“Don’t go out.” “Why are you always going out?” “Please be safe”. These are all phrases that young Nigerians have heard at least once from their parents. Nigeria is not safe. Not only because of the war against Boko Haram in the North, or due to the activities of bandits and kidnappers across the country. But more because of the law enforcement unit gone rogue, that was SARS, which was merely a reflection of the problems that exist within the Nigeria Police Force. On this and sundry aspects of the “Nigerian question”, the issue is, “where to begin?” Because the problems are many. The stories exist in thousands. The opportunistic vultures are sweeping in. The cry-babies are throwing hissy fits across the internet. But the main concerns remain. Tired of being regarded as “lazy youths”, tired of being profiled, harassed, abused and taken advantage of by a system that has failed to perform its core duty of caring for them, young Nigerians are very peacefully saying, these distressing issues must end now. I have never been so proud to call myself a Nigerian at this point.
With unemployment in Q2 sitting high at 27.2 per cent, inflation on the rise, the value of the naira falling and the federal government looking to borrow about N4.28 trillion (N205.15 billion), whilst budgeting N336 million for its critics (pardon me, hate speech); and still, with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on strike, millions of students are at home. They are waiting to go back to school, yet looking for part-time jobs in the interim, and trying freelancing on websites like Fiverr. Many are actually cooped up at home, due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, parents are quite afraid of letting their children out of the home, for fear that harm might come to them, even though the houses young people are stuck in are with poor electricity and, in cases, without running water. My question for the Presidency, following the APC’s official social media handle expressing the president’s shock on the first day of the protest, is: How were you shocked? How could anyone claim to be shocked? These protests were definitely on the radar for so long! How could anyone not see them coming?
What was shocking to me was how young adults protesting peacefully could then be met with rounds of gun shots with live ammunition that have led to the deaths of at least 10 people. And how water cannons that seemingly didn’t exist when government buildings and markets were burning have suddenly become available, and have been deployed to so much waste in being targeted at people who were simply standing, sitting or dancing, whilst voicing their rights to live without fear of the people charged with protecting them. As a 20-something year old whose heart skips a beat whenever I have been stopped by the police or on seeing SARS officers, the protest is not much to ask for.
More shocking is how trigger-happy the police seem to be, how efficient they have been at framing people for murder, and how, even with orders from the inspector general of the Police, it took several lawyers, members of the House of Representatives and others to physically show up, for protesters who were wrongfully arrested to be released. Or how a governor was at one side of town smirking and telling protesters that SARS had been disbanded, while on the other side of town, peaceful protesters were being shot at recklessly by other Police officers.
Most insulting and shocking of all was a state government offering a compensation of one million naira to the family of Jimoh Isiaq who, by all indications, was a bystander who died due to the reckless actions of members of the police force who, very conveniently, cannot be identified. One thing that is clear is that the chain of command for governance in Nigeria “na pure cruise”.
Since the protests began, promises have been made by the government but still the young Nigerians on the streets of have refused to relent in the protests because promises of the Nigerian government always end up being merely verbal, and are rarely followed through by concrete actions. On the 13th of October, the big honcho at the Force Headquarters announced the setting up of a new tactical team for the Police christened “SWAT”, which is a poor attempt, to be completely honest, at renaming the problem. Putting a carpet over a hole, following Tom and Jerry antics, is in no way a solution; and redeploying members of the now ‘defunct’ SARS into the Police Force, does not do anything about their past. If evolutionary game theory has taught me anything it is that these courses of action would merely spoil the “good eggs” in the Police that the president referred to in the video released on his official twitter handle.
In a series of largely uncoordinated protests without an obvious leader or head that would collect hush money and call the protests to an end, several have tried to take a sit at a top that does not exist. For, the head of this lion is all of us. All of us who are tired of being harassed, being arrested, and losing our loved ones and friends. For those who have had meetings claiming to represent “us” and have proceeded to spew false information and mislabel peaceful protesters, suggesting that the latter’s motives are questionable, either because they were not made the face of the movement, or because they seek to garner favour from those we seek to hold accountable, we say a scornful ‘well done’ to you. You have chosen to be part of the problem and not the solution.
Beautiful to see, however, in the midst of this chaos is that young Nigerians across the country are doing what the government has failed to do for them. Donations are being pooled to provide food, medical and legal support for protesters. Decades of pushing religious and ethnic biases down our throats have also been spit out and in the peaceful moments when excessive force is not being used on protesters, the pictures of the streets of Nigeria are filled with people fighting for their right to life – the barest minimum the government can give – whilst looking out for each other, giving each other shoulders that they can each cry on. All the while, they have been cleaning up the streets of detritus from the protests, so as not to stress the underpaid street cleaners of the waste management authority.
Knowing that a thousand words, and a single individual, cannot represent my friends on the streets of Nigeria and of twitter, I will end this piece with a few observations. The first is to the government, if they see this: Rather than do things the old way, including holding meetings behind closed doors, how about a wee bit more transparency and open conversations? The man-hours wasted by prolonging this protests, through an unwillingness to relent to the full demands of the civic action, is surely better used differently. To those who seek to piggyback on this movement for personal gains: Please respect yourselves and stop this. To those we have lost: We are sorry that we failed you. And to the men and women who are yelling from the top of their lungs: Do not stop shouting. On this note, I end with a loose paraphrase of one of my favourite tweets since this all began. “Young Nigerians are amazing, forget, na condition make us bend”.
About the Author: Ehireme Alexis Uddin is an Economics graduate with a penchant for writing.
Source: Premium Times