A Message from Egypt for Nigeria
Few weeks ago when I visited Kaduna, a friend asked me whether it is worth for the opposition in Nigeria to continue challenging the PDP status quo given the power of incumbency in blocking any attempt to dislodge it from its dominant position on the Nigerian political landscape. This is the third time my friend noticed my involvement in opposition politics whenever national elections are around. I told him that though it will continue to be difficult for the opposition to overthrow PDP through the ballot box, it is, nonetheless, important that it continue trying. And I did not hesitate to give him the theoretical foundations of my thought.
Throughout history, I explained, power has posed an enigma to the mankind. It appears overwhelming and humanity has always been driven to the point of despondency by the tyranny of political class in power. Not even the Messengers of God were exempted from this rule. But as it endures that oppression, humanity keeps a permanent memory of every event, small or big, in its mind. Such bad memories continue to accumulate until it reaches a threshold that makes it ripe for a burst. Suddenly, a population that has endured decades or even centuries of oppression bursts in unison and revolts, putting behind it all the differences that enabled its enslavement. The trigger could be an event so small that no one would be able to predict. But as soon as it occurs, chains of other events follow leading to the revolution. The afraid conquers fear and with determination confronts his oppressors that become immobilized through shock of the most unexpected. In the end, the tyrant abandons his fort and takes to his heels. His supporters vanish as if they never existed. A new nation is born.
I told my friend that it is like a forest that accumulates litter on its floor over many years without a fire visiting it. All it takes for everything in it to change is a small event, a small fire lit artificially by a single match or naturally by a lightening, and, behold, a passerby who left it quiet in the morning returns in the afternoon to find it blazing with fury, consuming everything in its former state, of flora and fauna, fresh and dry. All that is required to destroy the old order is the accumulation of sufficient litter and that small flame to touch it somewhere and a new one is eventually born.
So I told my friend that we will continue with our little effort, exploiting every opportunity out there. The opposition may seem divided and may never be close to overturn events. It may even be a fake opposition composed of people who share the same materialistic ideals of the ruling party. The Messiah may not even be among them. It does not make any difference because that is not the fundamental function of the opposition in the revolutionary process. It needs to exist before litter of the forest floor could pile up. It needs to exist before the ruling party could rig elections, before it could conquer more states, before it could be deceived by its victory and the money it looted into believing and boasting that it will rule for the next 50 years or forever. It will continue to destroy the economy, rendering more youths into unemployment, more masses into poverty. When the litter of anger and frustration is sufficiently accumulated, it will just be waiting for that small flame and the people who were divided by history, geography, politics, gender, religion or tribe would unite and confront their oppressors in a stunning way.
Just a week after our conversation, somewhere in the world - Tunisia - where the litter of public frustration has sufficiently accumulated over decades of dictatorship, the small flame was unknowingly triggered by an unemployed undergraduate, Bouazizi, who set himself ablaze in response to a humiliating maltreatment from a policewoman. Suddenly, his anger triggered the anger in other youths and the rest of the population and the wild fire started… It did not take time for the tyrant to flee, abandoning his mansions and loot.
A day after the success of the Tunisian revolution, on 25 January, the fire reached Egypt, catching everyone, including the CIA and the Egyptian dictator, unawares. Mubarak attempted many times to overcome the revolution, first with brutality then with concessions. But it was too late. The fuel that accumulated from the oppression of thirty years emergency rule is sufficient to consume him and the entire powers behind him. The flame has already started at the bottom of the forest. Destruction of the old order is both inevitable and logical. At last, the power of oppression had to give way to the power of the human will in its match to freedom. A new Egypt is born after 60 years of military dictatorship.
The events in Egypt are interesting to me in a particular way. One of the bloggers at the centre of the Tahrir Square events was Mahmoud Salem, with whom we attended the German Berlin 2010 Bloggertour in May last year. I remember one morning when I was walking with Eman, a Saudi blogger, to catch a train to an event and Mahmoud was some ten steps or so ahead of us. Eman was revealing to me her pessimism about any change in the rights of women in Saudi Arabia, the central theme of her blog. Mahmoud has been expressing similar hopelessness regarding human rights in Egypt.
I tried to encourage Eman that she should not relent as success may come even after our lives. She suddenly stopped and looked at me in the eyes, saying that she can't wait for that day. She wants it to come now. As if I have committed blasphemy, the mother of two and a daughter of a high ranking army general, Eman, shouted at Mahmoud: 'Mahmoud, stop and hear what Ali is saying… that we must not relent even if success would only come after our lives.' Mahmoud, who is in his late twenties, promptly laughed and said, 'No, I want it during my lifetime. What is my benefit if it comes later.'
I am sure when Mahmoud said so he did not know that it was just by the corner… I read on his blog how he was tear-gassed, brutalized, shot at and his car destroyed by the police and pro-Mubarak demonstrators at Tahrir square eight days ago. Yesterday, I listened to him with delight on al-Jazeerah, speaking about the Egyptian revolution, how it has caught everyone by surprise and the role he will play in shaping the political future of Egypt.
To me the most important benefit of the bloggertour is how it allowed me to intimately learn the bad state of affairs in other nations. Many are by far worse than ours. Some have lived under more gloomy conditions. I remember Nigar Fatalayeva, the Azeri girl who, after a presentation of how a German NGO is carrying the ardours task of parliamentary watchdog, stood up and said, 'Well, it is nice learning what you guys have been doing. It is very good. For me, it is just for the sake of knowledge. It will not be possible to do this in my country.' This girl in her twenties, I think, was the most pessimistic in the group.
However, the events in Egypt must be changing our minds in different continents. From Azerbaijan I am sure that by now Nigar has been sending text messages and emails of congratulations to her boyfriend, Mahmoud. She must be proud of him. But more importantly she must have be more optimistic now, that even Azeris would one day free themselves from the shackles of dictatorship. If Mubarak can fall without a single bullet fired by the opposition, then any tyrant can be dislodged by its determined populace.
In Nigeria our task is even easier. We do not have the chronic tyranny that is found in the many countries in the developing world. What we have is corruption that is perpetrated by very vulnerable temporary leaders who, coming from poor backgrounds, are just interested in looting the treasury to guarantee their future. We do not really have the brutal tyrannies like those of Mubarak, Gaddafi, Ben Ali, etc. Such tyranny is usually as a result of years of continuous domination by an individual under the approval of superpowers.
Egypt may be ahead of us in many ways, especially in infrastructure. Throughout the days at Tahrir Square, there was not a blackout for even a second. Ninety-five percent of the population has access to uninterrupted electricity. In addition, only 56% of the population live under two dollars per day. In Nigeria, over 70% of the population is living under one dollar per day; and electricity is an exception where less than 1% of the population has access to uninterrupted electricity. What is missing is the state police that would perpetrate the brutality of mass arrests, torture, killings, outlawing opposition, martial law, etc, unlike in Egypt which has witnessed such regime of inhuman treatment for sixty years.
As I write this article, the fire has reached Algeria and Yemen. Protests like those of Egypt have taken gained full momentum. And so would that fire that was lit by Bouazizi continue to torch on many tyrannical regimes across the world. Though many Arab regimes are bribing their citizens with monthly stipends since the revolution started, I doubt if the Middle East will ever be the same after the birth of a new Egypt.
Nigeria will not be an exception. Despite our ethnic and religious differences which our oppressors readily inflame and sustain in order to divide us, we the masses will rise sooner or later in unison to wipe them out. All the requisite elements are here. For decades now we have watched the riches of our nation plundered by the same group who were recruited to serve in the military in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They continue to toss us from one member of the group to another for over four decades now. The crunching poverty is here. The army of unemployed youths is increasing by millions yearly. And there is a PDP - the face of our own Mubarak - that is set to unleash its regime of corruption on us for the next 50 years or more.
Though I have many times lamented the gullibility of our masses and the docility of our elite, I am confident that we have among our people the necessary genetic material to overcome fear and institute revolt. Revolt and pride has been part of the history of almost every tribe in this country. If that feeling is soothed in the elite that is enjoying the regime of loot or in the old who are tired of waiting, it is fresh in the blood of the youths who remain deprived of jobs and of any dignified future. Members of this group have forty to sixty years ahead of them. It will not be surprising if a Bouazizi arises from their midst.
Or it may not even be that long. No one is sure what will happen by April 2011 when the PDP successfully returns itself to power either by rigging or by other machinations against the opposition like the ongoing inflammation of religious differences and blocking any move for a common front against it. I do not know when the match would be lit. I do not know who would light it. But I am sure that there is enough fuel here at the bottom of the Nigerian human forest to create the inferno that will consume the oppressors of the Nigerian masses. When the time comes, I am sure that Nigerian youths will throw away their differences and unite behind their shared interest in a dignified future to conquer fear and fill with protests the streets of Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Enugu, Maiduguri, Sokoto, Ibadan, Jos and more importantly, Abuja. The police and the army, who are themselves oppressed, unlike in Egypt, cannot and will not stop them.
Let us take the new tools of social networking more seriously. Our condition over the years has been exacerbated by a collaborative mainstream press. The newspapers in Nigeria have played the greatest role in dividing its people and collecting bribes from the government in order to publish the falsehood that undermines the evolution of any popular movement. The new tools of social networking provide progressive minds with independent means of networking and organisation. I pity how we waste the valuable walls of our Facebooks with frivolous postings that do not add any value to anyone when youths in other countries are using them to liberate themselves. Let us use them to inform one another of every single act of oppression and corruption that the government is performing. Let us boldly use them as avenues of convening and sharing ideas on the way forward, something from which we do need the approval of a commissioner of police. More importantly, let us be ready to pay the ultimate price. It is better we die as heroes and martyrs than live in humiliating poverty and debasing mutual hatred.
This is the message from Egypt. You can also do it. You must not wait for the military to do it for you as we mistakenly did in the past. Liberation is not done by coups today, but by civil uprising and mass protest. So, throw away the shackles of division, go beyond the borders of religion, ethnicity, geography and history to embrace every other Nigerian with love using the powerful tool of social networking. Together, chart a course to liberate yourselves from oppression. Conquer fear, tell the truth, act boldly and, when the time comes, march jointly and chase away the corrupt political elite that are responsible for your misery.
The old must not be less committed than the young in this task. We have great responsibility to the millions of children we have already brought to this world. Ours is done. We have little, if any, remaining. What must seize every opportunity to bequeath a better future for our children, not through the false assurance of corruptly acquired wealth, but through a freedom that we may purchase for them using the most valuable asset we have - our lives.
One day, sooner than later, the Sahara winds will not only carry dust to its southern borders but also the contagion of liberation. Without firing a single bullet at the political elite, the Eagle Square will be transformed from the venue where political charades are mounted to a ground where the Nigerian masses will be freed from corrupt regimes and unprincipled political class.
Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde