It’s a tough time to be in power in Nigeria. For current ruler President Goodluck Jonathan, the country’s political and economic factions are widening. His government, overseer of the world’s fifth-largest oil producer is fighting a unique war against terror. Yet it does not have the people on its side.
Little is known about Boko Haram, the terrorist group that according to Human Rights Watch has killed nearly 1000 people in northern Nigeria since 2009. The group’s credentials are Islamist but its leadership is diffuse. In Lagos, many believe that Boko Haram is supported by disgruntled generals keen to disrupt President Jonathan’s civilian government. But it’s also the wider population that are voicing their unhappiness.
Two weeks ago, Lagos fell silent amid a general strike. The government had scrapped its subsidy on petrol. By the fifth day 500,000 protesters were on the streets.
They were calling for an end to the corruption that became institutionalised during 40 years of military rule. And for a competent police force and army, willing and capable of taking on Boko Haram.
The movement had the makings of a Nigerian Spring. Except that here, for many, to stop working is to stop eating. After a week, the government caved-in, agreeing to set the pump price at a compromised level of ₦97 (€0.45) per litre.
The people of Lagos have gone back to work. But they are ready to take to the streets again. There is bold talk of a break-up of the country. The government faces a life and death choice.
For President Jonathan one clear path remains: He must assert his authority two-fold.
On one hand, by showing he is man enough to order the army to clamp down on the terrorists. And with the other, to stamp out the cankerous corruption that has come to define Nigeria.