#EndSARS Protest: Equity, Justice and Democratic Freedom Are Essential for Nigeria to Move Forward

By Jide Akintunde

On the night of October 20, 2020, the Nigerian military reportedly fired live bullets into a gathering of unarmed Nigerian youth protesting police brutality in Lekki, Lagos. Many of the protesters were killed and others injured. We at TBAN are heartbroken. And our prayers are with the families of those compatriots who paid the ultimate price for daring to exercise their right to peaceful protest, guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution.

 

The hail of bullets has dispersed the protesters, but only to leave the country at a crossroads. To move forward in the right direction, the country would have to address the needs for equity, justice and democratic freedom.

 

Until now, the call for equity has been addressed to the relationship between the Nigerian state and the constituent parts of the federation. To this, is now added the need for equity in the relationship between the State and the largest demographic in the country – the youth, which accounts for up to 60 per cent of the population. The symbolic importance of the so-called #EndSARS protest was that it was a call to action by the youth. But the response of the government has been more effective, so far, in silencing the youth. This is not sustainable. The youth must have their say; and they must be substantively involved in running the affairs of the country.

 

Justice for the young Nigerians killed in cold blood by the military in Lekki is highly imperative. The victims of the #EndSARS protest, as well as those who have lost their lives to police brutality around the country at different times, must get justice. We acknowledge the efforts of the federal and state governments in this regard. But the lack of official acknowledgement by the presidency of the massacre of unarmed protesters in Lekki, indicates that government response may not go far enough and cause the necessary healing in the polity.

 

After the denial must come recognition of the victims and accountability. Government must fully identify those who lost their lives during the peaceful protest, both in Lekki and around the country. They are among the heroes the country must identify and honour. The families of the deceased must be compensated. And, quite importantly, too, those who facilitated and carried out the extra-judicial killings by the police and the military must be held accountable for their crimes.

 

Finally, the attack against the peaceful protesters, and the ongoing efforts to silence the voices of the Nigerian youth, amount to a serious attack against Nigeria’s democracy. Indeed, democracy has been under attack in various ways in the country, including through disenfranchisement of voters as a result of cumbersome electoral processes, vote-buying, intimidation and attack against voters, the partiality of the electoral umpire, and the falsification of election results.

 

Concerted efforts should now be made to comprehensively reform the electoral process and remove the structural impediments that restrict the youth in contesting elections. To concretise this, a new electoral law, which amongst other provisions allows electronic voting; electronic collation and transmission of election results; diaspora voting; and stiff penalties for electoral and campaign finance offenses, must be passed by the National Assembly and signed into law within the next 12 months.

 

With the use of thugs and deadly arms by agents of the state to quell peaceful protests, orgies of arson, looting and rioting have followed around the country. Many states, including Lagos – the commercial hub of the country – have been under curfew for days, shuttering large parts of the Nigerian economy and thereby aggravating subsisting unbearable economic hardship being suffered by citizens. The failed government response is part of the “failures of the past” that have been repeated; but they must be discontinued.

 

The real option for Nigeria to move forward is to embrace the reasoned voices of the youth. The country also needs to undertake fundamental structural, political and economic reforms to build a progressive, and not an oppressive, Nigerian state.

Jide Akintunde is Interim Executive Director, To Build A Nation (TBAN)

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