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When a tomorrow comes…


Nnendinso  Ogaziechi

In the past few weeks, Nigeria has been in the eye of the global storm literarily. The #EndSARS  movement, the ‘intervening’ rioters and ultimately the incidents at the Lekki tollgate on what is now referred to as the October 2020 black Tuesday had all gone viral. The #palliativegate is also in the news and seemed to have diverted attention and increased the number of casualties as private houses/shops, banks and some government agencies  were looted by some people who hid under the protest.

However, the #EndSARS movement started off as a peaceful protest against the obnoxious activities of the police unit, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) who did everything that negate what the police in any country should stand for, “to serve and to protect”. There is documented evidence of their brutality across many states in Nigeria. Ironically, series of complaints from victims and their families seemed to have got little or no attention.

The creation of the SARS unit since 1992 with the mandate to fight crimes associated with robberies, motor vehicle theft, cattle rusting and illegal possession of firearms seems to have brought more problems than it has been able to solve. Statistics shows that one in every five youth might have been a victim of SARS brutality. There has been torture, kidnappings, maiming and killing of some suspects extra-judicially and despite series of protests by youths and even some journalists who have been victims, the calls for reforms had yielded no concrete results.

And with the recent #EndSARS movement that swept the country, the Nigerian state have heard from the youths who organized what they now a MOVEMENT not just to end the tyranny of the SARS operatives but the movement has morphed into a call for good governance, accountability in government and all such actions that can engender equity, justice and fairness by governments in all tiers of government.

At the core of the #EndSARS movement are the beating hearts of young Nigerians from all regions. The youths demonstrated the unity of purpose that seems to be lacking in the larger political space. Religion, tribe, gender, class and all other divisive terms have been totally absent. The youths showed commitment, dedication, empathy, deft organizational ability and patriotism like never before witnessed in the country. They more or less showed an aggregated sense of leadership and followership that defy all known perceptions by the older generation.

The young people of Nigeria raised their collective voice and the global community heard. So this week, the Roundtable Conversation spoke to some #EndSARS youths across the country to hear their grievances and suggestions for a better future in a country they call theirs. Even Nigerians in the diaspora joined in with protests and similar demands, the Roundtable sat with these three;

Michelle Bello, an award-winning filmmaker, who has been featured on CNN, BBC, Forbes Africa, and France 24 for her award-winning movies, Small Boy and Flower Girl says she is hopeful for a new Nigeria in which citizens take peace, prosperity and good governance for granted. To her, accountability in governance and justice for all has pushed her and her NGO, The White Harvest, a coalition of entertainers, actors and allied industry members and decided that for a functional country, the youths must lend their voices and so the #EndSARS movement is like a crow for governments to listen to the youths and begin, with proper structural reforms to harvest the cocktail of goodies from an industry that is the largest employer of the youth population in Nigeria – the entertainment industry.

Michelle insists that the leadership in the country must realize that the youths are now more than ever linked to the global community and technology has made it possible for them to see the larger world, to watch governments and films that show the difference in living conditions and governance sttuctures that positively impact on citizens. She says the youths both in the country and in the diaspora want good governance, better life and accountability and are tired of being brutalized by those they elect to take care of them. As parents, most of those in the youth population are as worried as their children and its unacceptable. She feels the government can invest in the arts and film industry and possibly begin to see value in protecting those in the industry through investment in community entertainment through cinemas. She regrets that IROKO TV had to move their investment from Nigeria due to hash operating environment. Better broadcast policies can expand the industry while providing sustainable income for the youth population.

Olumide Otitoju, a creative designer, photographer and computer engineer  feels the #EndSARS movement is the voice of the Nigerian youths demanding for good and accountable governance that guarantees the welfare of the youth who  have been endlessly promised a tomorrow that seems to never arrive. A personal experience with the SARS agents had left scars both physically and mentally on him and it was just time to say NO to the Hobbesian state for the Nigerian youths. Olumide dreams of a Nigeria that guarantees safety and justice for everyone and is glad that the #EndSARS movement is a collection of all Nigerians without creed or regional allegiance.

Olumide believes the voice of the youth has seemingly been heard by the governments but that is not enough, the youths want to be included in the democratic projects . He regrets that since his adolescent years, the governments have always told them they are the leaders of tomorrow but it seems the tomorrow is never coming. The tomorrow is here already but it is not about leadership per se because the #EndSARS movement is not about who is leading or that the youths want to take over totally without due process but  for an inclusiveness that they would make our democracy very representative of all blocs and functional.

Getting off the streets is not a problem. The youths are determined to re-orientate themselves so that the politicians cannot use them like previously. We want every youth to see the larger picture and stop accepting crumbs or suffering the Stockholm Syndrome. We must begin as youths to educate other less educated and enlightened youths who have been used as foot soldiers by politicians. That way the political leaders would begin to be accountable to the people.

We want to stop the exploitation of the poor by politicians. The young people have ‘WOKEN’ up he says. The youths are ready to work with the old people. While we bring the tech ideas, we want mentorship by the older generations and then we can galvanize to make Nigeria work better. Olumide says they condemn the activities of some youths that resorted to violence and from those that were caught who claimed they were paid to disrupt the movement. Olumide believes that a section of the media should be careful with some reports that later appeared to be wrong. Some headlines were wrong given the realities faced by the movement.

The youths in the movement also found it unacceptable that access to their elected officials is very rare unlike what democracy should be. At the beginning of the #EndSARS movement, they wanted access to the National Assembly to submit their petitions but were rebuffed by soldiers and armed policemen making it impossible for them to tell their representatives in the legislature their grievances.

Anita Izato, a legal practitioner is a regular young lady whose personal account video about police brutality went viral and was broadcast by some international news organizations. A justice and peace advocate, she believes that as a Nigerian youth, she should go to bed not worried that her brothers might not come home alive. To Anita, the Nigerian youth including her are sick and tired of police brutality and after capturing  her own story on video, she realized it was time to stand up and say NO then the #EndSARS.

She saw the beauty in the coalition of Nigerian Youths in the #EndSARS movement as there was the human symmetry of the colours in the rainbow as the youths came together to speak with one voice demanding end to police brutality that has a spiral effect on the psyche of both the young and old. The #EndSARS movement morphed into #endbadgovernance , end bad infrastructure, reduce the salaries of the legislature and other public servants so that the money can be used for the larger good.

People are just tired because the problems had lasted too long and also the youths loved the endorsements of some adults who spoke at their rallies to support the youths. Enough is Enough and Anita is equally skeptical about the plethora of judicial panels to investigate. She feels that their findings might just not see the light of day and actions might not be taken.  She believes the judiciary has to be more committed to judicial issues as the thired pillar of democracy.

Anita says that as a lawyer she is glad that she has been offering her services for those illegally arrested or detained or other forms of legal requirements. She believes the movement is one that can move the country forward because the youth cannot destroy their own future contrary to what some adults believe, As a lawyer, she believes that the young people and their cocktail of professional expertize would take Nigeria to the development level the youth seek.

Anita believes that the if petitions sent by the youths at the beginning got a prompt attention satisfactorily, the Lekki incident might not have happened thereby escalating the protest to a violent demonstration by those bent on seizing the moment to commit crime.

Despite all that have happened in the past weeks, it is now understandable that the youths are demanding beyond #EndSARS to a total political and economic restructuring for a more equitable and prosperous country. Honesty of purpose on the side of governments and actions in transparency  might just be the panacea for justice and  peace. The embrace of peace and justice might just hold the key to the prosperity of the world’s greatest black nation blessed with incredible human and natural resources. The youth’s voices are loud and clear, the future we seek is theres to care for.

The dialogue continues…

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