Days of protests have shaken Nigeria in a way that is different from any other protest since “Alli Must Go” in 1978, a nationwide student protest against military government over increased costs of feeding on college campuses that rocked the country to its roots.
The apparent lack of organizational structure for #ENDSARS is unique. It has no visible arrowheads, no visible locations of its births and no prior building blocks. “Ali Must Go” had university student union leaders in charge, it had tertiary institutions for convergence of ideas and tactics, and it had many years of fervent student unionism and activism against the then dictatorial military governments.
What #ENDSARS owns is the Internet and its limitless uses. Even more important to the burgeoning protest is the sudden awareness that real power belongs to the people. Our young people should have known this fact. They waited, watched, lost direction as the leadership in all sectors failed the nation. But it is better late than never.
In a country where 70 per cent of its 200 million people are below the age of 35, young people must seize the moment and turn the tide in their favour. They can shape the country to make their future a place not just to survive, but also prosper. The young people are the future, and it starts today.
Although #ENDSARS started as a robust reaction to wicked, abusive and oppressive policing by a special arm of the force, it has become a staging platform to review the excesses of governments, poor leadership, loss of values, economic hardships and corrupt systems.
Due to the trend in number of deaths and births, Nigeria has more young people than old. About one-third of Nigeria’s population are between the very active age of 15 to 35. This is a potent force for good, but if it is abandoned to its fate, it can turn deadly and become a rampaging troop of destruction.
In a well-managed economy, the country’s large working age population with a low dependent non-working population should translate into a development boom. But Nigeria has lost the time and the essence of the demographic dividend as a large part of its young vibrant population of working age is left out of its economy. Young Nigerians between age 25 and 34, the most vibrant working class, have 30 per cent unemployment. One in every three employed Nigerian is under-employed. This means that only about half of the productive workforce is actually fully making contributions to the economy.
Nigeria has some of the lowest indicators of social, economic development. #ENDSARS should be a beginning for meaningful turn-around. Leadership is about making life have meaning for people, and making tomorrow a pleasure, or, at the minimum, tolerable.
Young people in Nigeria do not have any future to look forward to. Not unless you have access to the few plum jobs, not unless you have parents or mentors who open the doors, not unless you are “lucky” and somehow get access to something that gives you a break. The number of young people keeps diminishing who can have a normal life, even as the population of young people increases.
A people who do not have today and cannot dream of a future that is worthy of existence is a danger to itself and to others. The Nigerian young people are getting desperate and are boxed into hopeless, cynical corners. Young people are on their knees. They beg for grades in schools and colleges, they beg for jobs no matter that they are qualified, they beg for living wages even when they are employed, they beg to deploy their acquired skills after being well trained.
Young people, especially women, even pay to emigrate to become prostitutes who sell their bodies in expectation of jobs, income and support. Many choose to engage in any dastardly act as a means of survival or for a better life. They do not pray for God “not to lead us into temptation”. The temptation to sin has been legitimized by a society that makes normal routes impassable. They do not see hope in the future.
When young people know what power they have, Nigeria will change. As I have written elsewhere – “Young people overwhelmingly constitute the largest majority of the population. They have no meaningful future ahead of them. They have no means of running out of the country. They may have to force renewal and give the country a new breath”.
The power to choose who leads us has been taken away by the systemic corruption that makes access to political office available only to higher bidders. Scholarships and funding support to study at tertiary institutions is often used as political patronage and not granted to the needy. The way to get a decent job is made impossible no matter how well a young person performs in his/her studies. The opportunity to own a business is closed because the banking system and financing is laden with insurmountable obstacles.
In systems that open doors to its young people, it is possible to plan to have a job, have a home, have a vehicle, or afford organized public transport, and look after one’s children within one’s means. In such situations, and in most cases, entry to jobs is merit-based, mortgage facilities are available for use throughout one’s working life.
#ENDSARS should become the beginning of making Nigeria a great country, not one that is crippled by wanton looting, poor leadership, and deep-seated corruption.