OCCUPY TILL I COME
The true owners of the country showed their proper colour from Monday this week. They embarked on an exercise they called 'Occupy Nigeria.' In what is perhaps the most national, most effective strike in the country in recent times, Nigeria was shut down from Benin to Bauchi, Lagos to Langtang, Akure to Abuja. It was the definitive way of saying no to the January 1 vexatious withdrawal of subsidy on petrol, which shot the price from N65 to N141 per litre. The product sold for as high as N250 per litre in some other parts of the country.
The public rallies and protests were held under the code-name 'Occupy Nigeria,' and such happened not only within the borders of the country, but also at our embassies in the UK, and the United States of America, among others. If the Goodluck Jonathan administration was perspicacious enough, it needed no soothsayer to tell it that it had overreached itself, and that the people were screaming blue murder. But the regime was slow in understanding.
Former federal lawmaker, Hon Patrick Obayagbon was at the barricades with other protesters in Abuja, and he described the exercise later on television as 'Constructive bellicosity.' Hmm, trust Igodomigodo never to search for the appropriate words. Constructive bellicosity. I like it.
Another young man justified the action this way on television: 'Lord Lugard and the British occupied Nigeria for decades. The military also did same for more than 30 years. Then came civilians, who simply occupied in the name of democratic rule. Now is the time for the real Nigerians to occupy their own country.' How constructively bellicose!
The whole affair reminded me of the parable Jesus told, of a wealthy man who was going on a long journey, and then gave talents to his servants to trade with while he was away. His instruction was simple. Occupy till I come. Nigerians obeyed that instruction to the letter this week. And how did the government respond? Flat-footed. In utter confusion. Perplexity, laced with contumacy.
Last September, President Goodluck Jonathan had defended his style of governance by saying he didn't need to be repressive or tyrannical before he could make a mark. His exact words: 'I don't need to be a lion, I don't need to be Nebuchadnezzar. I don't need to operate like the Pharaoh of Egypt, and I don't need to be an army general. I can change this country without those traits.' On September 30, 2011, I did a piece with the headline 'Shall we tell the president?' And what was I saying? I told President Jonathan that not all Pharaohs were bad. There were good Pharaohs in Egypt, and there were also wicked ones. Permit me to quote from that piece:
'Call pharaoh proud, tyrannical, vain, somebody with God complex, stiff-necked, and you would be right. But that would just be one side of the coin. Pharaohs built Egypt into what it was in the past, and which endures till today. Egypt was centre of learning and world power at a time. Toby Wilkinson, in his book, 'The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt,' described the land as 'one of the world's greatest and longest-lived civilisations.' Pharaohs were courageous, determined, brave, and not easily intimidated. In fact, the original meaning of the name was 'Great House,' referring to the king's palace, but by the reign of Thutmose III (ca. 1479-1425 BC), it became the title for the king. It takes a great man to build a great kingdom or country … So, we need good pharaohs, because not all pharaohs were evil.
The pharaoh at the time of Joseph as recorded in the Holy Bible was humble to the point of making a Jew his Prime Minister. He saved the world from starvation by hearkening to the advice of Joseph to store food for the future. And when Jacob, the father of Joseph died in Egypt, he allowed the corpse to be taken back to Israel for burial. He was a good pharaoh. The one in the time of Moses disdained God, oppressed the Jews, and eventually died in the Red Sea with his army. He was an evil pharaoh. It therefore depends on the traits of the pharaoh you wish to adopt. There are good and bad pharaohs, and President Jonathan can opt to be like the good ones, who built Egypt into a world power. No wonder colourful politician, Dr Chuba Okadigbo, named one of his sons Pharaoh. He must have considered the good traits of some pharaohs.'
Well, it's like between last September and now, President Jonathan has had a change of heart. He has decided to be a Pharaoh. And he went for the very worst specimen. The stubborn Pharaoh, who was thickheaded, deaf, dumb, absolutely impervious and unyielding to all entreaties, and to all reason.
Democracy is supposed to be about the people. Those entrusted with power and authority must wield it on behalf of the people. They must use their positions to serve the people. If they come with policies that they believe are good in their own minds, but the people collectively kick, and say no, saying the policy will wreak havoc on their lives, then the will of the people must prevail. But here, democracy means lording it over the people. Their opinions and desires do not matter. They are numskulls anyway, so the government must think for them, and shove it down their throats.
For those who had thought the average Nigerian had no staying power, that he could not sustain a strike beyond two days, now they know better. For those who believed that the equivalent of the Arab Spring could not happen here, now they are better educated. For those who felt you would keep the Nigerian repressed, oppressed, trampled under foot forever, a new dawn of reality has come. The army of occupation would not forever seize our land. The owners will not forever be clobbered, beaten into somnolent submission. When you push Nigerians to the wall, they will not always break down the wall and continue retreating. They can bounce back like a boomerang, and woe betides anyone that stands in their way. That is the lesson of the past few days.
The lesson from 'Occupy Nigeria' is encapsulated by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities: 'Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.'
We want good Pharaohs here, not obdurate on