Sunday, February 12, 2012

Nigeria’s Shift to the Grassroots?

Afrca in Transition
6 February 2012

Jim Sanders.

In Ben Simon’s February 3rd AFP article, “As protests fade, Nigerians left to cope with fuel hike,” the plight of ordinary Nigerians coping with the increased price of fuel is noted. “Jonathan partly capitulated [on his fuel subsidy removal initiative], agreeing to a compromise price of 97 naira, or $0.60 per litre, 20 cents more expensive than the fully subsidized price, but less painful than the $0.87 charged immediately after the program was annulled,” Simon writes.
Even so, Nigerian workers are hurting. “There is no way an average worker can sustain itself [sic] at 97 naira,” Simon quotes the secretary general of Nigeria’s Joint Action Front, as saying. But, “the price won’t go down,” a worker in Lagos complains, “we’ll just have to manage it.”

‘Just have to manage it…’ Some believe, as Simon reports, that this means “the current situation can’t hold and that the country will erupt amid rises in the cost of living….” Another massive uprising is possible, one of his sources says. Time will tell, if such expectations are well founded.

But in the meantime, the irony may be that the corruption which arguably has spawned unprecedented protests in the country could become more entrenched because the stress of survival for ordinary people has increased. In his review of Katherine Boo’s new book on India, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” Patrick French explains that “gaming the system is the only means of survival in Annawadi,” and he quotes Boo’s point that, “for the poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained.”

That Nigeria’s non-elites are, mostly by necessity, active participants in the corruption that plagues the country is a key theme in Daniel Jordan Smith’s 2007 book, “A Culture of Corruption, Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria.” Smith explains that ordinary Nigerians are “well aware of their own complicity in perpetuating corruption.” In their “struggle to survive,” he writes that, “the immediate interests of assisting family, friends, and other allies usually trump a more abstract awareness of what might be in the best interests of the larger society.”

Simon acknowledges that Nigerian activists are now watching the government more closely to see how the money saved from the rise in fuel prices is spent. However, in the streets, people still have to get by and that struggle has been made harder. Whether by ‘gaming the system’, or some other means, how ordinary people cope is key, now that the driving dynamics in Nigeria appear to be shifting from elites to the grassroots.

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