2017: The year of opposition?

Originally published at Guardian.ng

On January 20, 2017, the 45th President of the United States of America will be sworn in. For the first time in history, the president will take office with no prior political or military experience. 

In a few months time from now, the British Prime Minister will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, formally starting the UK’s exit from the European Union. Although both these incidents have tinges of a dystopian/end of days novel, they also mark the beginning of a new era in Western politics.

Research shows that the vote for Brexit was driven by fears over immigration and by those who felt marginalised by wider society, while Trump’s ascension has been attributed to economic woes, a ‘rebellion against the elites’ and a ‘whitelash against a black president’. Despite the numerous reasons, the choice of change was a clear one. But neither of these potentially cataclysmic changes has come without fierce opposition.

Following Trump’s victory, protests broke out in major cities all over the US, a Change.org petition urging the nations Electoral College to elect Hilary Clinton instead, garnered 4.6 million signatures, making it the largest petition in the history of the platform. Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate raised a staggering $7.3 million dollars to force vote recounts in key states.

In the aftermath of Brexit, thousands of Britons ‘marched for Europe’ through central London, 4.1 million signed a petition for a second EU referendum, the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon warned the government that Brexit could trigger a second independence referendum and a legal challenge was mounted against the government to ensure a Parliamentary vote to trigger Article 50.

These acts of opposition haven’t changed either outcome. In the US, the protests fizzled out, the Electoral College voted for Donald Trump, the recounts didn’t succeed (in Wisconsin the results showed no evidence of voting irregularity and the other two states rejected the recount effort). In the UK, the petition for a second referendum was rejected by the government. Nicola Sturgeon conceded that a ‘soft Brexit’ would quell the need for another independence referendum and the government is currently appealing the court ruling.

What these incidents have done is galvanised those unhappy with where their respective countries are headed into taking some form of action. Whether it makes a major impact or not, such actions are a powerful reminder of democracy at work. And it’s not just the West.

In July last year, Zimbabwe engaged in a nationwide strike to protest corruption and unpaid salaries. Zimbabweans across the country ‘stayed away’ meaning businesses were closed and shops and schools didn’t open, grinding the country to a halt. It was described as ‘the biggest strike action since 2005’. In South Africa, students continued their fierce and at times violent protests against a proposed hike in tuition fees.

Nigeria hasn’t quite faced a Brexit or a Donald Trump conundrum yet, but things are unarguably tough. Tougher still with an administration unwilling or unable to communicate its plan for the country. In terms of changing the presidential outcome, there’s little to be done until 2019 but acts of opposition from peaceful protests to petitions, could make a difference. Instead of the usual ‘Suffering and Smiling’ approach, perhaps 2017 is the time for something different, as the saying goes ‘Don’t mourn, organize.’

Smaller political parties, for example, have a massive role to play in holding the ruling party to account. They might not win elections, but they can have big impact on who does and set national discourse. While the two dominant parties trade members and insults, it’s the job of the other 38 to highlight what they’re ignoring.

Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate in the US raised more money for the recount effort than she did for her own presidential bid. She rallied people for a collective cause despite the fact it may not necessarily benefit her personally (she has said donors will decide what happens to surplus recount money).

2015 may have marked the beginning of a change in the way Nigerians engage with politics by voting out an incumbent who was no longer working, but as global events show, it’s not just elections that determine how a country moves forward. Now is the time for Nigerians to take note.  

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