For more than a week now, the youths in the country have taken to the streets for one reason or the other, ranging from the excesses of the defunct police squad, code-named, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to the insecurity in some parts of the country; the most prominent aspect of the struggle being the campaign against the retention of SARS in the country. Recall that, after some procrastination by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Muhammed Adamu, there was presidential intervention, leading to the disbandment of the squad. This disbandment, it was thought, would lead to the cessation of the protest but, alas, it appeared to be the commencement.
Regrettably, the IGP, hastily, in my view, announced a new outfit called Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT). Days after the announcement of the scrapping of the squad and the establishment of the new outfit, five new demands were made by the protesters. The government, in response, accepted all the demands of the youths. Still, the protests persisted. The question on the lips of all, therefore, is how the protests can be stopped or brought to an end.
Let me state, as reflected in my several write-ups in the past, the state of the nation could largely be attributed to the docility of Nigerians generally. This is not strange, however, if we countenance the warning of one of my favourite philosophers, John Stuart Mills, when he said, “All it takes for a nation to decay is for the good people there to keep quiet.”
The Yoruba replica says, Aile s’oro ni ipile oriburuku. The replica in Igbo language being, Okooha fu Elwupuhu Ona aza OKPURUKPU, which means, if an elder keeps quiet when things go wrong, he also suffers from same leprosy and will pay the price too.
Thus, the state of the country today cannot be divorced from the docility of Nigerians generally. While the rising up of the youths is commendable, particularly in the face of the impotence of the labour movement and the death of student movement in the country, a lot is still desired from the protesters. Let me confess that, prior to the protest, I seemed to have lost hope in the system, thinking the Nigeria situation was irredeemable. With the singular act of the youths in the past few days, I believe that there is now hope. I am not too sure that there is any nation that progresses where the citizens are docile. By the protest, the youths have succeeded in re-establishing the sovereignty of the people.
This is a clear demonstration of the fact that power belongs to the people and not the leaders. The donated power can always be recalled anytime the people deem fit. The signs for my optimism range from the acceptance of the protest by the government as genuine, to the civil manner of handling it, except for the latest Lagos massacre, which I shall address in my next column. In fact, the Presidency continues to acknowledge the right of Nigerians to peaceful protest. This, to my mind, is commendable and a good omen for the nation. Protest, as a feature of democracy, enhances the delivery by the leaders, as they cannot claim monopoly of wisdom. Citizens add value to the act of governance through the expression of their views. Secondly, the tendency of leaders to abuse power is often checked by the people in this manner. As a British historian of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Lord Acton, said, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Against this background, therefore, there must always be a check against the intoxicant nature of power, if society must not descend into authoritarianism. This underscores the pre-eminence of the rule of law in society.
There cannot be institutions, much less, strong institutions, in the absence of the rule of law. The alternative to the rule of law is the rule of man, which breeds nothing other than anarchy. The role of the followers or the governed, consequently, ought to be checks on the system, particularly in terms of accountability and probity. Beyond this demand for accountability for the mandate given to the leaders, citizens must continuously engage the government to ensure transparency. Peaceful protest is a tenet of democracy and a right that cannot be circumscribed. In fact, in some climes, it leads mostly to conduct of referendum over issues. Unfortunately, the right of protest, as pivotal to democracy as it is, has been stifled in NIgeria, thereby crippling the growth of the country. Democracy demands the triumph of the majority’s position over that of the minority, no matter how unsound and uninformed such opinion is.
This is because democracy is a popularity contest and not an intellectual debate. It is a fault of the system but it is still recognized as the best form of government so far despite its imperfections. That the Nigerian youths are not doing anything extraordinary or unusual can best be appreciated if we recall the experiences of other nations in recent times.
We are all living witnesses of the events that started in Tunisia, which, subsequently, spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and other Middle East countries, today known as the Arab Spring. The youths in those countries were the triggers in what today changed the complexions of their nations. Remember the struggle in those countries were against oppressive governments, police corruption, economic struggle and widespread human rights violations. Also, remember the International Indigenous Youth Council in Dakota, where the young activists altered the course of events in that country. A recent instance is also the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri, which culminated into a country-wide protest in the United States of America against the aggression of the police against Blacks.
Sam Brannen, in his article, ‘The Age of Leaderless Revolution,” had this to say, ‘citizens’ grievances are many but share a common theme: the failure of ruling elites and political institutions to meet expectations of dignity and betterment.
Protesters are frustrated with perceived corruption and economic inequality. Often young, angry, and urban, protesters are not an organised opposition proposing the substitution of their party or ideology for an existing one but a leaderless movement demanding their voices are heard. In some cases, protesters’ demands are clear; more often they are muddled. Across the board, the aggrieved want change in systems that feel outdated, broken, or non-responsive’. This mission of the Nigerian youths, however, suffers from the affliction of absence of leadership. Although leaderless movement is a recent strategy in revolutionary warfare dictated by the social media, it, however, cannot work in a situation like Nigeria, where the tendency of other elements such as politicians and hoodlums hijacking protest is highly probable. This gap has actually led to the latest developments in several parts of the country, particularly Osun State, where the Governor alleged the political opponents to have been responsible for the attacks unleashed on him; in Benin where a similar insinuation was drawn, coupled with the activities of hoodlums; in Lagos and in Abuja, where there are accusations and counter-accusations between the government and protesters as who engaged hoodlums to disrupt the protests. These are simply consequences of lack of leadership. Leadership could have enabled the protesters to guard their flanks from the hoodlums and would have enabled them situate their demands properly.
After war-war, it is jaw-jaw. Hence, no matter how long the protests persist, the end result will still be dialogue. Inevitably, this will require the representatives of the protesters as leaders to marshal their thoughts in a deliberative atmosphere with the government. As remarked above, there is nothing strange in leaderless struggles as aptly captured by Sam Brannen,, “…It is a question of when, not if, the digital flash mob comes for those in power. Leaderless movements are a tidal wave washing over our planet. The energy that creates them does not dissipate even when they are crushed by authoritarian governments. Rather it re-gathers strength. It cannot be ignored, but it can be co-opted for harm or good”.
Existence of leadership would have led to the creation of structures essential to the immediate and future agitation of grievances.
The lack of leadership is usually costly, as currently witnessed in the country where the undue mayhem and violence, not intended, are being perpetrated by miscreants attributing same to genuine activists. What this reveals is the imperfection in the leadership capacity of the youth. Indisputably, they demonstrated some measure of leadership capacity before the hijack. Unfortunately, attempts by some elders to give some guidance were rebuffed, suspiciously for good reason.
Elders have not over time shown why they should be trusted, hence the fear of seeking or taking advice from them.
Notwithstanding, the saying is, Ti omode ba n ge igi ni’gbo, agba lo maa mo ibi ti o maa wo si (where a child fells a tree in the forest, it is the elders that know the direction of its landing). The adult counsel could have helped to direct the fledgling protests. In some states, curfew has been imposed, and more states possibly will follow suit. By the time the majority or all the states are under curfew, the country would have been shut down. How does this help the country that is just struggling to recover from the compelling COVID-19 lockdown?
At the end of the day, is the country not dangerously heading towards failure? This is why I believe that the imposition of curfew might not be the best solution in the circumstances.
One would have thought that the government would first accelerate the full and actual resumption of the tertiary institutions at all levels. These young ones have been at home for seven months with the attendant boredom, waiting for government to fashion out the necessary protocols for them to resume. In other climes, schools have for long resumed in one form or the other, thereby engaging the youths and enabling them positively channel their youthful energy into productive ventures. That is not so in Nigeria. Hence, when the protest started, the youth saw relaxation opportunity in it and resumed daily at the various centres.
This is further aided by the provision of all basic needs at the venues, food, drinks, medical andlegal support, in a few instances, financial support. Do you then blame them for seeking happiness in those venues? The youths are practically visiting the relaxation parks in Lagos for pleasure and not really out to disrupt anything. Can the government, therefore, fast-track the resumption into campuses of these youths and take time to attend to the grievances of the youths in a manner that provides reasonable solutions to their challenges?
The other category of those involved in the protests are the jobless. They are in multitudes. Government needs to urgently create an engagement scheme for them. Without any form of engagement, the devil will continue to find job for idle hands. Addressing the new seven-point demands might be insufficient.
The ongoing protest is a wakeup call to Nigerian leaders and it is hoped that the opportunity will not be allowed to slip in adjusting their traditional posture of being nonchalant. Should the Nigerian government survive this, the strong warning by Sam Brannen must be borne in mind that, ‘Leaderless revolutions grow in perceived voids of leadership at the national and international levels around the globe. Social media is accelerating and enabling them. We are in a new age of leaderless revolution. The accelerating trendline is clear, and we would be wise to look for its further intensification in years and perhaps decades ahead’.
A word is enough for the wise, as the country may not be this lucky next time.