Friday, 01 March 2024 04:34

This present hunger should not be politicised - Abimbola Adelakun

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Abimbola Abimbola

One of the oft-repeated myths in this country is that when the poor are hungry enough, their final resort will be to eat the rich. But when one considers the Nigerian situation, one wonders just how much more hungry people need to get before they finally combust. Several revolutions in human history have been triggered by people who could no longer manage their hunger pangs. From Russia in the 16th century to South Africa in 2020, hunger has launched the public protests that changed the course of history. Only time will tell if the physiological experience of hunger will drive the urgency of political action in Nigeria.

No thanks to the current economic situation, “ebi ń pa wá o!” has become the defining anthem of the Bola Tinubu era. The gustatorial politics of jęun sókè that made our man popular has been overtaken by the insatiability of the gut. Last Friday, a stampede that occurred during the sale of rice “seized” by the Nigeria Customs Service Yaba office reportedly killed seven persons. There is so much one can begin to say about the organisers who failed to factor in crowd control properly. What technical and organising capacity did they have that they trusted themselves to efficiently handle the starving multitude that would surge to their offices to buy food a little more affordably?

Given the rate at which the politics of ethnicity and religion are being weaponised as a taming mechanism to curtail agitation, maybe we are seeing all there is to the shouts of ebi ń pa wá o! A faction in the socio-cultural group Afenifere, for instance, begged fellow Yorubas not to join the public protests breaking out over the current economic hardship. Reuben Fasoranti, factional chairman of Afenifere’s elders caucus, said that though people face hardship, they must also be understanding. After restating the same trite excuse that our situation is comatose because of the failures of past administrations, he added, “The government’s commitment to implementing these measures is a testament to its dedication to addressing the root causes of our economic challenges, inherited from the ills of the previous years.”

I do not know if Baba Fasoranti is an economic analyst to trust that the ongoing reforms are truly as restorative as government officials insist, but I can bet that the elderly man has witnessed enough of Nigeria’s history to know that what he describes as “the ills of the previous years” do not exclude key actors in this present administration. Nigeria did not become the way it is presently because a bunch of aliens dropped from Mars to inflict pain on us. We are stuck in history because we are repeatedly being served by the same old executioners garbed in the robes of statesmen.

Even Sunday Igboho, the so-called revolutionary who stepped up for the “Yoruba nation” during the Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)’s administration too has joined the company of Yoruba attenuators. He also exonerates Tinubu from the ongoing hardships and blames Buhari instead. I think he forgets that the insecurity situation that prompted him to become a “freedom fighter” in the Buhari era also predated the Buhari presidency. I do not recall him offering Buhari the same alibi he is now tossing around for his kinsman. The fact that every Nigerian problem is a carryover from a previous era does not mean we should merely shut up and suffer. What is the point of electing a president when the best he can do is to merely contextualise the problem we—not them—live through every day?

By now, if there is one consistent quality one has come to expect from our people, it is that the politics of identity will always trump the affinity of class. Even amidst the hunger that killed seven while they struggled to buy cheap rice, our people still manage to maintain some clarity on the ethnic import of their reaction to the hunger. Even the NLC protests planned for Tuesday and Wednesday could barely be held after several unions backed out.

Former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Usman Yusuf, who has been making provocative public statements in the media regarding the worsening economic hardship recently wondered “why the South-East is uncharacteristically quiet.” Several self-appointed representatives of the South-East handed him some self-justificatory answers, but who can blame any southeasterner for not joining or staging protests after all the traumas they went through under the Buhari administration? The man’s politics, especially his imprudent response to the rise of IPOB, did not bode well for the South-East. Why go through another phase of unrest again and so soon too?

Then, of course, there was the 2023 elections where an Igbo man was a leading presidential candidate. While he managed to upend the structuration of Nigeria’s political calculations, the election outcome was another story. Not only did the results feature many instances of electoral manipulation, but the triumphalism of the supposed winners fuelled toxicity. The silence of the South-East can therefore be a manifestation of a well-earned schadenfreude. Really, why should they not gloat now that “èmilókàn” has become “ebi ń pa wá o”? Let those who opened their eyes wide to retain the APC after suffering eight years of affliction under Buhari stand up and fix what they broke.

Whatever one might think of Yusuf’s singling out a region in his expectations of political agitations, he had a point about how public protests work in Nigeria. If Nigerians who have been serially hit by Tinubu’s harsh policies are now pacifying themselves with stories of how everything got spoiled by previous administration(s), it is not because they have a better perspective on their history. If, by now, the South-West has not brought out its famous rage machine to antagonise the government of the day over the excruciating economic conditions that their people—crying ebi ń pa wá o! in the streets—are enduring, how else do we account for their complacence other than the “àwalókàn” sentiment?

Under a different set of circumstances, certain characters—you know them—would have been jumping from one media house to another to register their aggrievement over the unfortunate incident of the deaths at the Customs Office. They would have been alleging a systematic plot to diminish the “Yoruba race” and be threatening fire and brimstone. But now, they ask us to sit still. Not even the affliction of hunger can put paid to our people’s marshalling of tribal troops.

If Atiku Abubakar or Peter Obi had won the 2023 presidential election, would Fasoranti have issued a statement cautioning the Yoruba people against public protests? I know it is a hypothetical question, but it is one that can be answered by considering precedents. Under Goodluck Jonathan and Buhari, did they also enjoin Yorubas not to protest because the hardship was for the eventual good?

If we will advance as a people, we need to reach a point where the region (and the religion) that succeeded in putting a candidate into power should be the one to lead the agitation if that leader starts faltering. If you voted out of a conviction that the person can level mountains, then you owe the rest of us the legwork to see that the better world you envisioned while casting your vote is realised. People who go all out for a candidate should take the pains to also hold them accountable. It should not be enough to want to see your tribe (or religion) in power, but you should also go all out to ensure that their administration represents the best your tribe has to offer the country.

Seriously, Tinubu’s supporters owe us public protests and accountability for opening the door to an affliction everyone knew would happen.

 

Punch

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