With a social contract in tatters, incipient economic recession, spiraling insecurity, dithering ruling elite and suspect Labour, angry Nigerian youths demand change that goes beyond the usual tokenisms and rhetoric, writes Louis Achi
Youths coming together in joint action have served as a major engine of social transformation throughout human history. At key moments, younger generations have repeatedly acted to challenge and influence the dismantling of systems of oppression, subordination and injustice.
Today, youth-led collective action is proving decisive in combating global challenges. From fighting for the environment, to protecting and expanding human rights to demanding economic justice, young folks are at the forefront of change.
During the 2010 Arab Spring, the social media helped the youth to organise an unprecedented protest that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, and other Middle Eastern countries.
Frustrated by police corruption, economic woes, human rights violations, and oppressive regimes, youths took part in a wave of pro-democracy protests that turned public plazas like Cairo’s Tahrir Square into sites of struggle. The demonstrations were sparked by the death of a young Tunisian street vendor, who set himself on fire after a police officer confiscated his cart.
The assumption has been that Nigerian youths lack the will or focus to sustain any meaningful protests. But that assumption is flawed. The massive, youth-centric #ENDSARS protests in much of the country, keys into these timeless impulses of rejection of oppression and injustice.
The emerging consensus is that the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, FSARS, established in 1992, has over the years become synonymous with impunity, brutality and extra-judicial massacre.
The blooming remonstration marches by youths across major Nigerian cities, especially in the South and Abuja – with the North keying in the course of the action – centers around the alleged extreme brutality and murderous inclinations of the FSARS operatives with the core demand of scrapping the force. The target bracket of the police malfeasances is the youth.
In his reaction to the gathering cloud, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, last week announced the scrapping of the offending FSARS and its replacement with the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT). But this move cut little ice with the protesting youths, who are leery of failed promises.
Though at press-time, the protests are morphing into enlarged street demonstrations targeting broad, fundamental governance issues, despite overt and covert warnings from the central and some state governments. Surreptitious efforts to use thugs to break-up the protest failed. The passion and obvious sincerity the youths are displaying have drawn measured support from elder and other critical stakeholders.
Mid last week, an increasingly ‘revolutionary’ Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) waded into the fray with his unquestionable moral authority, when he backed the scaled up protests against police brutality.
“Our daughters will not be able to prophesy and young men will not see visions if we don’t keep them alive. I support the youths in this peaceful protest as they speak up to EndPoliceBrutality,” the venerable spiritual leader quaintly wrote via his official Facebook page and Twitter handle.
According to a former deputy Senate president, Ike Ekeremadu, “The ongoing street protests over the excesses of elements in the Nigeria Police did not come to me as a surprise. As a matter of fact, I had always known, and warned severally that a day would come, when Nigerians would no longer tolerate the worsening insecurity in the land and the excesses of those charged with protecting lives and property.”
A jittery presidency also reacted. Rising from its monthly meeting, the National Economic Council presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and attended by state governors, NEC directed the immediate establishment of State-based Judicial Panels of Inquiry across the country to receive and investigate complaints of Police brutality or related extra judicial killings with a view to delivering justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other police units.
The Council specifically resolved that governors and the FCT Minister should take charge of interface and contact with the protesters in their respective domains.
The Judicial Panels, which would be set up in all the states would include representatives of Youths, Students, Civil Society Organisations and would be chaired by a respected retired State High Court Judge.
The Council also directed that governors should immediately establish a State-based Special Security and Human Rights Committee to be chaired by the governors in their states, to supervise the newly formed police tactical units and all other security agencies located in the state.
In a noticeably measured tone, which sharply contrasted with the Nigerian Army bare-knuckle warning to the protesting youths, the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, expressed a position on the unfolding angered youth demonstrations, in a statement signed by Major General John Enenche, Coordinator Defence Media Operations. “The Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies have observed with dismay some violence-related protests across the country particularly, the increasing number of attacks on peaceful protesters by thugs and miscreants. This unfolding event against peace loving Nigerians will not be condoned. Hence, thugs and miscreants are hereby warned to desist from engaging in violent activities against peaceful Nigerians henceforth, or face appropriate measures.
“The Military High Command wishes to reassure law abiding citizens that it is highly committed to the sustenance of peace, security, and the defence of democracy in Nigeria. The Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies hereby commends all citizens particularly those who genuinely express their concerns in an organised, patriotic and civil manner.”
More, following a teleconference meeting with the IGP, on Wednesday, the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) called for increased regularity in the meetings of the Nigeria Police Council in order for it to effectively carry out its regulatory and supervisory roles as contained in the Nigerian Constitution.
According to Governor Fayemi, NGF Chair, the timing of the switch from FSARS to SWAT was inauspicious. “On the IGP’s plans on SWAT, the governors held that though the effort might be necessary and in good faith, they argued that the timing was inauspicious as the mood of the nation negates it and may understandably be misinterpreted as a surreptitious move to dress FSARS in another garb.”
The NGF further noted that the protests went beyond asking for an end to SARS to include an improvement in governance across board and charged the police to fish out members of the disbanded police unit involved in acts of gross human rights violations and ensure that they answered for their crimes.
Lives have been lost in cities in various parts of the country and many limbs bruised. But the youths remain undeterred in seeking fundamental change. Significantly, global attention has shifted to Nigeria. Global leaders, international human rights bodies, Nigerians in diaspora have condemned the development in Nigeria, closely tracking the unfolding protests and backing the youths.
It is significant that even before the youths stormed the streets in angry protests, some very eminent Nigerians and statesmen had either individually or in groups issued statements on the intolerable state of the nation. These folks have paid their dues to the country as public officers and in their different professional capacities in the civil service, military and the academia.
A quick, non-exhaustive checklist includes – Olusegun Obasanjo, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, General Martin Luther Agwai, former chief of defence staff, Professor Attahiru Jega, Dr. Usman Bugaje, Lt-Gen. Akirinade, Wole Soyinka, Nnia Nwodo, Pastor Sam Adeyemi, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and many others. But their deeply thought out positions were cavalierly brushed aside by the president’s minders.
In compelling summaries former President Goodluck Jonathan and Senator Shehu Sani captured the essence of the recent events. According to Jonathan, “No Nigerian blood needs to be spilled or life lost during a peaceful protest that seeks to advance our country.” For Sani, however, “EndSARS is strong warning to political class, revolution in waiting.”