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Occupy Nigeria: A Possible Leap Towards Reform in a Fractured Country?

The west African nation of Nigeria has been a hotbed for controversy recently. An Islamist terrorist group with suspected ties to Al-Qaeda is wreaking havoc in the country's northern cities while the recent removal of fuel subsidies that made imported oil affordable for ordinary Nigerians. Although the subsidy was reinstated after large public discontent and demonstrations, what is the future of reform in the downtrodden nation?

One week after Boko Haram, the growing Islamist insurgency in the country bombed five Catholic churches, President Goodluck Jonathan abruptly decided to repeal the fuel subsidy the Nigerian government pays to fuel importing companies to keep fuel prices within the reach of ordinary citizens. The removal of the fuel subsidy instantly doubled the price of gasoline and consumer products in a country where a majority of the people live below the poverty line. Already facing criticism for not effectively containing the escalating violence, Jonathan incited popular dissatisfaction across the country and led to the birth of the "Occupy Nigeria" movement.

Through the use of protests and a national strike, Nigerians who are normally divided across ethnic, religious, and class lines rallied under one voice in an effort to eliminate corruption in the government. Protesters also employed social media to connect with Nigerians both in the mainland and in the diaspora, helping to spark the movement across borders, including into the United States and parts of Europe.

After one week of protests, Jonathan's government responded by reducing the pump price of petrol from 140 naira per liter to 97 naira (about $0.60) per liter. Additionally, in a country where repressive military regimes ruled for 33 out of its 52 years of independence, the Occupy Nigeria movement is a great leap forward in the realization of a fair democracy in the country.

When Time Magazine named "The Protester" the person of the year in 2011, it affirmed the fact that the voice of the disenfranchised will be the deciding factor on how governments become accountable in years to come. There is no doubt that Occupy Nigeria has been heavily influenced by the Arab Spring and of course, Occupy Wall Street. It has sparked a new desire in the Nigerian masses to not only criticize their government behind closed doors and on online blogs but also in the streets. This approach could prove powerful in finally bringing reform to the country.  

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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