Sonnie Ekwowusi urges the government to enter into dialogue with the protesting youths

For about one and half weeks now, the Nigerian young, aided by modern communications gadgets, have been storming different Nigerian cities, reminiscent of the storming of the Bastille at the threshold of the French Revolution, and staging peaceful protests against police brutality in Nigeria, hashtagged #EndSARS. The uprising, unfortunately, has led to the death of some Nigerians and has even crippled some business activities. Make no mistake about it – the motive behind the social uprising sweeping across Nigeria transcends #EndSARS and police brutality. Initially the uprising was against police brutality but now it has metamorphosed into the people’s uprising against failed leadership in Nigeria. This is why what initially started as an uprising of the Nigerian youths against police brutality has now snowballed into people’s protests against cluelessness, pillaging, plundering, opulence, fraudulence, narcissism and idiotism in governance in Nigeria.

I am not surprised. We all saw the uprising coming. Look, you cannot rule out social uprising in a country where millions upon millions of discontent young people are idle or roaming the streets without jobs, schools, food and even recreation. You cannot but expect a social upheaval in a country where the political office holders are busy allocating to themselves humongous salaries and emoluments to the utter neglect of providing basic necessities such as primary health care, drinkable water, electricity and housing. So, the social uprising engulfing Nigeria at the moment was predictable. For instance, shortly before his death, Tunji Braithwaite said what Nigeria needed for redemption was a revolution. On his Twitter last week, Pat Utomi tweeted the Nunc Dimittis and requested God to let him depart this life in peace for his eyes had seen the revenge of the poor which he had foretold. Utomi even mentioned in his latest book, “Why Not,” that when he felt frustrated that the Buhari government was not getting its rhythm right he tried to engage the government so as to prevent what he often referred to as the revenge of the poor. Others have equally predicted the coming anarchy in Nigeria. For example, Karl Maier in his book, “This House has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria,” laments the catastrophe which has overtaken Nigeria.

Unfortunately we are now witnessing Utomi’s revenge of the poor and Maier’s catastrophe. Hungry and frustrated young boys and girls are encumbering the streets of Nigeria and venting their frustration in peaceful protests. And not only the youths: the older generation, who are equally frustrated, are lending their moral, technical, spiritual and financial support to the protesting youths. In Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe writes that a man dances the way the drums are beaten for him. The massive support, both from home and abroad, accruing to the youths has emboldened and encouraged them to move on in their protests, and, in fact, in line with popular social uprisings in the Philippines, South Korea, Hong Kong, Egypt and other countries. Certainly the on-going social uprising in Nigeria is bound to positively or negatively impact future political events in Nigeria. Certainly Nigeria will never be same again after this uprising. Already political analysts are discussing the different ways in which the uprising will affect the government-people relations and reign of peace in Nigeria.

How is the Buhari government responding to the protests? I would advise the government to seek wisdom in responding to the protests. The government should patiently continue to explore different avenues open to it to dialogue with the protesting youths until success is achieved. The deployment of armed soldiers to the streets is ill-advised. It will backfire. Mind you, the protesting Nigerian youths are the cynosures of all eyes all over the world. Members of the international community are watching. Nigeria will incur the greater wrath of the international community if it deploys armed soldiers to forcibly stop the peaceful protests. Already the U.S, U.K and other countries have blacklisted some Nigerian politicians (including denying them and their families Visas) who indulged in anti-democratic activities. Come to think of it, it is baffling that President Buhari is always deploying armed soldiers to disrupt peaceful protests. This is wrong. The right to peaceful assembly and protest is guaranteed in our Constitution. In the case of the protesting Nigerian young, they are not attempting to overthrow the pre-existing legal order. Far from it. They are simply protesting against the prevailing oddities in Nigeria. Nigeria is being ruled by the worst citizens who have sacrificed our commonwealth for their private gains. Nigerians want an end to this. They want a government of service, not a tool for a few greedy ones to amass wealth. They have a right to demand for good governance. After all, power belongs to the people. By voluntarily entrusting to the government the responsibility of governing their affairs, the people have not relinquished their power. The deduction from this is that the people could even revoke the mandate they have given to their rulers. The American founding fathers got it right when they said that, “governments are instituted among men deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed”. Our political office holders should understand that the people do not derive their natural right to freedom and right to dignity from the government: the people are born with those rights.

In presidential democracy, sovereignty resides with the people. Why? Because government is not the owner of the people: the people are the owners of the government. Put differently, government is not an end in itself. It was conceived for something good, to promote the welfare of the people. But unfortunately government has been compromised to the extent that government now reflects the tyrannies of dictators. This is why peaceful social uprisings such as the one we are witnessing in Nigeria at the moment are inevitable in order to cure bad governance.

Having said this, the on-going uprising in Nigeria must not derail otherwise the protesters would have succeeded in wasting their time and the time of everybody. First and foremost, the coherence, tenacity and sense of purpose of the uprising must not be compromised. The protesting youths must rectify their intention. They should not see the protests as only an opportunity for fun. They must shun violence at all times. Already some street urchins and hoodlums are infiltrating the protests and damaging and looting people’s cars and property. This is unacceptable.