Besides the pandemic, 2020 was a special year for Africa due to the social upheaval witnessed across the continent. From Nigeria to Uganda through Senegal, African youths were out on the streets, registering their displeasure with their leaders. Many public affairs commentators believe this represents a new dawn in the life of the continent.
Perhaps, the brightest ray of hope shone in Nigeria, as youths in their thousands all over the country trooped out to protest police brutality. The protest code-named EndSARS brought the nation to a standstill for about two weeks in October. After series of dialogue, the constitution of panels of inquiry and restitution, and promises of police reforms, the youths eventually sheathed their swords.
However, less than a year later, the youths are grinding the nation to a halt yet again for the #June12Protests. The date is symbolic, as it is the Nation’s Democracy Day, an annual celebration in commemoration of Nigeria’s transition to civilian rule in 1999.
— Sahara Reporters (@SaharaReporters) June 12, 2021
#June12Protests: The Background Story
Across all six geo-political zones, protesters trooped out in their numbers, defying police intimidation and harsh weather conditions. Unlike EndSARS, the #June12Protests was an Avenue for the angry youths to register their displeasure with the Muhammadu Buhari administration. What were the specific pain points for the protesters?
To fully understand the protesters’ grievances, it is essential to paint a background picture of the Nigerian situation. President Muhammadu Buhari is a 78-year-old former Military Head of State who ruled the country as a dictator from 1983 till his overthrow in 1985. Poor economic decisions during his administration led to the nation’s worst economic recession throughout the 20th century.
He was also known to stifle free speech and suppress dissenting views. On the back of poor performance and massive corruption by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, Buhari was seen by many as having the strong will to fight corruption. His campaign manifesto focused on fighting corruption, improving the economy and security situation of the country. Sadly, President Buhari appears to be flexing dictatorial powers under a democratic regime.
Campaign of empty promises
It has been a bittersweet experience for Nigerians. In what is a reminiscence of his dictatorial days, Buhari has not performed excellently in reviving the economy and securing the people. In six years, Nigeria slipped into recession twice—in 2015 and 2020. This makes Buhari the only leader in Nigerian history to lead the nation into multiple recessions. Under him, unemployment has also skyrocketed from less than 20% to over 53%.
The data paint an even grimmer picture. Food inflation rose by 110.5% within six years, causing food prices to almost triple despite little increase in purchasing power. Inflation moved into double digits, making Buhari the only leader in history to preside over double-digit inflation. Within the last six years, fuel prices almost doubled, while the Naira lost over 100% of its value. Foreign Direct Investment has dropped by over 30%, with a GDP growth rate of 1.28%, the worst of any Nigerian leader ever.
It gets worse…
Within that time, insecurity has also become a cause for concern. Since December 2020, the BBC estimates that over 1,000 school children have been abducted, leading to the closure of thousands of schools nationwide. In the North-east, Boko Haram continues to maim, abduct, and kill citizens. With the rising attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram terrorists, it is risky to travel by road.
What the Government is Saying
The official standpoint of the administration has been that peaceful protests remain a constitutional right of citizens. The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, continues to reiterate that citizens have the right to protest. However, the government repeatedly deploys security agents to protest grounds to disperse and arrest protesters. Since the 2015 Shi’ites protests, security agents-protester clashes have become a common feature. During the EndSARS, an unverified number of lives were lost.
If General Buhari confronts killer herdsmen, bandits and Boko Haram as seriously as he confronts peaceful #June12thProtest protesters, we wont have a situation where over 30 Nigerians die daily from terror or banditry. It takes cowards to fight the peaceful and reward the violent pic.twitter.com/8gHolk9Wz4
— Reno Omokri (@renoomokri) June 12, 2021
Will Things Get Better?
While critics of the Buhari administration and protesters believe there is more to be done by the government, supporters have a lot to hold on to. Since the administration came on board, there has been a key focus on infrastructure. The long-awaited Lagos-Ibadan expressway was completed, making Buhari the first Nigerian President to deliver on that promise. Federal roads, rails, and other key transport linkage infrastructure continue to receive attention from the administration.
In agriculture, the administration’s programs continue to drive economic diversification. The Anchor Borrowers Program registered over 1 million farmers who benefited, with the Back to Farm targeting over 10 million more.
In a recent national address, President Buhari assured Nigerians of his commitment to deliver on his campaign manifesto. Also, he outlined plans to continue to use infrastructure to attract investment into the country. He pointed to the recently commissioned Lagos-Ibadan high-speed rail as one of the cornerstone infrastructures for this drive.
The administration also plans to ramp up its Social Intervention Programme through school feeding and Youth Empowerment. The government-sponsored N-Power initiative is back on, and over 1 million participants are expected to benefit.
Were the Protests Successful?
Although faced with the threat of harassment by security forces, across the nation, thousands of Nigerians came out to voice out their displeasure with the government. With the exception of the northeast, the other five geo-political zones witnessed protests across their states. Some protesters went one step further by calling for Buhari’s resignation under the campaign hashtag #BuhariMustGo.
In the country’s capital city, Abuja, the police appeared on the scene and dispersed the protesters. Video evidence shows the police firing teargas at the protesters. Some arrests were made. However, the police spokesperson said all arrested protesters have regained their freedom.
Two massive protests in less than twelve months is a sign of serious dissatisfaction among voters. Nigeria cannot afford a third, and as such, the government must do everything to address the grievances of these #June12protest protesters. Perhaps, as PLO Lumumba would say, it is time to renegotiate the unity of Nigeria.