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My Brother, The Hoodlum By Poju Akinyanju

February 19, 2012

When President Jonathan hiked the price of petrol by about 120% under the guise of subsidy removal, the reaction was predictable. What were not predictable were the scale, ferocity and spread of the discontent shown by Nigerians.

When President Jonathan hiked the price of petrol by about 120% under the guise of subsidy removal, the reaction was predictable. What were not predictable were the scale, ferocity and spread of the discontent shown by Nigerians.

The Press coverage of the ensuing protests certainly did not capture the spread. Numerous murderously angry moods sprouted like mushrooms all over the federation. The pictures of the mammoth crowds at Gani Fawehinmi park at Ojota Lagos, at Mapo Hall Ibadan, at Abuja, Kano and Kaduna and the over two kilometer stretch of sea of heads at Ilorin were impressive; but the numerous spots at for example, Iyana Ipaja, Surulere, Mushin in  Lagos or at Geri Alimi, Asa Dam Rd, Kuntu, Adeta. Garage Offa in Ilorin were not adequately captured. These numerous protest centres had no link to the Labour/ Civil society organized protest even if they derived inspiration from the latter. There was anger in the face of the people, vitriol in their voice and murder in their hearts. It was a response to a situation which the people correctly read was going to begin to put dead citizens on our streets from hunger and crushing poverty if not resisted. It was a spontaneous struggle for survival by the people.

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The attitude of governments to the people’s anger was also predictable. They tried to prevent the protests. Their first line of attack was to employ what has become a fundamental policy of the State: bribery. Critical groups such as students and youths were pulled in and bribed with money. Some were made to sign undertaking not to participate in the protests; others were formed into pro- Govt. bodies. When the protests started, they ignored it believing that hungry people will be too weak to sustain a protest beyond two days.

When the protest gained in ferocity  by the third day, they kicked in the blame game and divide and rule strategy while intensifying the bribery mode. It was the fault of everybody else but Govt; the protests were hurting the nation more than the killing price hike; it was the reaction that was the problem not the action; it was the politicians who lost elections that were instigating the protests; it was the northerners from whose grip power just slipped that are fomenting trouble. Surprisingly, the only notable group not blamed was the Boko Haram (BH). Maybe this was because BH responds instantly when challenged; the fear of BH has become enduring wisdom

At a meeting with the labour/CSO group before the onset of the protests, a head of the secret/political police said ‘ I know your right to protest is constitutionally guaranteed, but there are people out there who had no super yesterday and do not know where the next meal will come from; we do not want the protest to be hijacked by these hoodlums’ I was not only astounded by his knowledge of the existence  and succinct characterization of deep  poverty among fellow citizens but by his definition of the ‘hoodlum’. Also implied in his statement is that the hoodlums have no right to protest i.e. while the state visits violence of poverty on the ‘hoodlums’, they have no right of equal and opposite reaction or any reaction at all.

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At a church wedding the Saturday before the protests, the presiding clergy  had warned the congregation from the pulpit to take care of their money and phones. Despite the warning, by the time the photography session had gone a quarter way, at least 3 phones had been reported stolen. Contrast this to the five days of active protests in which, ignoring the secret police boss, we interacted and mingled freely with the ‘hoodlums’, not one person reported his/her phone or money missing. What do these two experiences say about our deprived youths who the ruling class so unfairly label ‘hoodlums’? ‘Hoodlums’ are the creation of the class who turn around to blackmail them. The social and economic policies that result in unemployment, acute poverty and destruction of hope create a pool of youths who have to steal phones in church to eat; whose tempers have a short fuse; who engage in violence against themselves and society because they have nothing to live for. They are dehumanized and stripped of all dignity.  It is open knowledge that the political ruling class cruelly employ these ‘hoodlums’ in electoral cycles leaving them frustrated in between. There is ample evidence that the foot soldiers of the Niger Delta militancy, the Boko Haram jihadists and sundry other such formations in the nation derive from this route.

At the inevitable small group discussions at the end of each day of protest, the grievances articulated by the ‘hoodlums’ can be summarized as follows: massive stealing of public funds by the ruling class; arrogance of the ruling class and feeling of being ignored into irrelevance; lack of employment; unaffordable cost of living even before the fuel price hike; selfishness of the ruling class, especially politicians- the most cited is their ‘cornering’ of the little employment opportunities available and any assistance scheme; general feeling of hopelessness; and acute distrust of ‘men of power and  wealth’.

In church and elsewhere, the ‘hoodlums’ obtain restitution/reparation from the other class through direct self-help. They, however, took the struggle against fuel price hike and pervasive corruption of the ruling class as their own struggle. They related to all participants in the struggle as their brothers and sisters; and in that crowd suspended their war of direct restitution.

The situation with the ‘hoodlums’ now is that they are neglected, ignored by the two sides of the political coin. The ruling politicians ignore them until they need them as tools for strong arm political pressure; and for as long as they and the violence engendered by their poverty remain contained in their slum enclaves. Paradoxically, the politicians of the left also ignore them until they need them to support their sporadic and transient protests against mis-governance. The soul of my brother, the ‘hoodlum’ is thus freely available. As the ‘hoodlums’ retreat to their enclave of deepened poverty, I have a feeling that the fate of the nation will depend on who relates to and can positively befriend my brother, the hoodlum.
Prof Poju Akinyanju ([email protected])
Dept of Pure and Applied Biology
Ladoke Akintola University of Technology
Ogbomoso