooliganism? Definitely not! It is rather to face the reality of the whirlwind that the ruling class-sown wind harvests and how in real life, this harvest plays itself out. Is this also to join in seeing these 'hooligans' as being merely destructive, thieves and extortionists? Again, definitely not! They are human beings like the most genteel of us and often bear much more noble spirits than many in high places. I fought with a number by my side, when coordinating Campaign for Democracy actions at Mushin during the heady days of revolt that marked the early days of the June 12 revolution. Many of these 'area boys' won my highest respect, not only as fighters, but as well with their sincerity and singular sense of commitment to the tasks at hand, which with many of the more gentlemen fighters often come with that veneer of posturing and make-belief.
I watched Comrade Peter Esele, President of the Trade Union Congress on TV telling the SGF to his face that even when protesters lost their phones during the rally with 100,000 citizens at Area 1 roundabout on the General Strike's day 3, these were brought to designated points and returned to the owners. I could confirm even more than this personally. As I hastily jumped over a gutter to go and control a break away group of 'hooligans', my phone fell out of the pocket I'd tucked it in & I was not aware. It was someone who looked every inch of what our genteel SGF would have called a 'hooligan' who picked it and shouted 'oga, come take your phone, e don fall' . Many a 'hooligan' might be hungry and disillusioned, but that does not necessarily turn such citizens into a thieves.
'But some of them just like 'feral' rioters in the UK barely five months ago, looted and vandalised property in some of the states of the federation', some could argue. What of the thirty cars burnt in Kano, according to the police? These luxurious items confronted the 'hooligans' and not the other way round. These inanimate objects confronted living souls with how beautiful life could be for an infinitesimal few, and just how they, like the bulk of the 99%, could never taste of such beauty. In property and ostentatious wealth they saw theft and not wrongly too. These lumpen wretched of the earth that the 'hooligans' are, are as much products as they are victims of the degenerate capitalist system with its sickening consumerism which they are mere window shoppers of, when all is calm and quiet. They hate the rich and his/her wealth because they hate their own poverty and disillusionment.
It is however instructive that the different governments at both the federal and state levels that have condemned elements of hooliganism in the course of the General Strike and Mass Protests, or even taken actions such as declaring curfews, have not limited their grouse to the actions of vagabonds. They have quite slyly with the states and much more explicitly with the Federal Government tried their utmost to tie such side events, so to speak, to the main show which is people's power on the streets and in the workplaces.
The SGF and ministers who have condemned the real and perceived vagabondage on the sidelines of the struggle thus far have equally demanded that NLC & TUC call off the strike, in the same breath. Their claim has always been the same thing; the atmosphere of General Strikes provides vintage opportunity for vagabonds to roam the land. Organised labour is thus to call off the strike so that such violence and hooliganism stops and then like gentlemen, its executives would negotiate with government on the fuel price hike.
In the case of the states governments, they equally in every case did try to get the strike called off, to which the NLC State Councils' officers made it clear that it is a national action which they have to stand by. The next best thing which they insisted on thus, was for the workers to call off mass protests on the streets. Considering the fact that live ammunition had been used to quell 'hooliganism', resulting in deaths, in a number of states made it commonsensical for the labour leaders to accept this option in their bid to save the blood of more Nigerians from being senselessly spilled.
There are however critical fault lines in the governments' argumentations. First, the Federal Government and not organised labour created the atmosphere of crisis in the country, very much like those whom the gods want to kill and first run mad. And it did this, not just with its eyes wide open, but with the utmost sense of contempt for the views of the people and without the slightest shred of honour or dignity that one would expect even from vagabonds. A government that gave the impression that it would still pursue the path of dialogue and consultation, assuring the nation that any change in price would not be until April and a few days later with the sneakiness of a thief jacked up fuel pump price is one devoid of shame. Beyond even shame, the National Assembly had extended the 2011 budget implementation to March. It thus acted illegally, as the 'removal of fuel subsidy' was built into the 2012 budget which as of now has not yet become operational.
How would such a government expect the citizenry to have anything close to trust in it when it slyly says 'call off the strike and we will then negotiate'? Negotiate what? Nigerians, including 'hooligans' on the streets are nobody's fools, with or without shoes.
Second, it is instructive that no single case of 'hooliganism' took place during the processions and rallies organised by labour and its allies in the course of the last few days. The house of labour is very much like that of the great man which Chinua Achebe wrote about. It has room for all and sundry persons. The lumpen wretched of the earth are no less welcome than the entertainment celebrities and politicians who have graced our podiums. But within the chaos of the birth pangs of rebirth, people's order is maintained with mutual respect. In all the NLC & TUC state councils, the strike committees have arrangements and persons responsible for crowd control. That much however can hardly be said for the police. Why should bullets be used on protesters, even if they be hooligans? Are there no means of crowd control that could be used in those fringe cases of riotous protests by some citizens in the penumbra of organised labour's mass actions?
Third, the FGN misses the point totally if it thinks calling off the strike, without heeding the rather simple demand of reverting the pump price of petrol to N65, would like a magic wand cause riotous protests to disappear from the streets. Indeed, if the memories of our self-declared rulers were not as short as not to remember the events of last week, they would have recalled the fact that protests were much more riotous before labour stepped into the fray, to give organised leadership to the anger seeping through every single pore of the land. And even at that, government must also be reminded that the first of the eighteen martyrs that have fallen in these past dozen days of 2012 were killed in the course of peaceful demonstrations last week in Ilorin and Kano.
The bottom line is that while despite its inevitability 'hooliganism' must be eschewed by the movement of protesters as it has done -being at best a side show of sorts- the leading hooligans in this country are not on the streets, they are far from being the wretched of the earth who have been naught. They are to be found in the cosy interiors of government houses and flashy cars. They are those who point one accusing finger while three and a thumb rightly point back at them. They are VIPs, those whom Fela aptly described as vagabonds in power. They are the lumpen capitalists, whom the Yoruba would consider as omo ale a ko ti 'le ta (bastards who sell off the common patrimony), in the service of imperialism and their wanton gluttony, for which they would steal the poor blind to subsidize their blatant thievery.
Dep. Nat. Sec., Labour Party
Labour House, Abuja