By Jude Daniel
A nation the size of Nigeria, no doubt, has potentials to explore. More fascinating is the fact that of the over 200 million people that make up the country, more than 70% are younger breeds. Youths and Young adults account for more than 45% of that population, while teenagers and children are over 35% on the spread. This little statistics can be corroborated even by our own National Bureau of Statistics. The point with the number is to underscore the quality of potentials laying untapped in Nigeria. Youthful vigour, creativity, innovation, dynamism and capacity remain unharnessed in the social, economic and political space of Nigeria.
Growing up, the youths have at different times heard that they are the leaders of tomorrow. They told themselves this aphorism until some of them woke up to realize they are no longer youths. The twist to the matter now is that youths are now been perceived to be unserious, unproductive and unready for impactful living.
Pathetically, it is so easy to come across youths telling themselves that the youths of Nigeria are not ready. This has become the tale of a Nigerian youth who either never got education because parents could not afford it, or has remained jobless years after graduation, or has no skill set, capital or environment to be gainfully employed. They because ready prey for crime, promiscuity or violence. An average Nigerian youth feels oppressed, depressed and distressed just for the sole reason that life generally has become more difficult to live in the country.
The opportunities that life in the country offers are infinitely so minute that even before it gets to the public, a privileged few have cornered it. Many have been pushed by the system to begin to device their own definition and means of survival. The policeman, who receives the heat for high crime rate in the society, is left ill-equipped and overwhelmed. He wrongly fights back through the easy option of finding his own prey – still the youths. A decay that has eaten so badly into the system, always swept under the carpet, never addressed or wrongly addressed until it culminated in the historic October of the year 2020. #EndSARS struggle remains in the annals of our nation, and indeed global history, as a defining phase for the young people of Nigeria. For the first time after a very long time, perhaps after independence, we saw Nigerian youths put up such resilience and resistance. Today marks the anniversary of the Lekki Shooting that climaxed that struggle and the nation is still counting it losses. Panel of inquiries across the country are awarding compensation to the victims of the chaos that somehow was harvested from what can be acclaimed to be the most peaceful and organized protest ever witnessed from the youths in Africa.
What are the lessons none should ignore about that heroic struggle? The strategy of the #EndSARS protest was never anticipated and that accounted for the very huge success of that struggle. Nigerian youths have sent a message loud and clear that their sanctity of life and dignity of human person is all they have got left. They will defend that with their last blood even if there will be more episodes of the struggles. However, Nigerian youths yielded to the call for truce with a view to experience a directional leadership, accountability, lawful and orderly society. They want a new crop of leaders who can offer the Nation these ethos as a large chunk of the current leaders have been bad news.
The youths are indeed ready to be the future they desire to see and must be giving platforms to experience a Nigeria steered in the direction they desire. Crackdown was never the way to go and should never be the way to go as we approach the transitional year of 2023. Survey has proven that force is a fuel that should never be apply against the flames of resistance. The people who have very little or nothing to lose will fight back when pushed beyond the bounds of their tolerance. Now is the time for the government and all of its agencies to begin to work out ways they can smartly douse the tension in the polity, especially among the youths. The youths must see objectivity, transparency, reasonable independence and global best practices in the operations of all that the government, its agencies and ministries do. This is the time to woo the Nigerian youths to explore diplomatic, peaceful and participatory engagement of the polity to fully harness the human and economic potentials of the nation. The political consciousness of majority of the Nigerian youths has been awakened by the #EndSARS struggle. They are more interested in the qualities of the next generation of leaders for the country. They have formed several political associations and are in the process of registering a political party. A group known as Africa Youth Democratic Party (AYDP) approached the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in December, 2020 for registration but was turned down. The youths conducted themselves civilly and challenged INEC’s decision in an Abuja High Court where they secured a favourable judgment. Strangely, INEC for reasons best known to it has decided to appeal that judgment. There is a strong message of hope here that the youths are willing to follow due process and peace paths, a gesture that should be reciprocated.
Although the propriety of INEC appealing a decision that favours the registration of the youths’ party leaves much to be desired, the youths are encouraged to continue in this path of trust for the system, and hope not to be disappointed at the end. The government, by itself or through its agencies should not allow the youths to have any reason to think they are been suppressed or cracked down. The demands of the youths during the struggle raised serious credibility issues with governance.
The youths lost their siblings and friends on this score one year back. The least the government can do at this time is to give them a voice they can identify with – a platform to ease their participation in politics, and drive the lofty manifesto they desire to ride upon. A good way to start earning the trust of the youths will be to commiserate with them for their losses on 20th October, 2020. It is not too much to ask that this date be declared the new National Youth Day in Nigeria.
Daniel, Esq. is the National Legal Adviser & a Co-founder, Africa Youth Democratic Party (AYDP)