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The Nigerian Youth: Builders and Burners

The Endears protest and the subsequent onslaught on protesters at the Lekki toll gate on Tuesday October 20th, 2020 which many now refer to as the ‘Black Tuesday’ with the corresponding attack on Government buildings and shops by hoodlums has reveal to us the kind of youth that we call the ‘Nigerian youth’. These set of young people that organized themselves online and offline to a group of protesters lamented against police brutality on Nigerians particularly the youth which apparently reflects the violation of human rights and the harsh conditions of living of the officers of the Nigerian Police force. It was against this backdrop that they organized themselves to conduct what many people both locally and internationally have termed the ‘most organized peaceful protest’ in the history of Nigeria. Stakeholders, parents and concerned Nigerians who saw meaning in the protest commended the great atmosphere of peace and sanity with which the protest was carried out. Food and drinks were donated by Nigerians who saw their effort as freedom for all Nigerians from the hands of the Nigerian police officers. The venues were constantly cleaned; donations were raised for the poor etc. The protest received legitimacy by some well meaning Nigerians like those in the entertainment industry, civil society organizations, Nigerian Bar Association, religious groups, political stakeholders etc.

As the Nigerian youth gathered at various locations across the country mainly in the Southern part of Nigeria and some states in the North including the FCT; mobilized through social media with hashtags #Endsars or #EndpolicebrutalityinNigeria, they took their protest to state government offices, state secretariats, police headquarters and the national assembly with placards indicating their frustrations and demands from the Nigerian government to undertake lasting reforms in the Nigerian Police Force which include: justice for victims of police brutality, review of salary and allowances of the officers of the Nigerian Police Force, training and reorientation to accommodate respect for the fundamental human rights of citizens etc. Reduction in the salaries and allowances of lawmakers/government functionaries, downward review of electricity tariff and oil prices were also part of their demands.

The protest was peaceful while they sang various hymns of freedom and liberation like that of the 1980 Jamaican reggae artist, Bob Marley ‘Redemption Song’ composed to deal with the unacceptable conditions of mental slavery of the whole humanity; calling for physical and mental freedom, a song meant to inspire hope. Through songs like Michael Jackson, ‘Heal the World’, they preached the values of love and national unity as they passionately chanted the Nigerian National  Anthem thereby calling the Nigerian Government to heal the wounds of the Nigerian people that have become victims of corruption, bribery, disunity, tribal conflicts and poor governance. They called for what was tagged a ‘New Nigeria’.

Nevertheless, in a swift response to the protest, the Federal Government through the Inspector General of Police (IGP) disbanded SARS and introduced a new crime control unit called SWAT with the promise of reorientation and retraining of the officers of the unit but that didn’t meet the demands of the protesters who were still seeing the same SARS officers on the streets extorting and brutalizing young Nigerians. The protest lingered on into weeks and thereafter we saw some young people who appeared to be sponsored by certain individuals that came to scene of the protest to disrupt the process and ended up injuring some of the peaceful protesters. Some call them as ‘hoodlums’ whose interests were to scuttle the process so that it becomes violent and government could then deploy the military to maintain law and order. Some of them were seen on video been brought to the venue in SUVs with the command to chase and intimidate the peaceful protesters. But are these people not Nigerians in whose interest the protest was also conducted? The so called hoodlums are from homes and they have families that share in the common hardship of the Nigerian people.  Apparently, the situation has now brought to the fore, two set of Nigerian youth – the ‘peaceful protesters’ and the ‘hoodlums’.

These hoodlums as against the peaceful protesters came out to attack and unleash mayhem on the protesters; burning government structures and breaking into warehouses and private business centres. Hence, what began as peaceful protest was hijacked by the hoodlums and the reaction of any responsible government would be the deployment of the military to safeguard lives and live hood. Nevertheless, while some youth are builders of our commonwealth, others are burners and breakers. Is this how to celebrate the great Nigerian youth?

What is the way forward for the Nigerian youth therefore? First, is the realization that the government is not only our problem in this nation but we the Nigerian people especially the  self-centered individuals that are only interested in pecuniary and immediate gains at the expense of the future of our nation. Some politicians actually know this quite well and often use some young people as willing instruments to confuse and destroy the good plans of the people. Such people unlearned and unpatriotic as they appear need reorientation. The leaned youth must engage them on whatever platform to ensure that they are carried along in the realization of our common vision. We all must understand what we want and why we want it and avoid people we do not mean well for our nation to hijack the good plans of our people.

There is no point categorizing some as hoodlums who apparently due to their low level of education are used to cause disharmony among the people in the name of dissatisfaction with the situation of things in Nigeria. The educated Nigerian youth must see to dialoguing with the so called ‘street boys’ if they want to achieve anything meaningful in this nation. By so doing, they will register in the mind of the political class that “enough is enough”, and now is the time to move our nation to a new level.

Above all, the threat by the Nigerian Police Force to intimidate the youth from organizing another protest and the recent freezing of accounts of the some identified sponsors of the protest is obviously provocative. The right to protest remains a fundamental human right of the people and no one can be denied of that as long as it is conducted in a peaceful manner. Let this force grow into a movement and subsequently a political party administered by the youth that will be all inclusive. Facing the military against several warnings will only result into further loss of lives and we will not encourage our youth to toe that line. Protest in not the only way to effect a change but constant dialogue with relevant stakeholders and this will take a while to materialize particularly in a country like Nigeria where corruption has done a lot of damage.  

By Fr. Gregory Fadele

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