EndSARS crusade and our ill-prepared youths

With seasonal exodus of our educated youths to the Americas and Europe, migration of our most talented to the more rewarding creative industry and the rest obsessed with European football teams, our youths’ well-organised EndSARS crusade against police brutality some three weeks ago was something of a relief to many concerned Nigerians who had expressed doubt about their readiness to assume their historic responsibility.

Before the EndSARS crusade, it was always tales of marginalization as if they never took pains to read the biographies of Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe, two great 21st century Nigerian self-made men that left indelible marks on the sands of time or ever heard of President Kennedy’s admonition that American youths should not ask for what their country could do for them but what they could do for their country.

They shut Lagos down within the first three days. The army of contraband goods street hawkers and truck pushers unleashed on Lagos by their irresponsible state governors along with thousands of jobless youths driven to Lagos by Boko Haram insurgency and herdsmen’s mindless killing of subsistence farmers were left with no choice but to identify with the crusade by staying at home.

A government that hitherto listened only to itself acceded to our youths’ demand and disbanded SARS. It was obvious the president clearly identified with the youths’ demand. If he had referred the SARS bill to the National Assembly where since 1953, the north which constituted 50% of its membership often assess bills on the basis of what is in it for the north as against what Nigeria stands to gain, it would have been dead on arrival.

Lai Mohammed, the minister for information announced to the public: “When you look at the demands of the #EndSARS and the decisions of the federal government, it is clear that there is no single demand of the group that has not been met”. The Presidential Panel on the Reform of the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, according to a Punch report, “approved the five-point demands put forward by EndSARS protesters. And Vice President Osinbajo apologized for government sloppiness. “I fully understand how many young people feel. Many feel that we have been too silent and have simply not done enough. These feelings of frustration are justified”, he admitted.

But our youths have tasted blood. They wanted more having discovered how vulnerable elected governments in a participatory democracy can be. Beyond demand for institutional reforms, they insisted on the handover of the remaining government enterprises, obviously to those who earlier bought the country’s investment governor El Rufai claimed was worth $100b for a little over $1b. They also wanted “criminal offenders to face trials in their homes”.

It was as if they never read Prof Wande Abimbola’s lamentation about how his people abused him and swore not to return him to the senate for ‘refusing to steal while representing them in Abuja as a senator. It was as if they completely forgot President Jonathan’s thesis that ‘stealing government money was not corruption’, the reason three former governors of his state stole the state blind, the same reason a thieving governor of neighbouring state was set free by the state high court and when he was jailed for the same offence in foreign land, his people welcomed him back with a talking drum and the reason another minister indicted by National Assembly was compensated with a senatorial seat by her people.

Besides Nigerian jobless youths and those brutalized by SARS, EndSARs crusade provided an opportunity for political enemies of a president who had frittered away goodwill of Nigerians by his disdain for public opinion and his ‘delegation by abdication’ style, a euphemism for absence of governance.

There was also the electronic media especially those owned by his political foes. They egged the boys on and when trouble broke out at Lekki toll gate, they freely traded unverified figure of victims to inflame passion leading to attack on government and private properties by hoodlums. There was also ASUU and its aggrieved members. That they supported the continued shutting down of the economy was understandable. They have after all received salaries for six months for work not done. That doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.

Meanwhile, while there was no incentive to vacate Lekki toll gate with free flow of hundreds of Domino Pizzas and take-away food packs for jobless youths who sometimes even have extra to take home, there was a growing army of potential arsonists, criminals and looters among those who survive by their wits on the street now caged at home without food. It was just a matter of time before an implosion. And when it finally came, Lagos was brought to its knees.

EndSARS initial success soon became a pyric victory. With southern governors identifying with EndSARS crusade and the northern governors mobilizing support for SARS that has brought no relief to Southern Kaduna, Benue, Plateau, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara that have continued to experience daily harvest of deaths from activities of bandits, criminals, cattle rustlers and terrorists, it was clear SARS was but a symptom. Brutalisation and periodic raping of Nigerians, occur in all federal institutions: the executive, legislature, judiciary and the fourth estate of the realm; Immigration, Customs and Nigerian Ports Authority. Unlike other Nigerian victims of the brutality and bestiality of these other institutions, EndSARS crusaders’ experience was limited to only the police.

Now that our ill-prepared but social media-savvy youths have left the streets, the harder work begins. They must first try to understand the nation’s post-colonial contradictions so that they don’t fall into the same mistake as post-colonial states of North Africa and the Maghreb region, with whom we share a common fate. Not too long ago, they destroyed their society through Arab Spring using the instrumentality of the social media. Today, Libya one of the best administered African states has fallen from paradise it was under Gadhafi to a desert it used to be where life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’. Syria is at war. So is Yemen. Egypt is ruled by a modern-day pharaoh.

Our youths who will inherit tomorrow must first try to understand the nature of the problem. That was what our forebears did. They applied intellect. This was why all the giant steps Nigeria made since 1920s came through the youths.

West African Student Union (WASU) was founded on August 7, 1925 by 21 law students led by Ladipo Solanke and Herbert Bankole-Bright to seek independence for West Africa countries. They were the first to recommend Nigeria must run a federal arrangement patterned after Swiss federation.

Obafemi Awolowo wrote his ‘Path to Nigeria Freedom’ where he recommended a federation of ethnic nationalities as a student after taking pains to study federation in multi-ethnic societies across the world. Bode Thomas the author of regionalism died at just 32. The monumental achievements of Action Group in the West between 1952 and 1962 was a product of deep intellectual engagement by young professionals and experts in education, information, sociology economics and culture.

An attempt to trade intellect for violence in the 60s only led to our youths being consumed by violence. The good news however is that our current youths are better endowed than both the 1920s and 1960 youths.

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