How to Organise and Lead Inclusive Fuel Protests in Fragile Settings: A Template from PASGR’s Researchers and Research Participants in Nigeria

The focus of the study (for Nigeria) led by Professor Ayobami Ojebode, Professor of Development Communication, University of Ibadan, was to find out the reasons labour unions and activists haven’t been able to lead Nigerians successfully towards fuel subsidy protests, and to bring out lessons on how to lead people on a volatile issue like energy protest. Methodologically, the research is a product of fifteen key informant interviews, nine Focus Group Discussions, event catalogues of ten years and popular media depiction of fuel crises in Nigeria.

Our analyst had earlier reported Professor Ojebode and his team from the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research will share their research findings with the public on March 4, 2021.  Sharing the findings of his team’s research to the participants (which comprised members of civil societies, unionists, academics and journalists), Professor Ojebode established that a number of respondents saw fuel subsidy as a social contract between the government and the citizens in as much as the government subsidises fuel. However, the intensity of protests is dependent on issues of trust and distrust in government and protest leaders.

Citing the 2012 fuel protest as an example, Professor Ojebode said, “The 2012 had widespread and sharp bite and presence (of strong protests) because the government had lost the trust of the people: it was enmeshed in corruption allegations of unimaginable proportions, just as the president was perceived as indecisive.”

It was a different case in the 2016’s increment. Nigerians didn’t participate in the protest called by labour as done in 2012 because of their “lack of trust for labour leaders and a feeling of betrayal” having failed Nigerians in the 2012 negotiations they had with the government on their behalf.

When the fuel price was increased in 2020 as a result of fuel subsidy removal announced by the Federal Government, no protest occurred. This time around, “Nigerians had learnt to trust neither the organised labour nor the government” as there was “no fuel to fuel the protest.”

As such, “when Nigerians trust labour leaders and protest organisers and distrust the government, a strong protest could occur; when they trust the president but not the labour leaders and protest organisers, only a lame protest could be expected; when they will trust neither of them, one might expect close to no protest at all.”

What lessons were then learnt on leading Nigerians in energy protest? What are the recommendations? Professor Ojebode highlighted transparent leadership Nigerians can trust, inclusiveness of protest leaders in constituting negotiation team as well as structured leadership where union leaders and CSOs discharge their responsibilities without being coerced.

In their separate comments, the stakeholders (union leaders, journalists, civil societies, academics) present applauded PASGR and Professor Ojebode-led team for a robust research findings and discussions. However, the stakeholders unanimously reiterated that the labour union is failing in its responsibilities because of the perceived corruption of its leaders, genesis of its leadership formation as well as its dependence on government for finances. They therefore encouraged Nigerians to see themselves as stakeholders in the Nigerian polity and see themselves as powerful voices on government policies.

Earlier, Dr Martin Atela of Research and Policy Unit, PASGR; Dr Beatrice Muganda, Acting Executive Director, PASGR and Professor John Gaventa, A4EA Director, Institute of Development Studies, UK had welcomed the participants, given opening remarks and provided PASGR’s baseline studies respectively.

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