Culled From Guardian
The extra-ordinary skill, industry, and panache that attended the execution of the two-week-long #EndSARS protests which were brutally terminated by gun-blazing agents of the state were simply outside of the Nigerian ken.
The young people of Nigeria had been protesting the excesses of a unit of the police. The elder generation or the generation preceding the advent of today’s internet information superhighway or of what is known as Information Technology watched with bated breath, the noble rage of young people against policies or programmes of government which negate or deny the potentialities of the youths for unlocking their God-given abilities and capabilities to transform old ways or reform ancient practices.
Governments have become slovenly, sloppy, insensitive, and largely irrelevant to the enunciated goals and aspirations of society. The idea of the reality to ply one’s life without any input from the government is growing or festering among the citizenry. Every household provides its own utilities like water and electricity, builds its own security buffer, constructs roads leading to its entrance, erects water drainages or channels, etc. outside of government. In Nigeria, it is possible to live one’s life, even as a citizen, without government imprimatur over an existential matter. As a citizen, you are simply on your own. This background properly situates the legitimacy and popularity of the #EndSARS protests, even as they lasted.
Government has been found by the general populace to be coldly impersonal, insensitive, and brazenly corrupt. The need, therefore, arose to quicken the spirit of the political elite by drawing its attention to its misgovernance style or conduct. #EndSARS was just the modus for drawing attention to a pervasive climate of huge unemployment, abject poverty, maladministration, nepotism or insularity in governance, the mismanagement of Nigeria’s ethnic and religious diversity, and rascality regarding the political process.
An underlying liberal democratic governance regime with its attendant respect for rule of law and for the citizen’s bundle of fundamental human rights is unlikely to breed the gangsterism and hellish cruelty of the reportedly-rested Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police Force. The present administration has clearly painted in bold relief, the difference between a civil administration and a democratic government. Civil rule may not be democratic. Our clamour for the civil rule must therefore include a desideratum for its democratic character. Efficiently organised and orderly, the #EndSARS demonstrations have put Nigeria on the world map of civilised protestations. Protesters included lawyers, doctors, engineers, singers, actors, models, football stars and celebrities at home and abroad. The acute sense of purpose, tenacity, commitment, and uncommon organisational skill displayed throughout won admirers for the protesters in large droves. Food and drinks, medical attention for the wounded, provision of security for protesters amidst attempts by sponsored thugs and hoodlums to disrupt the protests, and the effectual cleaning up of the streets after each day’s exercise were some of the hallmarks of the civility and purposiveness of the entire protest programme. Mobile toilets ensured that public defecation or a smelly environment did not feature as a drawback of the protests. Above all, it was violence-free as even friskers were deployed for ensuring no one carried any lethal weapon to the venues. There was no damage to property, no looting of shops or business premises, or any untoward behaviour that could earn the protests the dis-affection of the public or the ire of the government. Still, the government was un-easy. It was haunted throughout by its patent lack of the virtues, skill, and exemplary conduct of the organisers of the protests. Government grew jealous. It feared that the protests’ demands could have a domino effect and spread like wildfire. It devised its own strategy for curtailing the popularity of the protests and for terminating their infectious strain. The rest is a story told.
The senseless brutal shooting of the protesters at the Lekki toll gate and the back and forth disclaimers regarding the true identity of the killers or of their instigators will seem to have poured petrol on an already raging fire. The youths may appear to have been cowed by the booming guns of the adversary. Their escutcheon has however gone unscathed and their heads unbowed. Thanks to their sincerity of purpose, the clarity of their vision and enduring apostolic doggedness.
Tense and somber as the situation of the grief that terminated the protests at the Lekki toll gate was, an unhelpful comic dimension was amateurishly introduced into it in a failed attempt presumably to lessen the tension. Babatunde Fashola, a former Governor of Lagos State, emerged to announce his mysterious find of a hidden camera at the scene of the shootings which environment had been thoroughly cleaned up by a state agency.
The charge before the youth is the democratic mobilisation of the peasantry in a way it had not been done before. In the beginning, it may be necessary to forge an alliance with a radicalised petty-bourgeois formation. This kind of union must unify theory and practice because mass mobilisation is possible only by connecting with popular ideas and aspirations which may be modified and developed along the line to suit the exigencies of the ultimate goal of capturing or wresting power from its present traducers. The youths must ideologically distinguish populism from mass mobilisation. Populism may not be able to produce the necessary democratic structures, reflect the changes in popular thought patterns, or measure the strength of commitment and resistance. There must be no attraction for the formulation of programmes or ideas that have less and less connection with the real foundations of Nigeria’s political misfortune or with the raison d’etre of youth intervention. As it is no longer fashionable to be a fire-eating ideologue, the programme or ideology of the youth vanguard should be eclectic as it draws from the best traditions of liberal democratic practice. Its focus must however be the need to mobilise the peasantry and the rural proletariat for revolution (that scary word, again!) from the bottom-up. The historical conditions of Nigeria’s flag independence demand that the youth rest their yearning for or their entitlement to effective participation in the affairs of the country on the foundation of mobilisation and democratic structures. Youth attitude or posture must not be un-tempered by the historical antecedents of the Nigerian situation.
Even as the youth population is statistically put at about 65% of the general Nigerian population, it is difficult to imagine how the values, ideas, projections, and desires of this important segment can be ignored or put down in a basket of popular choices. The youths therefore must bear their own future in their own hands as they insightfully choose the path to tread particularly in their choice of would-be state actors or of programmes or policies to pursue. The success of the #EndSARS protests has delineated the terrain or has charted the course of youth purpose and action.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote from Lagos.