“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in all of us. As we are liberated from our fears, our presence immediately liberates others.”
–MUK inspired by M. Williamson.
Protest, all over the world, has been accepted as one of the civil ways through which citizens publicly express their objection, disapproval and dissatisfaction for government’s policies, actions or inactions. While citizens’ remonstrations are easily tolerated in democratic countries, the less democratic ones are most likely intolerant about them. Nevertheless, the phenomenon, provided it is done peacefully, has one of the ingredients of democracy, as citizens’ right to freedom of assembly is constitutionally enshrined.
In Nigeria, while the Constitution is laden with provisions of rights to the freedom of association/assembly, protest or remonstration has always proven to be problematic. And, of course, the aftermath of it in most cases is usually violence, the killing of protesters by security operatives, and the hijacking of the protest by hoodlums.
These consequences of protest in the country may explain why Nigerians, particularly the youth, are often docile and lack remonstrative tendencies, even amid unfavorable policies from government.
However, the ongoing EndSARS protest has defied the perceptible docility of Nigerian youths, especially this generation of youths that has been accused of only being interested in the frivolities of the entertainment industry.
For it is agreeably believed that Nigerians, in the words of the late Afrobeats singer, Fela Kuti, are known for “suffering and smiling,” thus, always lacking the courage to demand good governance from their government.
Interestingly, the protest was kick-started and led by artistes from the entertainment industry and various youth organisations.
Within the last two weeks, the youth had taken over the streets. Initially, when this protest started, it was peaceful, with little or no news of violence; what became fascinating to an average Nigerian on the street was how the youth sang in one voice, irrespective of religious, ethnic, and political inclinations that easily polarise us. Sadly, despite how peaceful the protest was at the outset, many equally knew it would turn violent, if sustained for a long by time.
According to Peter Osalor, in an article published in Vanguard newspaper on December 24, 2012, a sustained protestation to enforce the desired outcome from a constituted authority fits the label of youth restiveness. It could also be a combination of any action or conduct that constitutes unwholesome, unacceptable activities engaged by youths in any community. Youth restiveness, in any case, is not new to Nigeria. Oftentimes, the approach of government in handling it makes it degenerate to anarchy.
The peacefulness of the #EndSARS protest was short-lived, thus vindicating earlier premonitions of analysts. No doubt, the emergence of the pro-SARS group to disperse the #EndSARS protesters became one of the catalytic factors for the violence we have experienced in the protest so far. Within the cities of Lagos and Abuja, pro-SARS group or thugs (as many refer to them), alleged to be loyal to the government, were seen attacking and dispersing peaceful and lawful protesters from the streets. In a self-preservative manner, protesters quickly mobilised to defend themselves against attacks.
Given the fact that #EndSARS protesters and the pro-SARS group were busy attacking each other on the streets, Nigerian security operatives did not help but worsen the restiveness of the youth. What happened at the Lekki Tollgate, Lagos, which has been the epicentre of the protest, leaves much to be desired. It is unimaginable to think that fully kitted military officers, armed to the teeth, would open fire on unarmed protesters just to disperse them. What is rather more mind-boggling to many is the mixed messages as to who gave the orders and why.
After the Lekki shooting, hoodlums went on a rampage destroying lives and properties in retaliation for the shooting and alleged killings. Television Continental (TVC), Nation newspaper, the palace of the Oba of Lagos, and a handful of police stations were burnt. In Benin, Edo State, even before the Lekki shooting, hoodlums attacked a correctional centre and released some inmates. Incidents of the destruction of life and property have also been reported in cities like Aba, Abuja, Awka and Port Harcourt, among others.
Going by every indication, Nigerian youths are venting their grievances against the Nigerian state in a violent manner. And there may not be any better hypothetical paradigm through which one can see what is happening in the country as it stands, other than the Frustration-Aggression theory, which states that frustration always precedes aggression. Aggression is the sure consequence of frustration.
In any country, the economic importance of youths cannot be over-stated. If adequately educated and economically engaged, the youths become the driving force of any nation’s economy, as their productive age can be absorbed in the workforce to ensure economic growth. This, of course, is what economists popularly refer to as demographic dividends. Unfortunately, however, it appears Nigeria has not taken advantage of its youth population to harness the country’s demographic dividend.
Nigeria’s population, according to a report released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2019, largely comprises youths within the age bracket of 10 to 24 years. Similarly, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s youth population eligible for work is about 40 million; out of this number, only 14.7 million are fully employed, while 11.2 million are unemployed.
In the second quarter of 2020, 13.9 million youths are currently unemployed in Nigeria. What is more disheartening of the deplorable economic state of Nigerian youths is the dependency ratio. Youth dependency ratio is estimated at 83. In other words, out of 100 youths, 83 of them depend on someone for their livelihood.
All the negative economic indices of youths enumerated above, no doubt, have in one way or the other contributed to the violent outcome of the #EndSARS protest. The ongoing and incessant ASUU strike has not also helped out, for many of the youths seen on the streets protesting would probably have been in school learning, were it not for the strike.
But how best can the government handle the protest to avoid further escalation?
Some state governors across the country have instituted a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate and report cases of police brutality. The governor of Lagos State, for instance, even went further to set up a pool fund of about N200 million for the compensation of families of victims of police brutality.
As applaudable as these governor’s initiatives are, protesters are still not happy about it. To them, the police is a federal institution, and any attempt to address their grievances must come from the Federal Government. This led to pressure on the President to address the country.
To douse the tension in the land, the President finally yielded to the pressure, as he addressed the country on Thursday, October 22, 2020. In his address, the President urged protesting youths to leave the streets, as their voices have been heard loud and clear.
Critics of the President accused him of not showing any empathy towards the victims of the Lekki shooting, that the President was sympathetic to the Oba of Lagos and police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty, and failed to mention the innocent citizens who allegedly lost their lives.
Another aspect of the President’s address that also received criticism was his quickness to reel out the administration’s scorecard in youth empowerment. His critics saw it as a diversionary tactic to run from the burning issues on the ground. To this end, they asked, if youths have been properly empowered, how come there are high rates of poverty, crimes, youth restiveness, and insecurity in the land?
In all, the #EndSARS protest portends great danger for the country, if not properly handled. Aside from the properties and lives that have been lost, this is not to even mention that some businesses that have been looted by hoodlums may have to retrench some of their workforce, as the International Monetary Fund has stated, the #EndSARS protest may mar Nigeria’s economic growth projection in 2020.