Recent events in Sri Lanka have, once again, demonstrated the triumph of the power of the people. In the midst of economic woes bedeviling their country, Sri Lankans engaged in months of protests, which eventually culminated in the storming of the presidential palace by the protesters. The President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was forced to flee the country and resign from office. He has been replaced by the former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The revolt was caused by many issues surrounding the livelihood of the people. The country, for instance, is almost bankrupt. Fuel, some foods and medication are in short supply as inflation has continued to soar. Power supply is also very erratic. These economic problems had triggered similar revolutions in some other parts of the world. The French revolution of 1789, for instance, was precipitated by the widespread discontent over the economic policies of the French monarchy. There were also some social and political issues, which the regime then failed to tackle effectively.
From 2010, the world recorded what has come to be known as the Arab Spring – a series of pro-democracy protests, which occurred in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa. It started with the Tunisian uprising or Jasmine Revolution in December 2010 when a 26-year-old street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself ablaze in protest over the way local officials treated him. The protests that followed led to the exit of the then President, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, from office. The success of the Tunisian revolution led to similar actions in Egypt, Algeria, Libya and others. In fact, Libya is yet to recover from the effect of the uprising, which led to the death of its long-time leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
Nigeria is lucky to have survived this type of action so far. Despite witnessing far worse scenarios than what led to the uprisings in other parts of the world, the country has not yet imploded. We got near to it in 2020 during the #EndSARS protests against human rights abuses by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police. The sustained protests by the youths across the country led to the loss of life and property as well as the disbandment of the SARS.
Today, the country is experiencing a number of difficulties that could test the will and patience of the people. The rate of inflation, especially food inflation, has gone beyond a tolerable level. Unemployment, hunger, poverty and insecurity have combined to wreak havoc on the lives of many Nigerians. Above all, the universities had been under lock and key for over five months now owing to the crippling strikes by university staff unions. Besides, the aviation industry is dying owing to rising cost of aviation fuel and foreign exchange. The prices of fuel and diesel have also risen as power supply has remained epileptic. This has led to the death of some industries and high cost of goods and services in the country.
A sensitive government will do everything humanly possible to tackle these challenges to avert any form of insurrection from the people. This is because the people can determine the fate of any government. If government had not squandered the trust of the people in Sri Lanka, the revolution would not have occurred.
As we approach the 2023 election, the government should strive to fulfil its promises to the people. A government can only be sustained by the people if it does what the people want. The lesson for Nigerian leaders from Sri Lankan crisis is that there is a limit to people’s endurance. Sri Lankan people couldn’t bear it anymore and they said enough was enough. The patience of the Nigerian people is growing thin every day. One day, it may snap, if care is not taken.
Our leaders should sit up. Leadership is about engaging the people and solving their economic, social and political problems. It is also about ensuring the protection of life and property. Any government that fails to provide these has reneged on the social contract with the people and may face serious consequences.
The 2023 general election will give Nigerians the opportunity to choose credible leaders. We urge the major stakeholders, especially the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to ensure that the exercise is free, fair and transparent. Anything to the contrary may lead to unimaginable consequences. Let our leaders learn some lessons from recent events in Sri Lanka.