Students of history will not fail to notice an uncanny similarity between Nigeria’s revolution of 2015 and the Russian Bolsheviks’ uprising of 1917, aka the Russian Revolution.
History records that in 1917, two separate revolutions occurred in Russia. The February insurrection swept away the monarchy and supplanted it with a provisional government. Eight months later, the Bolsheviks launched another uprising (the October Revolution), which successfully ousted the provisional regime. In both instances, insurrectionists gave very similar reasons for the change that they violently inaugurated.
They accused the reigning Tsar of being aloof, insensitive to the sufferings of the people and oblivious of his regime that was infested with corrupt and anachronistic elements. They were also aggravated that Russia was lagging behind other European nations in industry and agriculture, thereby denying opportunities for farmers and workers to survive and thrive. A mismanaged Russian economy created widespread inflation and food shortages. Finally, the military was said to be weak, due to inadequate supplies, logistics and weaponry, leading to heavy losses during World War I.
These were the exact same narratives that swept the All Progressives Congress (APC) to power in 2015.
The party’s soap box rhetoric could have been taken straight out of the playbook of the Russian mutineers. President Goodluck Jonathan was accused of running a corrupt government, the economy was wobbling, the military was being worsted in the North-East by a ragtag band of Boko Haramists, and corruption was said to be the first order of government business. All of this fed into the propaganda that President Jonathan was weak and unfit to rule.
The shifting of the presidential election timetable from February to March of 2015 could stop the march of change. Like the Bolsheviks, the Nigerian change train needed a general to lead it. The iron man from Katsina stood in the gap, promising to steady our wobbly economy, command the military forces from the front to defeat insurgents, and confront the hydra-headed corruption monster. Hopes were rekindled.
Today, five years down the road, the change promised by the Progressives has sadly proved very elusive to implement. Our Nigeria of February 2021 is looking suspiciously like the Nigeria of February 2015 and the Russia of February 1917.
The change that happened in 2015 can, therefore, be likened to a revolution. For the first time in our history, an incumbent President was thrashed at the polls. Even more remarkable, he conceded defeat.
The revolution of 2015 was in all respects as notable as it was trailblazing. Not even public commentators, in social and mainstream media, allude to the the aloofness of the President and claim that he is oblivious of the corrupt and anachronistic elements in his government. The economy remains wobbly and Nigeria continues to stand behind the world in industry and agriculture, resulting in lack of opportunities for youths, farmers and workers. Inflation has set in again, exacerbated by rising food prices and arbitrary increases in utility costs. Our military is not rated highly; how else do we explain the thrashing that our boys are said to be receiving from haramists and insurgents? All of this has further altered Nigeria’s view of our President as aloof and indifferent to the sufferings around us.
But guess what? We all could be wrong in our reading of the situation. Private citizens from the outside looking in know very little about what goes on in government. From my exposure to the process of public policy decision-making, I do know that citizens do not get to see, read or hear and, therefore, appreciate up to 10 per cent of considerations that inform policy choices. In the case of security, information to the public is far less. Therefore, it is possible that, as we write, the new security chiefs have overrun and secured most or all of the territories hitherto under siege by the insurgents. We cannot also discount the cheery information that the country is no longer in a recession, even though how this is possible in a worldwide pandemic situation may seem to challenge logic and reason. And, oh, yes, we do have a new anti-corruption Tsar, a home-grown lad recruited and trained in investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) rather than drafted from the Nigeria Police Force as has hitherto been the practice. Who can tell that he won’t be different from his predecessors?
There may indeed be room for optimism today, based on these cosmetic changes. However, optimism is not a factor in the evaluation of public policies. The overarching tool for evaluation is impact, how citizens have been positively affected by government policies, programmes and projects. Therefore, if the Progressives desire to save the image of their 2015 revolution, they must follow a different approach in telling their stories by focusing more on the impact of policies and explaining their reasons for policy choices that are deemed to have failed to address or reflect the needs of citizens. We can illustrate this by evaluating the impact of President Buhari’s current laudable projects in the South-East.
The trophy projects promoted by Presidency publicists are the Second Niger Bridge, rehabilitation of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, and ongoing reconstruction work at the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway. Unfortunately, the Second Niger Bridge will not affect the cost of goods for citizens living in South-East, South-South, and Middle Belt states who are the project beneficiaries. The transport infrastructure that could have created this impact for the South-East is a Lagos-Onitsha-Aba rail system. This will allow merchants to conveniently and cost-effectively transport goods to the East, either from the Lagos ports or from the Agbara-Otta industrial corridor. The Onitsha River Project is a white elephant, because everyone knows that dredging the River Niger for ship traffic is a waste of resources.
Again, it is a thing of joy that the Akanu Ibiam International Airport has been refurbished, to the delight of those who can afford local air travel, mostly from Enugu and Ebonyi states. However, as it stands today, the impact of the airport project on the people and economy of the South-East is infinitesimal. This is a crying shame because this airport has massive potential to positively impact the people and economy of the South-East. Think of thousands of staff of international organisations who fly into and out of the region, as well as millions of Igbo Diaspora population, importers, international traders, and tourists who yearn for direct flights to the region. The person withholding this impact is the same minister who applied for and was given N10 billion to rehabilitate the airport. He knows how to go about it, so why is he not?
Opinion leaders and social media influencers from the South-East who know these things nod silently and look away when publicists praise President Buhari for accomplishing what Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan could not do for the Igbo. If you worry the wise and perceptive among us, they will ask why the Enugu International Airport was rehabilitated but quietly downgraded to a local airport by the powers that be. And why it is such a struggle to add a South-East spur to the massive West-East rail project. Then they will remind us that these are two projects that the Igbo need, projects that will improve the economy of the South-East, open industrial corridors with potential for massive youth employment, and enable the region once again directly connect to the world of tourism and international trade.
This misdirection of projects, in a nutshell, contributes to why the Revolution of 2015 has floundered. We dare say that, with few notable exceptions, citizens in other zones of the country are also ruing their support for the Revolution.
As a footnote, it is noteworthy that both history and literature have not been kind to the 1917 Bolsheviks Revolution. In 1945, after 28 years of struggling to perfect the change that they violently instituted, George Orwell published his Animal Farm, an allegory on the failing revolution. Nigeria appears today to be living a similar Animal Farm situation. Orwell’s masterpiece was about a rebellion that chased away Mr. Jones (Mr. Jonathan in our case!) and replaced the administration with a duplicitous government. There were two major outcomes. The change agents quickly turned into oppressors and corruption merchants, ordering animals around and taking more “food” than they should. Secondly, as mind management experts, they employed propaganda gimmicks that confused people as they deftly deflected issues arising out of poor governance and plain incompetence.
Orwell’s Animal Farm clearly dramatizes what happens when a revolution unravels. Citizens, despite all their hard work and struggles, learn to their chagrin that they ended “right back where they began, hungry, scared and exploited by those in charge.”