The state should enter into formal and genuine discussion with youth groups across the country, writes Adewale Kupoluyi
The devastation meted out to the nation following outrage by youths and young people over the excesses of personnel of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is yet to abate. The monumental loss of lives and property as a result of the uprising is worrisome. The situation in the country can simply be described as graveyard silence despite spirited attempts by the federal and state governments to douse the tension.
These efforts at restoring peace and tranquility may be yielding fruit to some extent, but the reality is that the many contentious and unresolved matters warranting the crisis are yet to be addressed and this should be a source of concern to any patriotic citizen. No doubt, the angry youths have expressed their displeasure over the state of affairs in their country and this has been done at a great cost. The message is loud and clear that the current generation of youths are conscious of what is happening and are restless in calling for quick change towards a better nation. With what the various governments have offered so far, can we say that our youths are satisfied? I doubt it.
The reason is that the underlying problems plaguing the country have consistently accumulated over the years and are largely responsible for what we are witnessing today as bad governance. The expectations of the aggrieved youth are beyond any quick-fix approach and reeling out palliative measures and interventions that are unsustainable. Apart from the criminality perpetrated by unidentified thugs and miscreants that took advantage of the protests to wreak havoc by looting, stealing, and vandalising public and private property, genuine demonstrators have been mature, enthusiastic, and been able to coordinate their grievance with a minimal casualty.
Unfortunately, what we saw at the end of the day is violence that was largely fuelled by the reported shooting of protesters by security men at the Lekki Toll Plaza, Lagos. Perhaps, this was the biggest mistake to have been committed under the present circumstances. What should now be done? The state should enter into formal and genuine discussion with youth groups across the country on why they should sheathe their sword and embrace genuine dialogue. In doing this, the activities of interlopers should be checked, especially youth organisations, who are ferociously trying to reap from the prevailing situation on the premise that they are affiliated with the protesters. This claim is untrue and the government should be wary of such opportunist groups lurking around.
The mediatory role of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in this regard is timely by bringing the aggrieved parties to the negotiating table using the mechanism of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). In its usual and critical role of promoting national peace, security and the rule of law, the NBA should work with relevant stakeholders to develop an acceptable, right framework and structure “with clear timelines and deliverables”. As many credible and intelligent youths and young persons should, as much as possible, be invited to the discussion table devoid of the same elements that had stifled national cohesion such as greed, nepotism, ethnic, political, and religious sentiments.
The next assignment to accomplish is putting the necessary machinery in place to reform the entire NPF. What does this entail? Practical reforms must involve real transformation that allows only qualified candidates to be recruited into the police. The minimum entry qualification for the exercise should be the university degree or its equivalent, to allow for the engagement of only intellectually-sound candidates. The deployment of police officers to very important persons (VIPs) should stop. This does not only deprive the force of the needed manpower to fight crime, it creates unnecessary social imbalance and class segregation among citizens.
I keep wondering what qualifies Yahoo Boys, pastors, and family members of politicians to be assigned police security details? In the course of guarding the crops of ‘special citizens’, the police officers are exposed to affluence and the squandering of public resources. The police officers in turn transfer anger and frustration to civilians in their daily interactions because of such opulence. Adequate local and international training and retraining should be given to policemen on how to carry out their duties effectively and with utmost civility like their foreign counterparts. It is in Nigeria that police officers brandish their guns and threaten to shoot people with impunity. After all, we see how police officers work in other countries with decency and diligence. The existing training environment, curricula and rigour only encourage the breeding of hostile, inhuman, and uncultured officers as exemplified by SARS and other operatives.
The remuneration and the condition of service should be significantly improved, as the existing salary structure is too meagre to sustain our policemen. This poor pay could be accountable for why bribery and corrupt practices are common in NPF and discouraging passionate candidates from joining the force. Sadly, most police stations and barracks are poorly equipped and dilapidated for the officers to develop good state of mind and comportment at work, just as erring police officers should not be spared the rod, but given the deserved penalties promptly. The shielding of culprits from punishment should no longer be allowed in the force. This is to serve as a deterrent and instill discipline while outstanding officers should be adequately rewarded for their call to duty, among others.
Again, at the discussion table to be facilitated by NBA and other stakeholders, critical issues bordering on the emergence of a people-oriented constitution, fiscal federalism, state police, devolution of powers, reduction in the cost of governance, federal character/lopsided appointments, women empowerment, and active youth inclusion in governance should be topmost on the list of national matters to be discussed. As this goes on, the government should desist from threatening the youths and dishing out inflammatory statements that could cause more damage. The arrest of alleged looters should not be manipulated to witch-haunt perceived political opponents or arrow-heads of the protests. What the angry youths simply need are words of encouragement and assurances that their needs would be taken care of and that better days are coming, which the last presidential speech failed to capture. This should be backed up with a clear line of actions and commitments showing that those at the helm of affairs are sincerely ready to restructure the nation towards a just, fair, and equitable Nigeria. Under a better arrangement, no citizen should be made second class or inferior in his/her country as the present configuration allows. National resources and endowments should be distributed to all devoid of the age-long domination by the tiny but powerful clique that enjoys the status quo and would rather resist change.
To move forward, the present situation calls for somber reflection and regular public communication with the people. We should not be comforted or deceived by the artificial peace prevailing the land and feel that all is well. In the coming weeks, the necessary framework and structure should urgently be put in place to design a sustainable blueprint for our country to have a new lease of life. More importantly, the anticipated change can be better realised if the youths can use the instrumentality of the political party institution to assume the desired leadership. As 2023 fast approaches, when the next general elections hold, they should form themselves into a formidable party to wrestle power from the old generation that has failed them and take charge of their future.
Kupoluyi wrote from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State