Serving Overseer of The Citadel Global Community Church (CGCC) Pastor Tunde Bakare, has said that Nigerians cannot afford to keep silent while youths face the same ‘beasts’ those in his generation faced as undergraduates.
Speaking on Sunday, November 15, during his ‘State of the Nigerian Youth’ address
with had as theme: ‘The youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity’, Bakare decried the backlash being meted out on some of the young Nigerians who participated in the EndSARS protests against police brutality.
He said as he pondered on the shooting of unarmed protesters at Lekki Toll Gate by soldiers, he recalled the incident where as an undergraduate of the University of Lagos, he almost lost his life in the Ali Must Go protests as armed policemen fired live bullets into a crowd of students protesting peacefully and that a bullet that narrowly missed him, gunned down a young man who was beside him.
He said: “As I reminisced on the unfortunate incident of the shooting of unarmed protesters by Nigerian soldiers, I recalled with solemnity how I almost lost my life in the Ali Must Go protests as armed policemen fired live bullets into a crowd of students protesting peacefully.
“Unfortunately, the bullet that narrowly missed me gunned down the young man who was beside me, Akintunde Ojo, after whom a library in UNILAG was subsequently named. As I said in my address to the nation on October 25, 2020, it is painful that the younger generation has had to face the same beasts we fought in my generation. This is why we cannot afford to keep sinful silence when the youth of our nation are being oppressed by a Nigerian state that is supposed to protect them.
“We need to channel the tremendous energy of the Nigerian youth towards building the Nigeria of our dreams, a nation of which generations yet unborn will be proud. This has become all the more necessary because of the backlash being meted out on some of the young Nigerians who participated in the EndSARS protests.
“I was raised in abject poverty by a single mother who went through untold suffering and an enormous amount of self-sacrifice to give me an education and a sense of supreme confidence because she believed so greatly in my future.
That sense of justice was what inspired me as a student of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) to join other students in the Ali Must Go protests against a military government whose draconian policies made living conditions difficult for students. That same sense of justice was what gave me the boldness as a student leader in the University of Lagos to stand face-to-face with the then military head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo, in the company of the then Angolan president, Agostinho Neto, on November 11, 1978, and to declare within earshot of the Nigerian head of state that ‘This government possesses power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight’ (paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jnr). I would later be told by an official of the State Security Service (SSS), now Department of State Services (DSS), that it was that day in 1978 a file was opened with my name on it. I must say that such a sense of justice was what I saw in action as young Nigerians rallied the nation last month in peaceful protests against police brutality.
“As our nation returns to the drawing board in the wake of the EndSARS protests, I have observed with keen interest the policy actions and positions taken by national and subnational governments to address the broader issues of youth development in Nigeria, from the prompt disbandment of SARS, to the N75B Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (N-YIF) launched by the federal government, as well as the appointment of young Nigerians on panels of inquiry set up by various state governments. I commend these actions by the federal and state governments. They have, to an extent, been forced to self-reflect and align with the times.
“Truth be told, this season of our national life requires deep humility, sobriety and deliberate thinking through, both by the government and the governed, in order to ensure that our plans, policies and actions are weighed before they are implemented to avert the re-occurrence of our most recent crisis. In light of the foregoing, some of the actions recently taken by the government on the heels of the EndSARS protests may need to be reversed sooner rather than later in our collective best interest so that they do not trigger further protests.
“Among such policy actions is the freezing of the accounts of young Nigerians who reportedly sponsored the protests. While I admit that, under our extant laws, banks may freeze an account upon an ex parte order granted to a law enforcement agency by a court of competent jurisdiction for the purpose of investigation, these provisions of our Law should not be used to intimidate Nigerian youths simply because they engaged in and promoted protests against the inactions of government. In addition, targeting and arresting citizens on trumped-up charges, deploying court probes as a tool of intimidation, and generally eroding our fragile peace, are deeply worrisome signs of regression.
“To extend the olive branch to the youth in one breath, and to deprive the youth of the right to freedom of movement and property as enshrined in our constitution in another breath, will send confusing signals to them and cast doubts in their minds regarding the sincerity of the government. The immediate reversal of these actions, therefore, will calm raw nerves and fast track peace in our land. And if there are serious or fundamental security breaches that necessitated the freezing of bank accounts and the confiscation of a passport, these should be made known.
“Furthermore, I have followed the conversation around the regulation of social media following the violence that accompanied the EndSARS protests. I recall that my statements in this regard during an interview on Arise TV were misreported and misrepresented by those seeking occasion. Let me state, once again, that, although I have been a victim of misrepresentation and needless defamation of character on social media, I remain an advocate of freedom of expression. However, while I stand for the responsible use of social media, I will never subscribe to any attempt to deprive Nigerian youth of a space and context in which they have found a sense of self. Over the course of various interactions, I have outlined eight segments of our national life that I describe as constituting Nigeria’s political power blocs, each wielding significant influence in the outcome of politics and governance in Nigeria, namely: The Council of State and the Thirty-Six State Governors, Retired Generals, Traditional Institutions, Political Dynasties, The Private Sector (including the media), Religious Leaders, the Nigerian Labour Congress/Trade Union Congress (NLC/TUC), and Foreign Partners. My position has been that any individual or group that seeks to be reckoned with politically in Nigeria must not take any of these for granted. I would like to state at this juncture that there is a ninth power bloc that must not be taken for granted: it is the Nigerian Youth with the power of social media.
“Any political group that takes the social media savvy Nigerian youth for granted does so at its own risk or peril. This is why I strongly advice the power blocs, including the South West Governors who are calling for stricter regulation of social media, to desist from doing so.
“Lest we forget, the 1985 locus classicus case of Arthur Nwankwo v The State already removed sedition from our laws and instead reiterated that a suit of defamation of character can be brought against those who abuse the right to freedom of expression. Rather than clamp down on expressiveness, which is the lifeblood of innovation, what we ought to do is pass laws that will further empower our teeming young population to not just be constructive users of social media platforms, but to be creators of homegrown solutions able to compete globally in a technology-driven world.
“I, therefore, state without equivocation that these young Nigerians who have found their voices on social media are not the enemies of Nigeria. They are the hope of our nation. They are simply expressing the character of our DNA and the virtues that gave us independence – virtues such as the audacity to assemble as communities, including online communities, and to voice their opposition to corruption and oppression. I assure you that if social media had been invented in the days of our founding fathers, they would have deployed the tool in resisting colonial rule and fighting for our independence, just as they effectively deployed conventional media such as newspapers to achieve these objectives…
“A possible way to address this holistically – and I am open to other suggestions – is for the youth of Nigeria, with their track record of self-governance during the EndSARS protests, to spearhead conversations in conjunction with local and international civil society organisations, with a view to adopting best practices elsewhere and innovating in the light of local realities, and ultimately working with such media platforms as Facebook and Twitter to flag dangerous content. This could minimise the concerns around government regulation or repression and places the power and responsibility squarely in the hands of the vast majority of end users, the Nigerian youth,” he said.