#EndSARS Movement and the Youth Re-awakening
As I write this, the #EndSARS protest currently riding on the wave of populism in Africa’s most populous country is in its 19th day of its youth led protest around the country. The grouse against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and Police are extra-judicial killings and brutality that have gone on for decades without a definite intervention from the government.
Like many other institutions and school curriculums in Nigeria, a revision of orientation and vision is almost non-existent.
As the economies of societies evolve, so do crime forms change. So, while SARS might have been suitable to combat a surge in highway armed-robberies in the late 90s and early 2000s, its violent-orientation would be out of place for a financial technology driven economy like contemporary Nigeria. This means that a reduction in the movement of cash automatically toned down the violent armed-robberies.
With the increase in the idleness of SARS men, they became jobber men for influential men and some say, politicians to settle personal scores.
The irony now is that SARS men became a ‘state sponsored’ armed-robbery squad that freely killed, harassed, kidnapped, raped and heavily extorted the citizens they were meant to protect.
The New Landlords
The people who have been pushed to the wall for long have now bounced back with a rise in pockets of large protests that have consistently and organically been held in Lagos, Enugu, Abuja, Anambra, Rivers, Oyo, Benin and other southern states. Northern Nigeria in taking part of this epochal event joined to speak up against insecurity, in the form of terrorism and banditry, with a hashtag #SecureNorth. Also, the diaspora in a refreshing show of patriotism have met with High Commissioners, stormed the embassies and have held rallies in parts of Africa, Europe and Northern America in solidarity.
Although international governments are yet to lend their voices to the #ENDSARS protest which was sparked off on Twitter, was number 1 on the Twitter global trend table and has garnered over 30 million tweets in less than 2 weeks of demonstrations, many influential global individuals like Kanye West, T.D Jakes, Mesut Ozil and others have tweeted in favour of the #ENDSARS movement. Some others like Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, went the extra mile of canvassing for donations to the central protest funds managed by the Feminist Coalition.
The Nigerian millennials and Gen Z that are making history as leaders of the largest and most coordinated peaceful demonstration since 1993. They have proven that they did not inherit the silence of their parents and are ready to create the future they want.
However, even as the accolades have rolled in, there have been concerns raised about the ability of the protesters to sustain the movement; to milk the most important reforms necessary for a better system, without giving in to fatigue and ceding the movement to unscrupulous elements. It thereby inadvertently points to the implications of not having a central leadership to articulate the demands and design a proficient systemic path to guide the people in achieving the desired results. This, according to scholars is the bane of leaderless protests.
Bringing into perspective other recent leaderless movements like those in Hong Kong and France, protests turn into a contest of ‘who has more power’ The more the government delays in implementing demands or are peaceful protesters harassed, the more demands increase.
Like in the 2 cases in point, there is only so much the government would be willing and able to do within the given short time. Thus, when these protests are stretched which ordinarily would greatly affect Nigeria, a predominantly retail economy, the government would grow impatient and employ the use of force. The result is a widespread riot as protesters (who do not have a central leadership) would only grow angrier; devolving into a government verses the people conflict.
So, where does this protest lead to?
Every protest movement finds a way to the dialogue table. For the young Nigerians, it would not be a negotiation of their rights which have been abused for decades, but to tackle the issue through a lesser combustible means. It is good to note that while a leaderless protest best fits this populist driven movement at the early stage, in the long run, a body that represents the interest of all the concerned youths should be created. A kind of structure that puts into perspective, the divisive reality of Nigeria. One that is strong yet decentralized.
Furthermore, morphing into a political party should be a necessity to consolidate power in the long run but should not be rushed to avoid the disasters that are the current political parties, neither should simply getting power be the top priority. A domino effect of the Arab Spring is a return to unrests because the movement was too consumed with removing a government in power without making plans for a better replacement.
Finally, an issue that the youths should take under advisement is a root-branch approach to solving the challenges of Nigeria. It is verifiable that these challenges of Police brutality and corruption are offshoots of a larger problem, which is the current counter-productive political structure. Consequently, while the protest sends a message of re-awakening in the youths, which is healthy for our democracy, a comprehensive reform of any institution is incomplete without a political restructuring, which would best be got at the table.