Today’s Financial Times has a full page analysis by Xan Rice on how the failure of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to remove fuel subsidies has raised questions about his abilities to push through “reform.” Apart from the references to “the smell of sweat and marijuana”* at a rally and Boko Haram’s terror campaign getting some column inches, this is probably the most interesting part:
Demographics played a role in [Occupy Nigeria]. The population is young, with 43 per cent under the age of 15. Unemployment is 24 per cent and climbing, and much worse for school-leavers and twentysomethings. In a briefing paper this month, Financial Derivatives, a Lagos-based consultancy, wrote that Nigeria was “sitting precariously on socioeconomic gunpowder”.
Meanwhile, mobile-phone penetration and internet access has grown fast, increasing frustrated young people’s awareness of government failures. During the fuel demonstrations, details of state waste spread by text messages and social media. It struck a nerve; when the annual presidential catering bill of more than $5.5m was queried by protesters, the detailed national budget was withdrawn from the government website. Spokespeople rushed to justify the expense, saying it included food for state banquets and visiting dignitaries.
Those involved in the fuel protests believe it could prove a defining moment in the country’s history, one that could push the government to become serious about reform or act as a springboard for further unrest.
“For the first time, ordinary Nigerians have seen their power,” says Nasir El-Rufai, an opposition politician who acted as an “informal adviser” to some of the leaders of Occupy Nigeria, which helped co-ordinate protests. “The government was forced to promise to look into oil fraud and waste, which has not happened before. Whether it has the political will to do so, I’m not sure.”
* One other discordant note in the article was to see Ken Saro Wiwa Jnr–who has been working as a presidential advisor in the Nigerian government for a minute–making excuses for Jonathan. Btw, the front page blurb for the story uses the ‘Badluck” insult protesters have hurled at the president.