Monthly Archives: January 2012

Soundtrack to the Struggle: Music Subsidy

-Alas, the dust is yet to settle
but the liquid fuel has dried.
-Nigeria Labour Congress is happy,
so many protesters have died.
-Turning in their graves, that is why
the dust will not settle soon.
-The living have been bamboozled,
there may be blood on the moon.
-The President, Boko Haram and their southern cousins
are filling their arsenal.
-Its a relief GEJ doesn’t control their
lives with decisions that are uniliateral.


I haven’t come accross music that was specifically addressing the recent Subsidy-removal issue in Nigeria. Any music that talked about oppression, injustice and tyranny was a perfect fit. There are too many of those anyway. And so these were the life energy of those NLC protests. Now they sound like that favorite song that you listened to on your date… just before you were raped.

Big ups to artists like Femi Kuti who were out from the start to oppose tyrany. Many Nigerian artists are only supporting the people when they make their late come-ins. By supporting people, protecting their record sales for the future when they need the people to “support” them.

In case you haven’t got a copy, here are two that were done specifically in response to the then incumbent situation. Courtesy of Black Sounds Inc. Listen to this to wipe the taste of defeat, to keep hope and whenever you want to shout F*** the Power! (Listen and Download the links below).

Suicidal Subsidy

Subsidy Blues

 


PS: Please leave as a comment for me name of any record that was done specifically for the Nigerian Subsidy Removal Issue

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NLC Protest: Music Relevance

Two days ago (11th January 2012), the minister of labour said during an interview that the NLC protests (on fuel subsidy removal) lacks focus because they play songs that are irrelevant to the issue at hand by playing Fela’s songs from the 70s. This post aims to debunk this claim.

Tolstoy said that all successful economies have something in common while unsuccessful ones need not have anything in common. Well, oppressive and corrupt governments have something in common. This is evident in the timelessness and relevance of song lyrics that were played during the NLC protests in abuja this week. One only needs to be in the crowd to appreciate this point.

12th Jan 2012

Protesters forget that these songs were sang more than 20 years ago because of its resonance to the current situation. A particular part of a Fela song that got me was when Fela mentioned the (first) military Obasanjo regime then immediately talks about Yar’adua. For a moment I thought Fela was alive and probably in hiding (like Tupac is believed to), releasing new songs. I thought Fela was talking about the (democratic) Obasanjo regime and then the subsequent (Musa) Yar’adua regime. But Fela was actually talking about the military Obasanjo regime and (Shehu) Yar’adua who was then vice president.

Eedris Abdulkareem’s Nigeria Jagajaga, Fela’s Waka Waka Waka, African-China’s Mr President, Wande-Cole’s Say na like dis are among the favorite songs the crowd cheer and dance to. None of these songs was recorded for this sad situation we find ourselves in, but they feel very relevant to the situation. Surprisingly, P-Squared’s Danger was also a favorite.

Eedris Abdulkareem’s Nigeria Jagajaga was criticised when it came out, foremost by the then Mr President. Many others that liked the song liked it for its club-value; it is a banging song to dance to. But during this protest, this song couldn’t have been more accepted; its time is now (and hopefully not again in the future).

12th Jan 2012

The songs are relevant to the situation because the perception of corruption, oppression and callousness that resulted in the songs years ago are still perceived by the crowd in the protest. This government has indeed succeed in proving that corrupt and callous governments have something in common.

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NLC Protest through HipHop Eyes

On the first day of the NLC (Nigeria Labour Congress) general strike, 9th January 2012, the protest started rather sluggishly. This is in spite of the heightened anticipation for this day. It was easy to tell who was member of the NLC and who was not. However, NLC had announced that this is a people’s protest and they were just heading it. But that remarkable morning, people were sceptical.

Hip hop saved the day. I don’t mean rap. I mean methods of controlling the masses (without deception). Hip hop control is achieved in two stages: proving that you deserve to take control; and controlling when you ve taken control. The NLC Leaders were in the rear of a truck equipped with loud sound systems.

Tradionally hiphop control-responsibility is achieved after proving yourself on the mic. Holding the mic means you have been given a chance. Rocking the crowd means you are doing it right and have become an official MC (Mass Controller).

The truck is like the mic, it puts NLC in a state of authority; they are given a chance to prove they can lead. At the heart of this mass-controlling is the DJ in the truck. The sluggish NLC members received a boost of energy when the speakers started pumping Eedris Abdulkareem’s Nigeria Jagajaga. Soon enough it was difficult to tell an NLC member from (non-NLC) people. Like the Pied piper, NLC protest kept sucking more people.

Another attribute of hiphop that keeps coming up in the protest is the crowd response. A speaker always start with something like “Great Nigerians!” and crowd say “Great!”. “I want to speak!”, crowd say “Speak!”, “I want to talk!”, “Talk!”, “I want to Yarn!”, “Yarn!”… Like any hiphop show, you have crowd favorites and those that actually control the crowd well.

Finally is the use of the environment by the artist. An opera singer insists on a theatre with the right accoustics. A symphony position their instrument-players to take advantage of the room’s acoustics. Yesterday’s Abuja NLC protest (like 2-days-ago) ended at Area-1’s under-the-bridge. Overhead bridge made the speakers much louder, clearer and good reverb.

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Divide and Conquer: Tactics on Unity

On 4th Jan 2012, an alleged ultimatum of the illusive Boko Haram was published in which the Boko Haram gave Christians (living in Northern Nigeria) three days to vacate the North. Language is important here. Does it say non-Muslims, Christians or Southern Nigerians. This Boko Haram statement, even without answering the posed questions, implies Christians, non-Muslims and Southerners in the mind of a Nigerian who has forgotten to differentiate between these in a country immersed in tribal rhetoric.

I forgot to mention that the ultimatum surfaced just after the NLC (Nigeria Labour Congress) decided to embark on strike and protests as a reaction to the shady petroleum subsidy removal (a unilateral decision). This was a very convenient time for such threats to National Security to come up because any protesting crowd could be dealt with in the context of the crowd potentially having Boko-Haram-agenda. First NLC planned a protest on the 7th, the we hear Boko Haram giving a 3-day ultimatum on the 4th, then protest was shifted to 9th. Who knows how reliable the information is, but the circumstances make the unreliable-government’s claim even more questionable. But there is a second aim that can be derived from the appearance of this timely information.

Divide and Conquer

Now is a time where Nigerians are probably as unified as they have been since the finals of the 1996 olympics football finals; under their disapproval of petrol subsidy withdrawal. Politics in Nigeria (as in other places) strongly depends on identity segregation/wars to achieve goals of ambitious politicians. Two methods are being used by the government to break up this unity.

The first is through the convenient Boko-Haram ultimatum (mentioned in the introduction). This information will catalyze the us-versus-them sentiments already infesting Nigerians. Southerners/Christians in the north will not feel safe and possibly see Muslims as threats.

The second is not as obvious; it is by the recent fortressing of churches by security agents especially on Sundays. Churches have been destroyed (for lack of a better word) recently including the famously dubbed Christmas-day-bombing (which Boko Haram has refuted the allegations). This has necessitated extra protection to churches. Some attackers on the churches have not been caught but we can see why Muslims/Boko-Haram are the suspects. However it seems we are forgetting that there is a recorded cases that a caught church-attacker was not a Muslim but dressed to look like one (there are other similar stories). But how does all this fit in the divide and conquer master plan?

Roads to churches are now barricaded on Sundays (at least in Abuja) but not mosques on Fridays. This image of security (or lack of it for Mosques) establishes the belief that only Christians are at risk of Boko-Haram attacks. Therefore the Muslims are safe because we expect that they are cool with Boko-Haram. Casualties in most recorded (and alleged) Boko-Haram attacks are not religion-specific. At the beginning of a Sunday mass, a Christian is reminded how he/she is not safe when they pass the new-found security. At the end of the mass, the feeling of security (in form of guards outside) comes to an end. The Christian is reminded that they are moving in to hostile territory. Even if the Muslim does not feel cool with Boko-Haram, you can see how the Christian may take certain measures for security. These measures are fueled by an us-versus-them paradigm. This is a threat to the unity of the country, be it in light of the ongoing protests or after it.

One more thing…

Just to illustrate the second method, the president said in a speech on 8th Jan 2012:

Some of them (Boko Haram) are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in the judiciary. Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies. The situation we have in our hands is even worse than the civil war that we fought. During the civil war, we knew and we could even predict where the enemy was coming from … But the challenge we have today is more complicated.

Worst of all, Mr President said this in a church during a remembrance service for the armed forces. Now the claims of this post don’t even sound like conspiracy theory.

As evidence of the success of this strategy, a mosque was burnt in the south and a church was burnt in the north yesterday (9th Jan 2012), despite the brief disappearance of tribal/religious segregation. It is imperative we see through these harmful devices.

I am skeptical to give the government officials credit for this master plan, not because they are the nicest people but because it may seem very thoughtful of them. Whatever the cause, the effects are the same. Keep vigilant! Don’t fall in to these sectarian traps.

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Martin Luther on #OccupyNigeria

If Martin Luther King Jr was around, what would be his take on the current situation in Nigeria? Quoting from a letter in which he responded to a statement by some white religious leaders, I hope to give a sense of his presence and lessons for the #OccupyNigeria Movement. The letter will be quoted and then commented on for clarification and how it affects the current Nigerian situation.

At the time of writing this letter, Martin Luther was in prison in Birmingham (a city) which is not his abode.

 Martin Luther on Unity

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.

Martin Luther left Atlanta and went to Birmingham to support the just cause because of their interrelatedness. This economic attack on the Nigerian people has got them to finally see that interrelatedness which goes beyond tribe and religion – the strongest common denominator today which is economic status. It is very easy to hurt (or allow to be hurt) another person when you don’t perceive the interrelatedness between you. There is always interrelatedness in this universe.

Martin Luther on Focus of Reform

You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.

Martin Luther was addressing the condemnation of the demonstrations that were then taking place. Similarly here we have government officials condemning the planned NLC (Nigeria Labour Congress) strike (on 9th Jan 2012). The government went as far as employing unprofessional approaches to get a court to condemn the strike as illegal. The president came out making promises which he seems to be undermining even at the time of making those speeches… all for what? Because of the effect of the government’s inconsiderate decision: which is a Nation Wide Strike. As in America’s situation (as in the above letter), we see that they are focusing of the effects and not the cause. Like Martin Luther, we should continue to put emphasis on the cause of this (be it corruption or just arrogant government officials).

Martin Luther on the Importance of Non-violent Campaigns

My Friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and non violent pressure.

Martin Luther on How to Achieve Non-violent Campaigns

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basicsteps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham.

We have established that there is injustice in this situation (I hope you agree). We know that as on 6th Jan 2012, the government’s plan was to have all the weight of the subsidy-removal be suffered by the masses and by none of their officials (at least not directly). That was the first stage. Negotiation is still taking place between the government and other unions; second stage. We have started seeing direct action in the form of #OccupyNigeria movements; fourth stage. What about the third stage, self-purification? I have met people who are prepared for the worse that could happen and I have met others who (according to me) don’t seem so.

we started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” and “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?

Preparation is important, very Important. What are you prepared to do? Answer that question and then let it inform how far you are ready to go. The #OccupyEagleSquare movement for example in Abuja on 6th jan 2012 was a good example. It was agreed that some would stay the night while some will go back home at 7pm. A speaker there emphasised the importance of having a plan and sticking to it: “Let us not be like the government, let us be organized”. If you have a sense of the Nigerian government, that is an inspiring statement because I doubt if anyone wants to be like the government.

Martin Luther on Giving them a Chance 

The letter was written at the time of local election, here are some of the characters. Mr Boutwell is the new official being voted in and Mr Conner is the despised official going out.

One of the basic points in your statement is that our acts are untimely. Some have asked, “Why didn’t you give the new administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this inquiry is that the new administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one before it acts. We will be sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Mr. Boutwell will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is much more articulate and gentle than Mr. Conner, they are both segregationists, dedicated to the task of maintaining the status quo. The hope I see in Mr. Boutwell is that he will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from the devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals. We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

A very vocal argument being thrown from supporters of the subsidy removal (as planned by the government) is that we should give the plan a chance before protesting. Sorry to bring this up but there is a striking similarity with the argument for supporters of Mr President during the election. If it were a different President (one not given a chance earlier) it might be easier to give it a chance. But some easy truths can be derived from Martin Luther’s statement “New administrations must be prodded about the same as the outgoing one before it acts”, too bad we didnt do the same to the previous administration. Again, Martin Luther (quoting Niebhur) reminds us that groups are more immoral than individuals. #OccupyNigeria is a battle between the masses and a “group” of government officials. May be we can substitue that “group” with “cabal”; not the mysterious cabal that have been stuffed in our ears.

Finally

This post is not to establish infallibility to Martin Luther King Jr, nor to assume that the exact practices they employed during the civil rights movements applies to the Nigerian Situation. The post derives lessons from the historical struggle and principles which I believe apply to peaceful protests.

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