- Nanre Nafziger
Uncertainties can be a time of great anxiety but they can be a time of great possibility. A time to rethink the language of politics, to rethink the language of struggle, rethink the language of solidarity. Power is not always about domination. It is not exclusively about domination. It is also about resistance. Young people have a lot of power, they shut societies down, they can shut things down, they can block streets, they can engage in direct action, they can educate their parents… they are a potent political force and I think they need to realize they are a potent political force and I think what they need to do is to act. Because the discourse of anxiety should give way to a discourse of critique and a discourse of critique needs to give way to a discourse of possibility and a discourse of possibility means that you can imagine a future very different from the present.
- Henry Giroux
Two years ago today, a mighty movement was brought to its knees with the explosion of guns at the Lekki Tollgate. Over the next few days the movement turned and festered into a different form of uprising. While some analyze the #EndSARS Movement as one that ended on October 20th, the uprising that followed was still very much a part of the movement – a mix of those expressing their discontent through anger and those who took advantage of the breakdown of law and order to steal and destroy. Martin Luther King said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” After October 2020, there was a relative calm. While there have been protests over the past few years includings actions by students and unions as well as movements for self-determination, none has matched the scale of the #EndSARS protests.
Two years later, there is much to reflect upon with the advantage of hindsight. With the 2023 elections approaching, it is an important time to assess the possibilities that have been created and the impossibilities that have ensued from a movement cut short in its infancy, stunted before it could grow. It is important to ask critical questions about the time between, the rivers between, what has flowed under and what is not yet behind us. What were the strengths of the movement and what was lacking? What did the movement birth? Did it lay a firm foundation upon which a class of politically activated youth can stand? Is there a heightened level of consciousness, and will it result in the much needed changes that Nigeria needs to remove it from its current quagmire? The Bible says, “…by their fruit you shall know them,” so let us examine the fruit.
The forgotten – People died at the toll gate. We know some of their names but not all. The names have not been emblazoned on our hearts and minds, yet the struggle continues. Today, dozens if not hundreds of young people that were picked up in the post #EndSARS police raids have remained locked up and languishing in prisons across the country, particularly in Lagos and Oyo states. A handful of organizers have taken up their cause under the umbrella of #EndSARS United which includes the combined efforts of activist civil society organizations such as TakeItBack and Enough is Enough, but much more needs to happen to ensure they are all free. Who are these casualties of the movement, the collateral damage that remains unaccounted for? They are children of the poor, the forgotten byproduct of a movement that shed its own skin.
The “leaderless” that need to be led – After a time of relative silence, the young people that shook #EndSARS are on the prowl. But this time around, they are not ‘leaderless’ rather, they are looking for a leader. This is actually a great paradox of the “soro soke” generation. In other countries, activists choose to run for political office, but how many #EndSARS activists are running for office? How many, before this year, joined a political party and started to shake things up? Aside from Omoyele Sowore, who ran for office before the #EndSARS Movement, how many of the activists at the front lines have decided to take up the task of political leadership? How many have taken the matter of disposing of the old order and being themselves the change they seek in the world? Rather, the generation is looking for the lesser of evils; the old order, rebranded and renamed; the generation that claimed it was taking on the world has already handed over the baton to those who ran it before. One of the greatest humiliations is that a country so young, one of the youngest populations in the world, that had a massive youth uprising, has the majority of candidates seeking elective office over the age of 50. Despite the claims of taking over, young people are instead seeking heroes, and true heroes are almost impossible to find.
The missing ideologues – The #EndSARS Movement articulated what it did not want, but it never really had a clear ideological direction of where it wanted to go. While the demands began to evolve beyond the #5for5 to demands for “good governance” and “ending insecurity”, the question on what kind of politics would achieve this, capitalism or socialism; social welfarism or neoliberalism; was only discussed on the margins of the movement. Due to the lack of ideological deepening, the blind spots have become gaping black holes. The proverbial if you don’t know what you are looking for, anything can be the answer, applies to the current predicament that we face. We are looking to upturn something, counter something, but to replace it with what, is still the question. There is a sense of half in and half out, a restlessness for the interstitial spaces, for the place in between radicalism and maintaining the status quo, in between overturning the gerontocracy, or standing in awe of aged out politicians.
The Aluta that did not fight – Since the #EndSARS Movement, there have been two great strike actions that have shut universities for more months than they have been open this year. The younger generation who claimed enough is enough have not been at the forefront of this and other struggles. There have been no nationwide mass actions that held the toes of the federal government to the fire to force open the schools. In fact, the deep division between the faculty and student movement prolonged the strike as solidarity and unity were not demonstrated. Yet education is the terrain where one would naturally envision the spirit of #EndSARS. The demands to end discrimination and violence against youth should not have ended with the SARS unit alone but rather extended to the every day violences – the violence of deprivation of young people’s humanity by denying them the right to education, the right to dignified labor, and the right to social services that embrace and promote their well-being.
The unity that is not united – the #EndSARS Movement claimed to have opposed all forms of stratification across religious, ethnic and economic lines, but the blurring of ethnicism with the idolization of nationhood has not produced a constructive consensus. Nigeria is a divided country. No wishing wand can put a spell to disappear the deep divisions and crevices, the desires for nationhood and the demands for self-determination. While followers of the different parties may claim to be building a united front, we know that the electorate, particularly the ones that DO NOT shout the loudest on Twitter or Tik Tok, still hold on to deep beliefs about religion and ethnicity that have not been shifted and will not budge without deep canvassing and re-orientation; without significantly changing the way we do politics.
In summary, the task to transform the #EndSARS Movement into a true movement for social change and liberation, is yet to be fulfilled. The liberation of a society cannot be achieved in street actions alone. While protests pave the way for important moments and create openings for revolutionary changes, the hard task of changing the status quo comes from the day to day organizing efforts of organizers and advocates who do not relent when the cameras are off and the limelight has shifted away from problems.
Finally, the #EndSARS generation must realize that there are no saviors. We must be the change that we seek. We are the only ones that will save ourselves. There is no alternative to movement building, there are no shortcuts to emancipation. We cannot go to sleep for two years and wake up and reclaim the space that was once there. The space no longer exists. It disappeared when no one claimed it, and now, others are coming to pry open the space and insert themselves in. If we really want to honor the lives of our heroes killed in October 2020, we will not be afraid to take up the task of new revolutionary liberatory politics ourselves. It is only through this that we can truly say their deaths would not have been in vain.
Dr Nanre Nafziger led the #BringBackOurGirls family in Osogbo and is now an Assistant Professor of African/Black Education at McGill University, Canada where she studies Education and Social Movements