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Pent-up anger

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pent-up-anger

Tunji Adeboyega

JUST as well that the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, finally bowed to public pressure by disbanding the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), on October 11. He had earlier hinted of reforming the squad but this did not go down well with the protesters calling for its scrapping. They cannot recollect how many times SARS would be born-again. They’ve heard that many times in the past, with the disbanded squad always backsliding and returning to its vomit. If the authorities thought the announcement of the disbandment of the outfit would calm the frayed nerves of the largely youths who formed the bulk of the protesters, they were mistaken. Despite the disbandment, the anti-SARS protests continued in several parts of the country, till as late as Friday.

What this should tell any discerning mind is that the protests were not just about SARS, but also about some more fundamental contradictions in the Nigerian nation. Although it was the anti-SARS protests that necessitated this piece, I won’t dwell much on it today. I would rather address the larger issues of governance that further fuelled the protests.

No doubt the protests are the product of the impressions of youths who did not see any hands of government in their past; even as they are not feeling government’s presence in their lives at the moment. Worse still, it is about youths who see nothing that could be called hope even in the future, which is generally said to belong to them, beyond the piling up of debts that they would have to pay long after the people who are signing for the loans on the country’s  behalf today would have gone.

On Thursday when I was going to work, I listened to a radio presenter making allusion to the refrain of the future belonging to the youths. He said he had always been told that since he was about six years old. To date, he never saw or felt that future. So, whenever he tells his children the same thing, he would be wondering on what moral pedestal is he standing to tell them that because he too has never felt that future that he has been hearing about ever since he was a child. This is profound. And its profundity has found expression in the distrust that now characterises government-governed relationship.

I have said it severally; and it bears restating. That the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration would be living in self-delusion if it feels Nigerians still believe in it as they did in 2015, or even 2019. That support base has been seriously eroded. The Sai Baba that stridently heralded the presidency is becoming more and more ominously silent by the day. As a matter of fact, and to press home the gulf between the Buhari government and the generality of Nigerians, a friend of mine, while trying to explain how he got to vote for Buhari in 2015, engaged in semantic gymnastic. My friend, well read and brilliant, said he did not support Buhari then but only voted against Goodluck Jonathan! This is the kind of semantic rigmarole that otherwise knowledgeable people engage in when they find themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea. I guess many other Nigerians would be saying the same thing now, given the Buhari administration’s performance in the last five years. Unfortunately, some of the government’s spokespersons worsen matters by trying to justify some of their indefensible actions and policies in a way suggesting that the rest of us are brainless, when they begin to compare apples with oranges. How can you take such people seriously? Part of the consequence of such delusion of grandeur is what is happening now. A supposedly popular government suddenly finding itself in a situation where youths in several parts of the country are so angry with it. And the government could not envisage this because it has all the while been in illusion as to its rating among Nigerians.

What can be seen from those protests are youths who have nothing to do and the devil, because it does not play with its job, has been finding ways to engage them. Nigerian politicians would do well to come down from their high horse to see the hardship that is in the land. I feel sad when I see how our youths have been condemned to hawkers, selling pure water, soft drinks and butter bread or coconut bread on the streets. I feel sadder still when I hear some of them say they are graduates but are forced by bad governance to be selling on the streets. Yet, when many of us want to comment on our pitiable plight, we say ‘in the situation we now find ourselves’. We should stop deceiving ourselves. We did not just find ourselves in the present mess. It is a situation that bad governance by successive governments have condemned us to. And we should never be shy of saying that.

Unfortunately, we have also become so passive to react to this bad governance that our leaders capitalise on this weakness to wreak further havoc. In a sense therefore, the protests are a welcome development because they show that people, particularly the youths, are getting tired of stomaching the rubbish in the land and are now ready to take their destiny in their own hands. Protests are an essential part of democracy and it was good the protesters were not denied that right. To have denied them would have been more serious because it would have continued to give the government a false sense of continued popularity. It is better to let people pour out such catharsis than allow it remain within them. The day it would implode, Arab Spring would be a child’s play.

The kind of poverty in the land is such that does not have respect for creed, colour or race. It is a unifying language. It should be getting clear to those among us who always say something cannot happen in Nigeria; they would one day realise that, contrary to their belief, Nigerians don’t have an infinite capacity to tolerate misrule. I hope we don’t get to that juncture of ‘had we known’.

What government must realise is that nobody sat down to design the logistics of Arab Spring or its progenitors. That is why I keep wondering why government and its security agents are bothered whenever Omoyele Sowore and his #RevolutionNow people get on the streets. Revolts snowball into something bigger spontaneously, not by any meticulous planning. They just get to that next level (I don’t want to call it by its name because those in government and who usually provide the fertilizer for it through their injustices and greed so dread it). And the trigger is almost always something that is not entirely new but that people would just capitalise on as a result of age-long ‘opportunistic infections’. After all, what we now frown at as SARS’ brutality did not just start today. It had been there for years. That should tell us that the protests were the product of other ‘opportunistic infections’ like unemployment, even corruption, bad governance generally, etc.

We can only always predict the inevitability of the next level of revolt, given the economic and socio-political milieu, not exactly when it will happen. One only needs detached analysts and not cronies to do the analysis.

That youths have now taken the initiative somewhat casts doubts on whether they believe in Labour doing the right thing in respect of the hardship in the land. And it is difficult to blame them for this. They must have heard stories of Labour leaders who went into talks with government in bathroom slippers only to come out in golden shoes, speaking incoherently thereafter. That reminds me; I have always told Labour that they should fight for good governance instead of fighting interminably for minimum wage which becomes almost useless (as in the current situation) as soon as it comes into effect. I do not know how many countries where minimum wage is adjusted astronomically as in Nigeria. Forget the fact that it is not done every five years as it should be. Until Labour learns to do things differently, they will continue to have the same result. How many Nigerians can the so-called N30,000 minimum wage in the country take home now?

The Buhari government may have more serious problems not because it does not have the benefit of good advice, but because it seems to have chosen to listen to itself and itself alone, while considering critics, no matter how genuine their intentions, as enemies. Arab Spring and other revolts began the way these anti-SARS protests did. One stupid mistake or highhandedness from a single agent of government, like the police, could spark off a long chain of events the end of which no one can tell.

The government has so far managed the crisis fairly well, as resort to force could have worsened matters. But it must also resist the temptation to rent thugs to give the impression that the anti-SARS protests are unpopular. I say this because, there is a fake for every original; we are now having fake counter-protests by apparently rented hoodlums to challenge the genuine anti-SARS protesters. I can’t understand how hoodlums of all people would be the ones fighting for the retention of SARS when they should be in the vanguard of the protest because they constitute the majority of the unsung victims of that outfit. And naturally so.

All said; the Buhari government would do itself a lot of good by regarding the protests as what they are: the people’s score card of its administration’s performance in the last five years. This is not just about SARS. When you ask a thief to run and he runs; you ask him to drop what he stole and he did; and you are still pursuing him, that is enough message that you are not done with him yet. If it was all about SARS, the protesters would have since returned home from the streets. It is about the totality of governance in the country. We don’t want to be told that we are the largest producer of rice in Africa; we want this to reflect in the price of the staple. This is when that status has meaning. So, henceforth, any government official announcing a thing like that must first go to the market to know the price per bag now, so as to be able to give us a complete picture when compared with the immediate past.

What I am saying, in effect, is that the system we are running in the country is just not sustainable. Graduates don’t want to be given fish; as a matter of fact, that was part of the reasons they went to school: they want to catch fish themselves. So, it is not about empowering them the cynical way it is now commonly done. It is not even by giving them jobs in three months during which they are paid peanuts because the money really cannot take them home even in the three months. As my people say, ‘eyes have now opened’. So, let the National Assembly enact laws to make things work and forget constituency allowance. It is not their job to collect money for their constituencies. Their counterparts in the First and Second Republics did far better without draining our blood. When they make laws and the executive implements appropriately there will be light. There will be an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. That way, more industries will hum again, more jobs will be created and the army of unemployed youths will be reduced.

The Buhari administration cannot say it is fighting corruption and yet be paying individual National Assembly members hefty millions monthly, which could have been used to service countless other Nigerians. The truth is that if we as parents are ready for governments to make our generation a wasted generation (apologies to Wole Soyinka), not so our children. This may just be the beginning of the youths’ own version of ‘o to ge e’ (enough is enough).

Let he who has ears to hear, hear.

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