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#EndSARS And The Rise Of A New Nigeria

By Dakuku Peterside

The drama, arson, destruction, looting and death witnessed in the past two weeks are unfortunate. The resultant loss in GDP and adverse effect on the common man and the economy, as many states impose curfews and restrictions to stem the orgy of violence, is very regrettable. There have been attempts by some unscrupulous elements and opportunistic hoodlums to derail the real objectives of the protest and give it an ethnic bent, which if not nipped in the bud may have led to an internecine ethnic conflict. Thnakfully, the attempts to stoke up ethnic tension failed.

By Dakuku Peterside

The drama, arson, destruction, looting and death witnessed in the past two weeks are unfortunate. The resultant loss in GDP and adverse effect on the common man and the economy, as many states impose curfews and restrictions to stem the orgy of violence, is very regrettable. There have been attempts by some unscrupulous elements and opportunistic hoodlums to derail the real objectives of the protest and give it an ethnic bent, which if not nipped in the bud may have led to an internecine ethnic conflict. Thnakfully, the attempts to stoke up ethnic tension failed.

Despite these undesirable outcomes, the events of the past two weeks should serve as a rude awakening to the political class and the older generation. The Nigerian youths, hitherto believed to be apolitical, have shown that they would no longer be taken for granted by their rulers. They have realised that they can make their voices heard and be united in asking for a better Nigeria across ethnic and religious lines.

It is instructive that in a country like ours with sharp ethnic fault lines and where the #EndSARS protests were most active in the predominantly Christian southern part of the country, the symbol of the protest was the iconic image of Aisha Yesufu, a Muslim woman in a hijab. The symbolism of this is not lost to decerning minds. It means that our youths want merit in place of nepotism. They want justice in place of injustice.

The protest showcased the rise of a new national consciousness. The young generation of Nigerians is displaying a new consciousness in which there is no North, no South, no Christianity and no Islam. This showcases the rise of a new Nigerian nationalism. Without any doubt, there is a shift in orientation among young Nigerians.

#EndSARS promoted national consciousness, whether in the social media, the language of communication or relationships. Majority of the enlightened youths have realised that their ethnic and religious divisions are artificial. These are only employed by politicians to keep them permanently enslaved. Ineffective leadership poses a challenge to all Nigerian youths, and they all face the same issues of trying to survive and eke out a living in a difficult environment.

The aspirations of the young people who are the future of Nigeria is different from those of the older generation. We have seen all sorts of wish- or demand-lists by the leaderless #EndSARS protesters, but they are asking for the same things. They are asking for an end to police brutality, a firm reform of the Nigerian police and by extension a reform of the Nigerian system, that has failed to provide them with any sense of safety.

There might be a good reason why any meaningful societal reform in Nigeria should start from the police force. The Nigerian police have become a symbol of the failures of the Nigerian state. Corruption has been the bane of our national development and the Nigerian police force, rated as the most corrupt in the world, symbolises corruption in Nigeria. These supposedly law enforcement officers are the emblems of lawlessness and impunity that continue to bedevil the Nigerian society cruelly.

As such, it is generally believed that any meaningful reform of the Nigerian police will trickle down to the rest of the society. It may be the dawn of a new era, the beginning of the much needed national renewal. #EndSARS, therefore, becomes a call to end the old ways and to usher in a new Nigeria.

The #EndSARS protest, a rebellion against the status quo, was entirely predictable. When the governments at different levels consistently fail to deliver social services, such as security and economic empowerment, to protect citizens and encourage a sense of belonging not hinged on religion or ethnic grouping, this leads to frustration and despair and encourages revolt in citizens. The shirking of national responsibilities and denial of equal access of the peopl to services serve as the building block for national consciousness.

The youths are full of energy and dynamism. Unlike the older generation who are stuck in old ways, and whose subconscious may have been permanently enfeebled and defeated by the 'Nigerian system' of ineptitude, waste and corruption, the youths look at the society through the prism of opportunities and change. They are less susceptible to accepting the status quo and are more inclined to demanding for a departure from the old, ineffective order.

The older generation may also have seen the country at her best and benefitted from a benevolent Nigeria. Almost all the members of that generation went to the school when tuition was free, and unemployment was hardly part of their lexicon. They barely heard the word 'terrorism' or the phrase 'acute insecurity' mentioned as national issues. As Nigerians, they had a country that was the envy of a lot of other countries. They even had the privilege of saying 'Ghana Must Go', as they felt that immigrants from neighbouring countries were 'infesting and corrupting' our society and environment.

For most of the present generation of Nigerian youths, it has been a struggle from Day One. Most were even lucky to be born. Others were not so fortunate and died at birth or shortly after that. The ones who did not live died, not because their parents engaged in late-term abortions, but because they were victims of infant mortality, which became widespread as our healthcare system collapsed.

At birth, most Nigerians face hunger, as the country's rate of poverty keeps increasing exponentially. In primary school, they do not receive quality education, as their teachers are poorly trained teachers; they sit on bare floors while studying and are beaten by the rain and sun, as their classes have no roofing. They do not fare better in secondary school. Those who take science courses do not have equipped laboratories or the requisite learning tools. Many of those who cannot afford costly private schools go to public schools with poorly motivated teachers, who are owed months and years of salaries, and with dilapidated infrastructure.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strikes have haunted today's youths in their quest for tertiary education. It took some about seven years to finish a four-year degree programme and the sorry state of our education has meant that many of them leave the universities as unemployable graduates. For the few who work hard enough to be employable, they look for jobs in a labour market and are confronted by the 'Nigerian system' that is driven by nepotism and favouritism – one in which who you know, your religion and where you come from matter more than your competence or qualifications.

EndSARS Protesters

The Nigerian youth has suffered from the day he was born in the country. The average Nigerian youth is hungry, frustrated and angry. #EndSARS allowed him to unleash great anger at the political class, the leaders, the country, and the system that have given him nothing other than suffering and pain.

The question is: When calm eventually returns to the country, what should be the new normal for our youths who have demonstrated a high degree of social and political consciousness with the #EndSARS protests? The fact is that young people can make the most impact if they get more actively involved in the political process. They should channel this new consciousness and energy towards organising themselves to participate in the 2023 elections and possibly grab power at many levels of government.

Party nomination of candidates remains a stumbling block for youths who are desirous of participating in the political process to bring about the desired change. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), the dominant political platforms in the country, have been so monetised that it takes tens of millions of naira to obtain their nomination forms. This is aside from several other millions of naira needed in 'building structures' and running an election campaign.

The best for the youths is to create a different political platform. They should channel the enormous energy, organisational capacity and creativity of #EndSARS to form a political movement that would not be characterised by money politics or archaic and corruption-ridden 'structures' but by new ideas and new ways of playing politics. They should prove that a new Nigeria can be born from the ashes of the #EndSARS movement.

The gains of the last two weeks should not be lost. This is a historic moment. The Nigerian youths have shown that Nigerians are tired of the prevailing situation in the country. They are fed up with the status quo. Our politicians have worn them out, the older people in power and their archaic ways, which have continued to hold the country's progress to ransom, keeping Nigeria underdeveloped, while entrenching poverty in the lives of the majority of Nigerians.

The youths have shown that they can rise beyond ethnic and religious considerations to demand their rights, to request that the country must change to meet their dreams and aspirations. Some of them have been killed in the process, heroes of the desire and struggle for a new Nigeria.

They should not die in vain.

 

Dakuku Peterside is a policy and leadership expert.