What is a revolution? The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (Third Edition) defines it as a time of great, usually sudden, social and political change, especially the changing of a ruler or a political system by force.
In Tunisia, the uprising against the former president, Ben Ali, that led to his sack from office began with a personal revolt by a jobless graduate who tried to make a living by selling wares on the roadside, but had his goods seized because he had no permit.
Thoroughly fazed and tired of the injustice that kept him permanently poor in spite of his education and all efforts to get a job, the jobless youth set himself ablaze in public in protest. His death, some days after, ignited a wave of protests that culminated in the sack of Ben Ali. Roll over, Egypt and Libya. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and the strongman of Libya, Muammar Ghaddafi, were similarly hounded out of office by mass revolt in their countries.
Even if the revolutions in these countries were not a result unemployment, idleness must have fueled the uprisings because a happy, contented man with a good job and family may not easily give all these up to stage protests and take up arms against the leadership of his country.
In Nigeria, unemployment and socio-economic problems are slowly but surely edging the people and the nation towards a precipice. Joblessness and general disenchantment with the political class is fueling anger in the land that has become a threat to both the people and the government. It will not be out of place to say that in most places across the country, people are no longer sleeping with their two eyes closed. In the Niger Delta, youths want the largesse of the amnesty programme to go on forever. They take to the highways and block inter-state expressways to press their demands. Down West, armed robbers in some of the hinterland areas now dictate when banks open for business. Mere rumours of impending attacks by armed robbers force banks to close shop for days on end.
For the management of the banks, the fear of these men of the underworld is the beginning of wisdom. Banks that experienced attacks of robbers in the past have only tales of woe to recount as lives and huge sums of money were lost in the process.
In the Northern part of the country, especially the North East, Boko Haram has become a law unto itself. The menace also has its roots in unemployment, idleness and disgruntlement of youths with the status quo. In the Eastern part of the country, kidnapping continues unabated. Only last weekend, the Medical Director of Owerri Specialist Hospital died four days after he was released by kidnappers who captured him on December 1. He was in the kidnappers’ den between December 1 and 7, in spite of the fact that he was shot in the legs during the abduction. He died of tetanus infection of his wounds four days after he was released. His family reportedly paid a ransom of N20 million to secure his release.
This is the precarious situation in the country that is eliciting warnings of a revolution from strange quarters. President Goodluck Jonathan, the man Nigerians elected to address these “revolution-fueling” conditions kicked off the revolution warnings about two weeks ago. He told Nigerians that a revolution might occur in Nigeria within five years as a result of mass unemployment of youths.
A week later, former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, echoed the same sentiments when he also warned of the possibility of a revolution if the nation’s dire socio-economic conditions are not addressed. One strange thing about the warnings from Obasanjo and Jonathan is that they are emanating from persons who are in positions to do something to stop them from coming to the pass.
Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, was in power for eight years. He did not lay a solid foundation for employment generation. Instead of remorse, he found the employment crisis he helped to create funny enough to make wisecracks about. In June, earlier in the year, he told the 100th session of the International Labour Conference (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland, that people like him and Ghana’s former president, John Kuffour, might be at the receiving end of the anger of the people for failure to tackle the problems of poverty and unemployment in Nigeria and Ghana.
He, at that forum, said with 600,000 graduates from Nigerian tertiary institutions every year with jobs not being created to keep them engaged, a revolt could be ignited that could consume past and present leaders. He also criticized his successors in office for not tackling corruption and not doing enough to create jobs. Last week, he more or less repeated the same views, tacitly keeping silent about his own failure to address the problem.
More surprising, however, is President Jonathan’s glib talk about the same problem of unemployment and a possible revolution, as if a revolution was a tea party. It is not. It is a serious socio-political upheaval that more often than not claims lives even as it sweeps the leadership of nations away. It is not something a president should be making loose talk about. Instead, it is a possibility that any true leader should be willing to do his best to forestall. Presidents have no business discussing such issues. They should be in the vanguard of action to prevent it and also discourage such flippant talk by the people. If they are to discuss such issues at all, it should be at serious cabinet meetings where ministers would be tasked to work out ways to forestall such occurrence.
It is disgruntled people that ordinarily talk about revolutions, while those in authority detest it and do not want to hear of such predictions. But then, Nigeria is not an ordinary country. These are unusual times.
However, as the Yoruba say, Jonathan has both the knife and the yam in his hands. He does not need anyone’s permission to cut the yam. As president, he is uniquely placed to facilitate creation of jobs. Nigeria’s unemployed are there, waiting for these jobs. What else, then, is the president waiting for? He has been elected to address the problem, not to discuss it, or raise alarm over it. Let him begin to address the problem by churning out policies that will promote job creation, and not ones that will stifle it, such as increasing volume of customs duty waivers he has been approving, lately.
There is no debating the fact that Nigeria has the prospects of a youth uprising knocking her doors. Everyone knows it, from the president to the frustrated beggar on the street. What the people expect is prompt action from their leaders. If they do not get this soon, Nigeria may not have the luxury of five years predicted by Jonathan before she has her own “Niger Spring”. The ball is squarely in President Jonathan’s court to ensure that this does not happen.