THE PUBLIC SPHERE with Chido Nwakanma
Convert this anger into engagement. My column on 28 May 2019 after the General Elections called on citizens to do more. I decried the Sisyphean Rock that politicians and leaders of all stripes had seemingly condemned citizens to roll up the boulder unsuccessfully.
I noted: Anger roils the land. There is a generalised lack of satisfaction and anger in the citizenry after the fifth general election in Nigeria’s 4th Republic. It has taken the shape of a fought republic in all areas as disputation grows over choice, denied choice from shenanigans with the electoral process, representation, governance and its outcomes.
“There is angst in the streets. A fitting response to the street, also from the street, is the one that states that no matter how hot your anger, it cannot boil yams or cook stew. Citizens need to move beyond anger and outbursts on social media, the current replacement for previous watering holes of drinking pubs, salons and talk shops. Citizens should turn this anger into engagement in the political and governance process.”
The young people listened. The anger of the youth this time in the END SARS demonstrations in the last 12 days debunks the street notion of the impotence of Nigerian anger. There are many positives from the Nigerian street as commanded by our young people.
The organisation of the END SARS protests has been of the most satisfactory order. Its features include non-violence, the Achilles Heel of most previous demonstrations that allow infiltration as well as clampdown by the authorities. The young people not only eschewed violence but resisted attempts to lure them into it by sponsored thugs. Martin Luther King Jr would approve. They would rather kill the enemy with love, mending the broken bones of those who came to harm them, and taking care of friend and foe in medicare, legal representation and more.
The demos showed a high degree of coordination. They came prepared for the long haul and provided all the necessities that ordinarily cut the span of demonstrations in Nigeria. These include food and refreshment, entertainment as well as messaging.
Messaging has been on point. They have articulated the anger in the land against the impunity of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and the entire Police Force. In doing so, they showed that the Police Force is only a metaphor for the failures of governance in our country.
Take the structure of the demonstrations. The youths ran a republican system against the monarchical approach we adopt for even the smallest organisations in Nigeria. Their leadership has been collegial and collective. They have fought valiantly against the personalisation of the struggle. They identify and recognise leaders by their contributions and then restrict it to that recognition.
Accountability is coming out daily as one of the most effective weapons as well as messaging of the END SARS movement. They give accounts of funds received and the expenditure. It is refreshing. Moreover, there is value for money. They make the point about accountability not only with these regular records but also with the quality and quantity of meals procured for the marchers versus what obtains with government interventions.
Courage, resilience and stick-to-it-iveness are some of the additional attributes of the END SARS movement.
They have braved the odds and remained resolute. Not for them the falling for what they term the audio promises of Nigerian governments that killed previous efforts at demanding progress. Resistance to ploys explains why they have ignored the supposed ban of SARS the IGP announced. Just the fact of the immediate renaming of the structure from SARS to SWAT alerted them to danger. It was more of the same, and they are tired of the same!
Have you noticed the creativity of this movement? Their messaging has been top rank. They are also willing to sacrifice, from Lagos through Abuja, Enugu, Benin to London and Toronto. One agency run by young people offered to create communication materials pro bono for SMES that identified with the cause. They are willing to sow and reap later.
Then there was positive channelling of anger. These are the people the president of the Federal Republic derided as “lazy youths”. It hurt. They have admirably turned that mockery into a message: “We are purposeful youth, full of vigour and can do so much more if Nigeria permits the flourishing of our talents.”
Gender representation. Though these young females did not go to Beijing, their generation has brought home the message of equal gender representation in practice more than theory. Females continue to play prominent roles in the evolution of the effort. Could the presence of females account for the transparency, accountability and non-violence of END SARS movement? Or for the compassionate approach?
There were a few missteps, as these things happen. The language was at times flagrant and reeked of insouciance. Hubris was not far from the top. Some behaved as if they had invented the wheel. They need reminders of the aphorism: Young men think older adults are fools, but older men know that young men are fools. Several generations of young people took to the streets during Ali-Must-Go, Babangida Paris Riots, June 12 and other efforts to compel government in desired directions.
The upshot? Our young people are ready. They prepared in the crucible of denigration, neglect and abandonment. They have shown through organisation and action a resolve to take on big tasks. There is no telling where END SARS movement will end, but the trajectory is positive and portends a bright future. They should take on more causes and convert this into a political action group someday soon.