By Jerome Mario-Utomi
No one seemed to have seen it coming that Nigerian youths previously described as ‘lazy’ could one day build; stakeholders’ engagement, demand accountability from leaders, advocates nation building tradition and good governance activism.
Essentially, from the sustained/relentless ENDSARS Campaign which has spanned over one week, it is not only evident that Nigeria’s youngest citizens have crawled out of their shells to make a demand that their elected government treat them with dignity and protect their constitutional rights and democratic freedoms, rather, what is in some ways newsy and apparent is that the youths grouse against the ruling party enjoys the support of well meaning Nigerians of diverse background, profession, religion and tribe.
This frightening revelation recently came to the fore at Ojota, Lagos Centre of the movement after a conversation on the ENDSARS Campaign with one prominent Nigerian youth that has met resistance from the government in the past but refused to give up in his quest to build a better Nigeria.
Separate from saying that the present youths revolt is rather a fight against deformed leadership, resource mismanagement and perennial egotism, and fired by the reality that the oppressed cannot remain oppressed forever, this young Nigerian was quick to underline that this kind of crisis is bound to happen in any nation where lust for power prevails over granting people the love and care they deserve, and when the interests and destiny of some individuals becomes more important than those of a whole nation. This also occurs when the interests of some groups and some cliques benefiting from certain structures are served instead of those of all the people; in other words, when you put the people at the service of the government, in sharp contrast with the norm. When leaders fail to accommodate, coach or invite the youths to start learning leadership via a sincere political apprenticeship, this is exactly what you get.
While noting that the world is in agreement that the federally controlled Nigeria Police Force (NPF) with about 371,800 officers, is endemically corrupt, underfunded, understaffed and being outpaced by the manifold internal security challenges of a country with an estimated population of more than 200 million, he particularly lamented that the SARS which was set up in 1992, appears to operate free of accountability and has become notorious for operating in the same clandestine and violent manner as the criminal groups it was created to combat.
Over the years, he observed, the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, has sustained a public enlightenment campaign designed to assure Nigerians that the Policeman or woman is his or her friend, but in reality, many Nigerians, who have had one thing or the other to do with the police, will readily tell you that a policeman or a policewoman in not a friend but also patently devilish and incorrigibly corrupts.
Some Nigerians, he added, now liken the police system in Nigeria to a pig which is always at home with dirt no matter what is done to keep it clean. That, probably, explains the origin of the adage that no matter how you wash and comb a pig, it will still remain to operate in a dirty environment. So is the police system and corruption in Nigeria.
On the issue of petrol pump price and electricity tariff hike, he recalled that one of the popular demands during the fuel subsidy removal protest in January, 2012, under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration, was that the federal government should take measures to strengthen corporate governance in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, as well as in the oil and gas sector as a whole. This is because of the belief that weak structures made it possible for the endemic corruption in the management of both the downstream and upstream sectors of the oil and gas industry.
Eight years after such demand was made and Jonathan gone, the three government-owned refineries in the country have not been able to function at full capacity as promised by the present administration for a myriad of reasons that revolve around corruption.
Today, if there is anything that Nigerians wish that the FG should accomplish quickly, it is getting the refineries to function optimally as well as make the NNPC more accountable to the people. As what happened under president Jonathan has become a child’s play when compared with the present happenings in Nigeria’s oil/gas and electricity sectors.
Under this condition, he queried; why won’t the youth revolt that Nigeria at independence was tipped by Global economic experts, following a study of its strides, to emerge as the most successful black nation because of its purpose-driven population and with an unbridled hunger to succeed, but today, contrary to that prediction, crawls at the base of the world’s economic pyramid? Why won’t the youths protest in a country that was in the 1960s/70 laced with splendid agriculture, immense natural resources, a fantastic GDR, a strong infrastructure, world class Universities, an awe inspiring telecommunication system, a foremost and far reaching television station, an excellent sport, a vibrant and formidable military, but today, ranks as the world poverty capital stripped of infrastructures? Why can’t the masses revolt in a country that has so many outstanding people in all fields of scholarship, but has for yet to be identified reasons allowed the high standards the British left them to be lowered?
This development he noted becomes even more painful when one remembers that presently in the country, going by the national bureau of statistics reports, 27.1 per cent of the nation’s workforce is unemployed, 40.8 per cent of young people aged 15-24 and 30.8 percent of 25-34 years are out of work.
If Nigeria’s unemployed youth were its own country, says a report, it would be larger than Tunisia or Belgium.
As the protest rages, onething stands out. This piece is of the views that there is something fundamentally wrong with a society that does not give opportunities to its young people even when it is globally noted that youths have in the past rescued societies.
But from what the youths are saying, it appears they have suddenly realized that the Constitution gave sovereignty to the people. That every citizen is expected to hold Government stakeholders to account for the use of the resources entrusted into their care. They have remembered that the outlook is bleak and have decided to use their innovative prowess to change the narrative. Particularly as ‘the failure of the government to improve economic conditions and expand opportunities for its youngest citizens has been worsened by President Muhammadu Buhari who is now on track to preside over two recessions’.
Indeed, while it is relevant for all to take hope in the youths’ capacity to enthrone a nation where we can coexist harmoniously irrespective of tribe or ethnical inclination and truly establish the egalitarian society that we have been deprived of, our leaders must not fail to remember that what the youths currently demands is good governance, and someone to nurture their potential for innovation, creativity, and self-confidence in leadership.Leaders must recognize also that ‘those who lead from the top of the pyramid end up leading only those on top, which is not how development exercise should be carried out’.
To win therefore, the youth must be guided by the time-honoured saying that courage faces fear and masters it while cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose their zest for living even though their life situation is restless, but cowardly men overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live’.This is not the time to show apathy or complacency but a period to work passionately and indefatigably to right the wrong.
Utomi, a Lagos-Based Media Consultant writes via firstname.lastname@example.org.