Witnessing the stunning political events of the past few weeks in North Africa and my very own college town of Madison, Wis., unfold through the glow of a television screen and plethora of Internet articles has got me feeling detached lately. Sitting in the comfort of my Nigerian family’s parlor reading about thousands of people flooding the Wisconsin state capital to protest a proposed bill is unsettling not only because of the nature of the bill, but because I yearn to be there among the protestors, reporting the story. I had the same feeling ingesting news about Tahrir Square in Egypt. Even though I am in Africa (one country separates Nigeria from Libya) the protests seem a world away because they are the Arab Africa, not the black Africa I know. The timeliness of these protests and my current residence in a country in the middle of a potentially nation changing event–a presidential election–I find myself asking the question, could united, ardent, somewhat peaceful (Libya is a big exception) protests happen in Nigeria?
Nigeria is doing OK. It is not governed by a president who has been in power for three decades. It’s state governors are not trying to pass a bill that will undermine union workers’ collective bargaining rights. It has a great deal of wealth from lucrative oil reserves and it is in the middle of a democratic election. But if you compare it’s ranking on the success at achieving the Millennium Development Goals, it falls far behind Tunisia and Egypt and all the while it is fact that corruption and bribery is rampant in government. The youth know things need to change, but the looming question is how? I asked some of my classmates what they think about the uprising in Egypt, if something like those protests could happen in Nigeria in the future and if they need to.
Here’s what some of them said:
“The state of corruption in this country is really terrible. You don’t have to stay in the country a long time to know there is corruption in the country. It’s more like our way of life now, it’s a normal thing. If there will be change I don’t think it will be in our generation. Many Nigerian youths are not going to go through the stress. I mean one of the things you consider is why do I have to study very hard when I can actually bribe lecturers to give me a 7 point (perfect grade point average)? Why do I need to go to school at all when at the end of the day if I don’t get a job opportunity all I need to do is know somebody in big places and they just write me a letter of recommendation. Why do I need to finish in the first class when when I’m ready there’s a job waiting for me? My motivation is that I want to serve as a role model for my children.”
-Mayowa, 24, female
“Why such a revolution cannot take place in Nigeria, there are so many reasons for it. Number one is that things are still bearable unlike the days of military when people could no longer make ends meet. There was no fuel, no firewood in the forests so people had to take to the streets and ensure that the government was changed at that time. Another is this culture of positive thinking. Nigerians don’t want to accept that they are poor that they are suffering. We simply want to believe that tomorrow will be alright, tomorrow will be okay, giving people false hope… It’s as if people have made up their mind to continue suffering and calling suffering another name, maybe a positive name… I think religion is also to be blamed for most of it because the way religion is done in Nigeria, it suppresses thinking.”
Wole, 28, male
“I think the issue in Egypt might not happen in Nigeria. I think in Egypt they share a common ground, it’s one of the Arab nations and being together as religion makes it easy for them to achieve a purpose. Unlike Nigeria, this is a multi-ethnic society with different religious groups…to bring the interest together and have a common ground might be very difficult. We also still have a bearable situation…People are all hoping that this upcoming election will change things, maybe peoples votes will count and it will be reflected in the turnout. I can only hope, I cannot be too certain. If INEC won’t be manipulated. People seem to be ready to monitor elections to make sure their votes count. One of the basic things I think that needs to be changed is leadership. We still have leaders that are not so concerned about the welfare of the people. It’s more like leading an elitist government. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Imagine the senate where less than 500 people taking 25% of resources for the whole country. These are people who are supposed to be representatives of the masses… I can only be optimistic that this generation will do something. I see the change coming its a gradual process.
Femi, 26, male
Hearing my classmates discuss this topic was an incredibly eye opening experience for me of the goliath task many of these youths feel the country is facing. Whether Nigeria–or any other country–will take to the streets in the next month is impossible to tell because riots and protests occur completely unexpectedly. A Facebook message started what turned out to be thousands of people protesting their president in Egypt. In the 1980’s Nigerians did protest against the military government and worker groups here go on strike all the time. Massive scale protests are possible everywhere in the world, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily the answer to fixing a country’s problems.