It is fairly to say that the EndSARS protest achieved a lot even though it groaned at some point when it was abused to purpose. Apart from forcing the replacement of the accursed Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) with Special Weapons and Tactics Unit (SWAT), it also subserved other purposes chief among which was exposure of the frosty relationship between the government and the youth.
Many had expressed surprise at the response and near total involvement of youths throughout Nigeria in the peaceful protest. Beyond police brutality, the protest was more a response to the seeming unconcerned attitude of the government to the plight of the youths. The no-thaw relationship between the government and the youths derives more from the continuous rise in the youths’ unemployment and the realization that no effort is made to include them in government business. With shards of broken promises, evident in the manner the government leans more on gerontocracy, the passionate demonstration was unavoidably inflamed.
That most of those in government today came in as youths not for possessing special skills or precocious ability, but because they were availed the chance, requires that fairer treatment should also be accorded those asking for it. Sadly, that is not the case. What you have is some form of restriction at the top which neither allows admission of “outsiders” in government, nor impressed with the demands of the youths. As a matter of fact, those in government seem determined to strain the limits of constitutional authority to stay in office in total exclusion of the youths.
Perhaps only a few state governors run youth-inclusive government. These Governors do not just encourage youth participation in government, but they also have significant number of them appointed into positions in their government. One of such governors is Chief Willie Obiano of Anambra state.
He may not enjoy this status alone as there are others who are also involved, but he certainly did a thing or two that marks his government out as exceptionally youth friendly. What he did may not be public knowledge or readily admitted by those who have taken a position, but he did them nonetheless. The Governor has large proportion of those who attend his executive council meeting drawn from the youth. At a point in his administration, a commissioner in his cabinet was appointed at an age when he could not statutorily assume office. While he waited to attain the required age his ministry was overseen by another. To date, three commissioners or four in Obiano’s cabinet are of youthful age. Many more are in his employ as special aides.
His chief of staff, his chief of protocol etc are all youths. There are many others who are deploying their youthful energy and vision to drive the unique Anambra spirit. Anybody conversant with development in the state broadcast station will notice even if it is an uptick in broadcast excellence at the Anambra Broadcasting Station (ABS). The station is a typical example of where youthful vigour matched with vision has driven an otherwise moribund station to commendable height. The improvement can only be appreciated when the past is brought in perspective. Ditto for government ministries, department and agencies where youthful vision is deployed with energy and elan.
Perhaps because most of the Governor’s aides are mainly youth, service delivery in government has improved. Everything is done with promptness. The time between payment and service delivery has so improved that what took months to accomplish now takes days to achieve. This does not suppose that all is well or that everything is working as expected. But it communicates a whole lot. The visible improvement might not have happened if youthful energy and vision were replaced with lethargy and shortsightedness.
It is not any different in the State House of Assembly where two third of its members, including the Speaker is a youth. It may profit nothing to dwell on the merits of this unique Assembly. But is enough to say that popular bills do not take eternity to go through the necessary readings before they are passed. Neither do they squeak through. They simply get passed. It is the same scenario in the National Assembly where those who fly APGA flag in the House of Representatives are all youths. Before two out of the six members were lost, one at the court, and the other through carpet crossing, all six are youths.
To the credit of the administration a lot of youth empowerment programs are active in the state. So far a good number of the youths have been taken off the street by enrolling them is one or two skill acquisition schemes. The establishment of Anambra Small Business Agency (ASBA) in 2014 ensures that take-off capital with low interest rate is provided them. To this end, most of the youths are gainfully engaged while some are employers of labour.
To further engage the youths certain agencies like Operation Clean and Healthy Anambra (OCHA) Anambra Road Maintenance Agency (ARMA) Anambra Traffic Management Agency (ARTMA) Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) et al were brought into being.
Though youth engagement does not solve all the problems bedeviling the society, but it goes a long way in nipping a good number off. Whatever the accomplishments of the End SARS protest, the energy, time and resources spent on it would have been channeled elsewhere for greater good. It is not too late in the day work out solution to the mass unemployment in the land. A country without productive youth deliberately gives hostage to her own fortune. The End SARS protest may have come and gone, but the memory lingers. It will not be presumptuous to say that the country runs a risk of violent protest if nothing tangible is done to address some of the issues raised by protesters.
Odegbo, Aborgu 11 n’Nteje