LESSONS OF THE UK RIOTS
The wave of violence and arson that raged through several United Kingdom cities, last week, following police killing of a 29-year-old man, Mark Duggan, in Tottenham, North London, boldly underscores the fact that no country is immune to social discontent and unrest.
The riots, Britain's worst since the race riots which set London ablaze in the 1980s, occasioned burning of vehicles and buildings, looting of shops and attacks on policemen. At least 1,900 rioters were arrested, over 371 charged, and 16,000 policemen deployed to quell the uprising. Six persons were confirmed dead in the riots, which also led to postponement of the Nigeria-Ghana friendly in London over security concerns.
The UK riots took the world and, indeed, the country's security agencies, by surprise. The unrest shattered the peace of London, an important cosmopolitan city and a foremost tourist destination hosting the busiest airport in the world.
For Nigeria, London is especially important as it hosts a large population of its people. Although the circumstances that led to the London police killing are not very clear, the speed with which the resultant riot spread to other parts of the country like Manchester, Birmingham and Croydon, suggests underlying simmering animosity against the government and the police in Britain. The involvement of mostly youths from poor and deprived areas of the cities in the rioting suggests it is a fallout of social discontent possibly arising from economic strangulation of the people via recent budget cuts and other austerity measures.
The lesson for Britain in this incident is that there is a limit to which the people can be financially stressed. Although Prime Minister David Cameron described the riots as 'criminality, pure and simple,' and the police attributed its spread to 'copycat criminal activity,' the authorities in Britain need to look into the socio-economic underpinnings of the revolt. The preponderance of economically disadvantaged youths in the protests supports the argument that economic stress is at the bottom of the problem.
This situation has unequivocally exposed the underbelly of capitalism in Britain. It vividly shows that an economy cannot be run only on the vagaries of market forces. Instead, the human factor has to be taken into reckoning because the people are not only the means, but also the end of economic planning.
For Nigeria, it is instructive that a nation like Britain can have a revolt on its hands. If Britain with her social security system and other social safety nets, good roads, constant electricity and an efficient transportation system can have a people's revolt on her hands, one can only imagine what can happen in a country like Nigeria which lacks these.
The lesson for Nigeria in this unfortunate incident is that social unrest can break out anywhere in the world that the people have cause to be unhappy with their governments.
The current impression that Nigerians are complacent and cannot revolt against the government may be a costly mistake, as Britain found out last week. The challenge to Britain, Nigeria and, indeed, all countries, is the need for governments to take the people's welfare more seriously. Well-being of citizens should never be sacrificed on the altar of cold economic calculations. They should, at all times, be at the centre of governance. Authorities should strive to give their policies and programmes human face.
Considering the economic importance of London and UK, it is important that the situation is quickly brought under control and the issues that contributed to it, quickly addressed. This uprising is not good for Britain. Renewed commitment to the people's welfare by governments across the world will reduce propensity for frequent riots.