Many Nigerians surely had a taste of the recent protest by the youths in the country for a better Nigeria. Otherwise known as #ENDSARS, the protest which was initially meant to draw attention to the excesses of an arm of the Police, soon took on a life of its own. And with the organizers not recognizing when to sheath their swords and the government failing to be proactive, thugs, miscreants, idiots, etc. soon hijacked the whole process. And they tried to give a bad name to a laudable enterprise.
It was Frantz Fanon who said, “Every generation, out of relative obscurity must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.” It was in accomplishment of this that the Nigerian youths rose in the month of October 2020. They rose in peaceful protests seeking a change to the way the Police have been treating them and others in the society. Their frustration with the Police was simply a tip of the iceberg. Our children have endured years of hardships and they thought it was time they took their destiny in their own hands.
Millions of them have graduated without jobs. Some roamed the streets of our cities for years before securing a job. And the jobs many of them got can hardly pay their bills. At 30, many of them are still living with their parents and guardians. They cannot afford to rent a decent accommodation. And these are the lucky ones! A vast majority of them have become discouraged. Not for them the youthful exuberance that marks the age of innocence.
For many years, we railed against them: accusing them of lacking interest in the political life of their country. We were largely right. What a lot of them did was to live a hedonistic life: parties, drugs and parties. And they became the Big Brother generation. They watched Big Brother Nigeria from morning till night till morning. And they lived on the internet, chatting endlessly. Not for them the serious stuff that life is made of.
It was difficult to engage many of them in any meaningful discussion on politics and public policies. Most of time, the only area of common interest was football. Foreign football. It all seemed that they were strangers in their own land. Then the #EndSars campaign came and they forcefully reminded us that they have more at stake in this country than many of us. They have longer time to live.
They even accused those of us who are 50 and above as a failed generation. In a way, they are right. For what type of country are we bequeathing to them? A nation without security, no good roads, horrible electricity supply, poor schooling system, disgraceful hospitals, etc.? Surely, they have a right to say we have failed.
I remember when Noble Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka turned 50 in the 1980s. He bemoaned that his was a “wasted generation”. He was unduly harsh on his generation. He should come and see what those of us in our 50s and 60s have made of Nigeria. We think of success in terms of how big our houses are; how big our cars are; how starched our babanriga and agbadas are; how many policemen we can commandeer as our personal aides; and so on and so on.
We can easily categorize those who recently protested into two groups: The Enlightened ones and The Idiots. The Enlightened Ones were those who ensured that their protests were peaceful. They made their voices to be heard. They told us very clearly that apart from the excesses of the Police, there are many things wrong with Nigeria and they needed to be fixed urgently.
Many of them actually had viable means of livelihood but their social conscience had just been aroused. This was why they donated money and other materials to feed the crowds in the early days of the protests. There were also those among them who though didn’t have much resources, believed in the peaceful conduct of the protests. They were joined on the internet by millions of our children who are overseas. Those ones supported the effort both morally and financially. It was a clear message that most of these young ones would prefer to live and work in Nigeria if conditions at home are a little better.
These youths strongly believe that they are being deprived of the best years of their lives. For them, the time has come to hold their destiny in their own hands. But they should be ready for the long and tough struggle ahead. They must be ready to organize themselves into different platforms/organizations/political parties, etc., to actualize their dreams for a better Nigeria.
It is the beginning of the change we have been looking for. Nigeria cannot continue to be run like a primitive society. We can surely do better than what we have. Those who are pleased that we have decrepit roads, terrible electricity supply, poor hospitals, sub-standard schools, scandalous unemployment rate, can defend the status quo. Those who are unhappy with the current situation must not be tired of demanding and organizing for a better Nigeria.
But the youths must recognize that power has never been handed to others on a platter of gold. They must struggle to wrest it from those who are the present beneficiaries. Actually, they are more like predators. Most people can make of them is that they plunder the commonwealth. The little left they annex for themselves, their wives, children and concubines.
Hardly do you see young Nigerians without connection getting employed in government ministries and parastatals. Your father or uncle must be a Senator, Representative, Governor or Minister before you can stand a chance of getting a job in the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. What kind of country makes progress when nepotism is the order of business?
The Idiots who hijacked the protest and turned it into a frenzy of looting also feel a sense of deprivation. Surely, there is no way to justify the killings and lootings that took place. Killing Policemen and other innocent citizens and mindlessly looting people’s property is pure criminality. Those involved should be fished out and punished appropriately.
We must however try and understand the psychology of the various strands of the dispossessed in the Nigerian society. While the educated class of youths that feel deprived conducted themselves in a peaceable manner, the thugs and looters approached matters in a decidedly different way. They saw everything and everybody with some level of comfort as enemy of the people. And they went after their properties with the sort of vengeance we have not seen before in this country.
What the recent upheaval in Nigeria tells us is that the underbelly of the country is fragile and dangerous. We have an army of youths who are amoral, petty and criminal-minded. They will take advantage of any situation to pull down their well -to-do neighbours and take what does not belong to them.
There has to be a way to lay a moral foundation for the coming generation. That is one of the ways we can begin to build a more just society.