How Nigerian Youths Failed to Utilize Opportunities of EndSARS Protests

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Udora Orizu writes that Nigerian youths failed to utilise the opportunity of EndSARS protests to increase their visibility in governance

This Wednesday, October 20, 2021 marks the 1st anniversary of the #EndSARS protest and Lekki shooting. Ahead of the anniversary, activists and youths have revealed a plan to stage peaceful protests in honour of the victims, who allegedly lost their lives at the dusk of October 20, 2020.

The now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad, popularly known as (SARS) was established as a special police unit in 1992 to tackle increasing incidents of armed robberies and kidnappings for ransom by criminal elements operating across Nigeria. Originally set up to operate independently in order to target criminal groups, the unit’s success hinged on its anonymity and mode of operation. SARS operatives conducted covert operations in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles to support police operations responding to community distress calls on armed robberies and other serious crimes. Over the years, however, SARS officials became implicated in widespread human rights violations and garnered a bad reputation for arbitrary arrests, torture, rape, extortion, unlawful detention, and extrajudicial killings.

The notorious now defunct unit for decades enjoyed impunity for the continued use of torture and other ill-treatment to execute, punish and extract information from suspects. Several victims of the SARS made the news sparking, each time, a lot of indignation on social media and sometimes protests. While the authorities made promises to disband SARS, the members continued to extort, torture and kill. The Nigerian government has failed to bring perpetrators to justice despite promises of police reform. This has continued to embolden SARS officials and other security personnel to operate with impunity.

Enduring Years of Misrule

Over the years, politicians have been taking a perceived laid back, amenable citizens on an unending ride. At different fora some elites have lamented how their generation caused the country’s retrogression.

In 2016, former President Olusegun Obasanjo warned that the country was sitting on a keg of gunpowder when it comes to issues confronting young people. Also in 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan, while flagging off his campaign for re-election declared that his generation had failed the country.

He, therefore, charged the youths to spearhead the country’s future through hard work and dedication, stressing that they were the ones to take the country to the moon.

Again in 2017, former President Olusegun Obasanjo admitted that his generation failed in its efforts to take Nigeria to Eldorado.

Obasanjo, who spoke in Kaduna during a one-day trade fair seminar of the Kaduna Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (KADCCIMA), listed a number of factors inhibiting the nation’s growth and development.

He said: “the generation before us gave us and our country independence. Whatever you like, say about them. The Awolowos, Nnamdi Azikiwes, the Sardaunas, Aminu Kanos, Tafawa Balewas, and others gave us independence, they were not perfect, and if you like, you can go on from now till tomorrow condemning what they did, but they gave us independence. These people and my generation laid the foundation for the democracy we enjoy today. Our democracy is not perfect, our democracy is a journey and not a destination, and we must continue to improve on it. My sons and daughters, what will your generation do? Condemnation is easy, but what will you do”

And the Youths Rose in Unity Against Bad Governance

However, in October 2020, in a historic move, Nigerian youths showed that they were fed up and wiould no longer tolerate bad governance. For the first time, the youths, through the #EndSARS protests realized that they can move against the government, get them on their knees and demand good governance.

On October 4, 2020, a video went viral showing SARS officers dragging two men from a hotel and shooting one of them outside. The offensive video which led to humongous mindless destruction estimates all over the country at Trillions of Naira was later discovered to be fake.
A few days later, protests erupted across Nigeria. On October 11, Federal Government announced that SARS has been disbanded. But it was the 5th time since 2015 that the Nigerian authorities pledged to reform the police and disband SARS. As such, ithe announcement on 11 October that the police unit had been again disbanded was viewed with skepticism. So the youths continued the protests demanding more than empty promises.

On October 20, the youths who turned the Lekki Tollgate, Lagos convergence point to a picnic spot,; playing loud music, ensuring steady supply of electricity supply, food and beverages sustained by donors who also gave cash, continued the protest against police brutality, bad governance and poverty.

By the third day, the youths had won a never-seen-before victory. The Nigerian government panicked and gave into all the initial five demands of the youths. President Muhammadu Buhari made a broadcast to plead with the youths. In different states, governors tried to engage the youths and open a channel of communication with them, but they rejected the suggestion to choose leaders to meet with government at the negotiation table, saying they had no leaders, thus allowing the advantage to slip out of their hands. Instead, the youths began to make other demands like ‘Buhari Must Go’, review of salaries of National Assembly members and resignation of the Inspector General of Police.

By this time, hoodlums hijacked what was initially a peaceful protest. In Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital and epicentre of the protests, commercial activities were halted as the youths barricaded many public highways. In a bid to dislodge them, there was an altercation with security agents. The unarmed protesters were allegedly shot. Unsubstantiated allegations that lives were lost are rife. These were largely nstigated by a supposed live streaming of unconfirmed occurrences at the Lekki Tollgate made by a female Disc Jockey, Obianuju Catherine Udeh better known as DJ Switch, but dirisively called DJ Witch’, who has since escaped to Canada.

The incident sparked global outrage and an investigation amid persistent calls for reforms. Reacting, the Nigerian Army while confirming that soldiers were deployed to the scene, however said they did not shoot live bullets at the protesters.

Thereafter the government tasked all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to set up panels of inquiry to look into the dastardly act. But government’s response to the public outcry over police brutality and excessive force against protesters unfortunately further widened the growing distrust between it and the youths.

Positive Take Out from the Protest

The #EndSARS movement saw majority of marginalized youths participate in one of the largest demonstration movements since the country’s democratic transition in 1999. Their courage to pour into the streets, bare their mind on social and traditional media, not only galvanized fence-sitters to join the fray but spoke volumes of their determination to have their way the way. This has never happened before in the country.

For over two weeks, the political class were running scared due to the demand by the youths for nothing less than a noticeable change in how Nigeria is being governed. The protest was not only a clamour for police reform, but also became a symbol of hope that the youths are no longer docile to the misrule by their leaders.

The protest also brought about unity and showed freedom from the ethno-religious tensions that plagued Nigeria’s security and political issues. Youths in all six geopolitical zones united around a common goal, which is an end to police brutality and bad governance.

The protest further highlighted the need for more young people to exercise their civil and political rights to speak out against injustices and to demand change from leaders elected to serve their needs.

Did Nigerian Youths Fail to Utilise the Opportunity of EndSARS Protest to Increase Their Visibility in Governance Across Board?

A year after the nationwide protest, youths are still reeling from the shock and after effects of the government’s heavy-handed response. Also nothing seems to have changed as the police have continued to brutalize citizens, and even threatened to stop peaceful march scheduled to mark the first anniversary of the protest.

Despite the impressive gains made by the youths during the protest, such as getting the President to disband the SARS unit, there’s still a question which lingers on the minds of many, and it is, if the youths failed to utilize the opportunity of the protest to increase their visibility in governance. A year later, young Nigerians still say they are still victims of police brutality and their demands for systemic changes have not been met.

This shows that the wave of protests has given a platform to a section of the country’s young population who are deeply dissatisfied, to not only dwell on the pains from the protest, but also focus on interrogating and reflecting on the regrets and lessons learned from it, with the aim to chart a better course that would inform organising for political, economic, and social leadership in a changing and dynamic world.

Speaking to THISDAY on the assertion, that youths have failed to utilize the opportunity of the ENDSARS protest to increase their visibility in governance, the Executive Director Civil Society Legislative Advocacy centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani said he agrees that they have failed.

His said, “Protests have been a part of every society’s transformation. From the protest that led to the freedom of America at the hands of Great Britain in 1775 to the protest that gave rise to civil Rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King in 1954. Other examples of protests that helped changed the course of things is the Arab spring that cut across the whole of the middle east starting from Tunisia, when a trader Mohammed Bouazizi set himself ablaze in protest of the injustice being perpetrated by authorities.

“African nations are no exception when it comes to their own history of protests by the citizens. In all of these instances one thing is clear and which is the common feature of all the incidences; people are frustrated by the way the current systems of governance is governing them and they decided to come out en masse to express their anger and frustration in the hope for change and a better future for themselves and their families. The ENDSARS protest of October 2020 in Nigeria was nor an exception of many other protests that have been carried out in Nigeria or elsewhere in the world as it seek to address some key issues and concerns that were hitherto neglected by the government especially when it comes to the delivery of public services affecting the lives Nigerians.

“The endsars protest is an extension of what can be termed as a continuous subjugation and brutality being carried out by the Nigeria security forces against the citizens of Nigeria. While there is no doubt that, there were some concerns on the part of the police force as regards to how they discharge their duties, there is no hesitation of the fact that some other critical factors played out in the procession of the protests. What started as peaceful protests eventually turned out to be violent and destructive, something that became injurious to the social, economic, political and cultural aspects of the country as a whole.

But, more often than not, the endsars protest was meant to serve as a wakeup call to the various entities especially the ruling class as to the need for some form of structural reform in the manner in which the country is being governed. Many believed that the endsars protest has come more less as an elastic metaphor for so much that has been wrong in our system, and our society.

“There is no doubt that, there are needs for the complete reform on how we run the affairs of the country, the endsars protest came to reinforce the fact that there are some serious concerns that must be addressed by governments at all levels, by bringing onboard all those concerned on the table to discuss issues pertaining governance. Because what we left behind was the idea of inclusiveness where all stakeholders, relevant groups and organizations are involved in making key decisions that commonly affect the entire society.

“Unfortunately, some of the Nigerian youths failed to keep up with their commitment to ensure good governance is being delivered, but more importantly to make sure that government at all levels take the issues of inclusiveness seriously as the protest presented a perfect opportunity for Nigerian Youth to take part in the governance of the country so that Nigeria can have the needed change for a fully developed and mature democratic country. Society functions well when all members are partly even if not fully involved in key decisions by the government as this will bring more and more people closer to each other in the spirit of unity to achieve a common goal for the whole country. This will reinforce social cohesion among the various concerned groups and organizations, and of course youths and the government in order to work together to maximize the potentials that Nigeria is endowed with.

Effective governance is at the heart of every democratic and civilized society and the way such governance is effected is by ensuring the social, economic, political and cultural unity of a people. The EndSars protest came to remind us that at the core of the society are structures that work in harmony with each other to bring the needed change and transformation of communities, states and the nation as a whole.

“In conclusion and in response to the question at stake, I think the Nigeria Youths failed to utilize the opportunity of the ENDSARS protest to increase their visibility in governance across board because they remain adamant and reluctant to continue to push for changes in the way and manner in which the country is being governed considering the fact that they are the major drivers of development when it comes to socio economic, political and religious aspects of the country. Our youths must resist being used for political violence, religious and ethnic violence and stay away from any criminal activities. They should not be involved in anything capable of undermining the integrity of our country”.

QUOTE 1

Nigerian Youths failed to utilize the opportunity of the ENDSARS protest to increase their visibility in governance across board because they remain adamant and reluctant to continue to push for changes in the way and manner in which the country is being governed considering the fact that they are the major drivers of development when it comes to socio economic, political and religious aspects of the country. Our youths must resist being used for political violence, religious and ethnic violence and stay away from any criminal activities

QUOTE 2

By the third day, the youths had won a never-seen-before victory. The Nigerian government panicked and gave into all the initial five demands of the youths. President Muhammadu Buhari made a broadcast to plead with the youths. In different states, governors tried to engage the youths and open a channel of communication with them, but they rejected the suggestion to choose leaders to meet with government at the negotiation table, saying they had no leaders, thus allowing the advantage to slip out of their hands