The Protest in Nigeria in Perspective

What started as a protest against the pervasive brutality of the police in Africa’s most populous country- Nigeria has since spiraled into a major unrest that has left trails of emotional and physical destruction. Led by the youths, the demand to abolish the Special Anti-Robbery Squad otherwise called SARS of the Nigeria Police Force, turned from a peaceful protest online to offline, and later on the streets of major cities and all state capitals. Like most peaceful protests, the legitimate agitations to end bad policing in the country was hijacked by social miscreants and hoodlums.

Not even a belated broadcast to the nation by President Mohammadu Buhari could calm the restive youths majority of whom Buhari had in the past described as lazy. Of course, the images on national and international television showing energetic young men and women that initiated and sustained the campaign to stop brutality perpetrated on innocent citizens do not reflect laziness.

Nigeria is familiar with protests and agitation for positive social change throughout her history. In 1989, Nigeria witnessed a massive nationwide protest against the introduction of World Bank backed Structural Adjustment Program. The annulment of the June 12, 1993 election sparked another costly public demonstration. While the ongoing protest is not the first national campaign for social justice, this time around the youths in the country that make up about 60% of the population finally found their voice. They seized on the potency of social media with a viral #EndSars campaign that caught the attention of the world.

The protest exposes a fragile country where a national police strategy to fight armed criminals turned sour and instead became a militia regularly engaged in human rights violations against Nigerian citizens including brutality, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, armed extortion and kidnapping. So far, the unrest has taken a huge toll on lives and property. At least 50 people lost their lives while damage to property worth 100 billion dollars occurred in Lagos State alone. Analysts project that the riot will deepen economic recession in a country already devastated by Covid-19 lockdown.

The malfeasance of the now disbanded SARS is further evidence of the malfunction of an overly centralized policing system. The task of effective policing of Nigeria is very challenging because of the magnitude of the country’s population. A centralized, bureaucratic, under-funded, and scrappy police force cannot adequately protect more than 200 million people. The government should initiate legislation to decentralize the police force in such a way that all 774 local government administrations get the authority to set up police departments. In recent times, many Nigerians have demanded community policing to reduce the abuse of the federal policing system. It is time to give serious thought to independent local policing system. Another revelation from the ongoing protest is a confirmation that youth unemployment estimated at 70% is intolerable and unacceptable. Youths resort to violence to express their pain and hopelessness after graduating from college and not getting a job for too long. The economic hardship and social dislocation fuel social unrest. Watching television footage of young men and

women looting warehouses, grabbing bags of rice, and other food items clearly shows that they are hungry and angry.

The Federal Government’s response to the protest is a manifest demonstration of the disconnect between the older and new generation of Nigerians. The Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed announced the creation of a youth fund of about 66 million dollars to address the #EndSARS protests and other related youth restiveness in Nigeria. This type of knee jerk reaction is emblematic of the patronage politics that shape all aspects of everyday life in Nigeria. The disbursement of such money will not tackle the roots of the problem. It’s merely a handout at a time when the youths need a handshake. Even the youths know it is a diversionary tactic often used to distract attention. So are all the judicial panels of inquiry being set up by state governors who do not have control over the over-bearing federal police force. Young people who can create wealth on their own terms do not need powerful patrons like their previous generations did. Instead, they require an enabling environment for them to use their talents.

An environment that rewards corrupt practices and cannot guarantee regular power supply is entirely hostile to the present-day generation of young people that constantly share information about lifestyles with their counterparts in other parts of the world. Nigerian youths want better lives like those in the United States, Britain, South Korea, Dubai etc. Nigerian youths are very resilient and could use their innovation and creativity to sustain the struggle for a better country.

The Nigerian leadership must rethink its priorities to address the concerns of the youths urgently to save the country’s future. Today’s Nigerian youth is not the same with yesterday’s youths. Understanding the difference is the beginning of wisdom for all political leaders in the most populous country in Africa.

Guest Editorial by Uchenna A. Ekwo, (PhD), President of the Center for Media and Peace Initiatives, a New York–based media and policy think tank

Posted by on Oct 31 2020. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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