It is heart-wrenching and heart-rending to be living in Nigeria and witnessing the ‘horrendous horror’ that the authorities across the nation subject their citizens in the guise of leadership. And even worst still, their responses to peaceful protests by mainly youths of Nigeria. For once, and akin to national football, Nigerians were united in asking their governments to provide leadership. And what did they get? Death, then lies and pretensions!
Having sabotaged peaceful protests in a Frankenstein strategy to discredit the good, the authorities now thought they have reclaimed the public space, and wish the status quo of dysfunctional system they believe benefit them to continue.
The authorities certainly do not get it with current flurry of announcements and reminders of new and existing so-called palliatives and empowerment programmes for the youths – from the Federal Government to State Governments. Same with the rushed constitution of judicial panels of inquiry on police brutality almost the Nigeria’s 36 states and Abuja. All these to accomplish what, you may ask. The usual gambit is to distract, and achieve mere sound bytes as with their customary platitudes and exaggerated ‘developmental strides’!
In the language of the youth, Is the governments, the leaders, at all levels for real? They must be kidding!
Nigeria’s leaders may pretend, but the #EndSARS movement go beyond protests against brutality of corrupt, vicious and bestial law enforcement agents. The protestations are deeper than that; and the decidedly mischievous misreading that the youths are unemployed and therefore need some bribes to ‘calm down’ is adding salt to injury, a contemptuous insult to the sensibilities of the youths in particular and Nigerians in general.
There have been notable revolutions in recent centuries including the creation of the United States through the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), the French Revolution (1789–1799), the Spanish American wars of independence (1808–1826), the European Revolutions of 1848, the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Chinese Revolution of the 1940s, the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the European Revolutions of 1989 and most recently, the Arab Spring in the Middle East and in a couple of North African nations beginning 2010. One common thread is they left their nations better for it. To this list may be added the The October Nigerian Youths Uprising.
For our purpose, let us speak in brief but simplified specific terms what #EndSARS protestations that begun October 8, 2020 is all about. SARS stands for the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad of an equally notorious corrupt and inept Nigeria Police Force establishment.
Yes, #EndSARS uprising is about the odd and brutal policing system which presumes a citizen without clout to be a criminal and guilty of imaginary oftentimes framed up crimes until proven innocent. In their homes and offices, on the street as everywhere, the law enforcement agents with any and various nomenclature viciously clamp down on citizens without evidentiary proof. Citizens are subjected to ominous threats and extortions at gunpoint; they are fleeced of their possessions and oftentimes still get killed, or in the language of the Nigeria Police, ‘wasted’. Nigerians are saying this anomie must stop.
It is not a debatable fact that the primary objective of government is securing the lives and limbs of citizens and ensuring the happiness of the greatest number. The phenomenal protests are merely reminding governments at all levels – local, state and central – to guard against citizens dying daily in numbers in the hands of not only their compatriots in uniform but in the hands of foreign bandits and herdsmen. They are reminding government to pay attention to the history, recruitment criteria, training regime, exposure, welfare, equipment or work tools and professionalism of her law and order agents especially the police and indeed all others that interface with citizens daily.
The EndSARS protestations are about bad, corrupt and unworkable governance structure – or lack of any structure at all. They are pointing out that in a land of about 200 million inhabitants, the reward system is so lopsided in favour of high state officials who practically relocate the public vault to their bedrooms and dispense favours to administration goons and associates at will with every government programme becoming an avenue to dispense favours to cronies.
The protests are about a federating structure that functions as a unitary system. Nigeria is top heavy – exclusive and residual lists very much outweigh the concurrent in a constitution never ratified by the people. States and regions are stifled by a centre that presides over sharing of national cake and wants to determine the market days in the villages. Every one, every state depends on the centre to perform the most basic of functions like protection of lives and property or even paying salaries of local and state government officials.
As for the old and the new mischievous leaders and ethnic irredentists who suddenly do not understand what the term restructuring means are being smart by half. Truly, no further explanation is necessary. Every state, every region has a comparative advantage but they can never be explored and optimised if the mindset of largesse from the behemoth centre continues. Add to this justice, equity and fairness – for every citizen, every section.
In other words, the protesting Nigerians are seeking rationalisation of governments (perhaps, away from the costly presidential system). For instance, in our experience so far, is there any need or resources to cater for a full time, 469-member bicameral legislature? Any need for duplication of ministries, departments and agencies of government and appointments of two ministers for the numbers of ministries?
The #EndSARS is about drawing attention to the steady deterioration and indeed, outright collapse of Nigeria’s educational system. State officials must accord priority to this education not just in speeches. To underscore this commitment, protesting citizens are asking government to make it a rule no child or ward of a government official, elected or appointed – from the least, councillor to the highest, president – accesses education abroad and must patronise the country’s public school system. Nigeria’s leaders claim to love the fatherland, and here is how to demonstrate it! We only tend to realise or discover the state and or faults of our automobile we use.
Akin to the issues in the educational sector is the health sector. Nigeria’s public healthcare delivery system is at best a nightmarish and deadly joke; they were once described as consulting centres but now there is no one available to be consulted. State officials must as a mark of patriotism as well as instilling confidence patronise public healthcare institutions in Nigeria. A situation where a councillor who slips and sprains an ankle or a president with a sour throat or ear pain is flown abroad, to London, Germany or Dubai is a disservice.
The #EndSARS protestations are asking for a fair reward system in the public service. This is at the heart of the monstrous recurrent expenditures in the public service. Simply put, Nigerians are asking their leaders to moderate the insane emoluments of high state officials. They are saying that access to leadership positions should not be access to plunder the treasury. The protesters say, and rightly too, that Nigeria cannot afford to be expending huge chunks of her resources every year in funding bloated public service and the insanely ostentatious lifestyle of their high public officials; they are asking the judiciary and the legislature as the executive to drastically tone down their structures and rewards. After all, it’s called public service! It is about honour and sacrifice not feeding fat in a land of drought and famine. When the stir in public service reward system settles the private sector counterparts would adjust.
Nigerians are telling their leaders that the VIP motorcade madness is not necessary; the land and air fleets even in a robust economy are ostentatious; that States liaison offices are only a drain on dwindling treasuries; appointing hundreds and thousands of aides and travelling everywhere with uncountable number are resource leakages. Nigerians are no longer speaking in hush tones but loudly that looking good is nice but the leaders must pay for their wardrobe and feed their associates and hangers-on from their pockets. Public resources should only enhance greater public good.
Nigerian youths and indeed most Nigerians of all ages are asking their leaders, their governments to strengthen institutions of state where they exist and build new ones where none exist in order to enforce laws and engender order to ensure there are consequences for bad behaviour no matter the status of the deviant – whether an unscrupulous artisan, a brutal policeman or a corrupt, inept and bigoted public official.
Yeah, for the unrequited application of rules on the ‘street looters’ in Ado-Ekiti and Jalingo or their well-draped cousins straddling resources in Abuja and the the 36 State capitals.
The protesters are educating Nigerians why the leader is to blame for a dysfunctional Nigeria. The leader – for instance, president or governor or chairman – were elected to lead or superintend over state institutions and they run the state through their appointed proxies. To paraphrase a famous quote popularised by a former American president, Harry Truman, the buck stops on the leader’s table. Protesters are asking leaders to institute culture of merit and responsibility in public service.
These are the crux of what the Nigerian youths are asking from their leaders on behalf of their themselves and compatriots. For the avoidance of doubt, they are not asking for billions and trillions of so-called palliatives and hyped empowerment programmes to be thrown at them as is happening in flurry of announcements. They are looking beyond themselves and looking out for their silent and powerlessly docile fathers and uncles, and especially for generations yet unborn. The advice to the youths by many ‘to get involved, and organise for 2023’ is contemptuous because it pretends that leadership in Nigeria can suddenly diffuse beyond the circle of the leadership cabal; the way and manner leaders emerge in this clime compromises their integrity.
The sights and sounds of the barbaric looting and brigandage across the Nigerian landscape this past few days poignantly mirror what has been happening daily in the hands of Nigeria’s leadership class across the length and breadth of our native land for many unending decades now. This malaise is at the heart and soul of the #EndSARS movement just that police brutality provided the headline. Should we keep pretending all is well, and keep waiting for Godot to rescue us? It is in our best national interest to quit pretending Nigeria is working. In common expression, the subsequent always follows the antecedent.
Any delay in taking concrete, steady steps in stopping the national haemorrhage deepens the cancerous decay and our miseries at failed opportunities of reclamation. We must remind ourselves that personal self-deception is a fatal human flaw but national self-deception as is today in Nigeria is a volcano waiting to erupt. We all must move to save ourselves from ourselves.
In emphasis, the knowledge of the certainty of punishment and rewards for good behaviour and penalty for bad behaviour keep leaders and the led alike on an even keel – the straight and path of probity and accountability, civility and good citizenship.
Every Nigerian whether of the old or new order must realise the truism in William Shakespeare’s Brutus’ words (in Julius Caesar):
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat…
There is no gainsaying it that Nigeria has a pervasive systemic dysfunction but current leaders must sincerely commit to building anew enduring institutions of state. To the disinherited citizens and the Lords of the Manor, this is that time; this is that season to draw Nigeria away from eternal dysfunction. Providence may never provide such auspicious opportunity ever again.
• UDEAGWU writes from Abuja