How EndSARS Protests Rekindle Government’s Commitment To Youth Development

How EndSARS Protests Rekindle Government’s Commitment To Youth Development

Mustapha Suleiman

The #EndSARS campaign started with the publication of a petition by convener Segun Awosanya. It was signed by 10,195 Nigerians and submitted to the Nigerian National Assembly to scrap the police unit.

What started in the form of Twitter campaign on the 2nd of December 2017, with footage of police officers shooting a man surfaced online, spiraled to a full protest that led to loss of lives and destruction of properties in many states. The campaign became a trending topic on Twitter with over 400,000 Tweets within twelve hours.

In October 2020, Nigerians turned to an online campaign to protest. Nigerians using 280 characters detailing their horrible and harrowing experiences with SARS, the dreaded unit of the police created to fight banditry. Before the campaign, there have been isolated cases of police brutality all over the country. However, it was during the campaign that the damage caused by such brutality was discovered.

The campaign also exposed the level of rot within the police unit according to the convener of the campaign. The campaign further revealed that the police have no recognizable structure with no organized system of operation, officers of the unit act based on self-will with little or no regard for fundamental human rights for citizens, especially vulnerable youth.

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was created in Lagos State in 1992, a time when notorious armed robbers such as Shina Rambo were in control of the state.

It was created as a faceless police unit that performs undercover operations against armed robbers. Within almost two decades of its creation, the unit has spread across the various states of the country. The spread of the unit across the nation without a proper structure, accounts for some of its lawless characteristics.

Despite the laudable reasons behind the protest demanding for the disbanding of SARS and the reform of the entire police, the EndSARS protests was eventually hijacked by hoodlums, criminal elements who embarked on destruction of properties, arson, breaking and stealing, burglary; some got themselves engaged in total brigandage.

Aside from some private businesses that were looted, the protesters in their hundreds broke into warehouses where Covid-19 palliative items were kept by some state government.  The protesters accused the government of hoarding the food items for onward distribution during elections to canvass for votes.

The youth restiveness ignited by EndSARS spread to many states and made many state governors to come up with exigent policies to address the youth demands.

 President Muhammadu Buhari while acknowledging  the initial genuine and well-intended protest of youths in parts of the country against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) , lamented that it was hijacked and misdirected by miscreants hiding under it to loot and foment trouble.  Buhari reiterated that the government would not fold its arms and allow miscreants and criminals continue to perpetrate acts of hooliganism in the country.

The President recounted the initial concessions made by his administration on the demands of youths protesting against the excesses of some members of the SARS.

He recalled that the youths had demanded that the squad be disbanded, and further articulated the additional demands, including:

”The immediate release of all arrested protesters. Justice for deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.

”Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of Police misconduct within 10 days.

”Psychological evaluation and re-training of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be re-deployed; and increase in Police salary.”

The President declared: “ We accepted all the demands and proceeded immediately to scrap SARS and started the process of addressing the other demands.

“Unfortunately, the protesters refused to call off the protest and engage the Government to address their grievances. Instead, they became emboldened and gradually turned violent.”

Buhari expressed concern that in the mayhem that ensued, many lives have been lost, a number of public and private properties completely destroyed or vandalized.

Reiterating his pledge to Nigerians from the nationwide broadcast Thursday, the President reaffirmed: ”We will continue to improve good governance through our democratic process including through sustained engagement.

“We shall also continue to ensure that liberty and freedom, as well as the fundamental rights of all citizens are protected. Here, I want to also reaffirm our commitment to preserving the unity of this country.”

The tension generated by #EndSARS was felt by the Federal Government as it quickly announced the allocation of N25 Billion Youth Fund to address youth restiveness in the country. The Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, who disclosed this at the peak of protest explained that the Federal Government has created a N25 Billion Youth Fund as part of efforts to address the #EndSARS protests and other related youth restiveness in the country.

The Minister stated this during a stakeholder meeting with the Deputy Governor of Kaduna State, Dr. Hadiza Balarabe, in Kaduna.

According to reports, the meeting was in line with the directive of the President, Muhammadu Buhari, to ministers and governors to dialogue with stakeholders following the #EndSARS protests.

Finance Minister Ahmed further noted that the fund would eventually be increased to 75 Billion within a period of three years, adding that the aim was to support youths to actualise their innovative and entrepreneurial ideas. The meeting was also attended by the Minister of Environment, Dr Mohammad Abubakar, who also reiterated the Federal Government`s commitment to initiating people-friendly policies and reforms aimed at creating jobs for the youths.

Speaking also, Dr. Balarabe noted that the meeting was to brainstorm towards tackling the security challenges during the #EndSARS protests.

It is not only the Federal Government that has stepped up its youth empowerment policies in the wake of the EndSARS protest, several state governments have equally toed the line.   Recently, as part of measures to address youth restiveness and its attendant effect that might destabilise the nation, Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa state convened a critical stakeholders’ meeting in the state capital, Lafia.

The governor said  that Nasarawa State is  peaceful, except for a handful of youths that staged a peaceful protest to the Government House, Lafia on October 20, 2020.  They were addressed and pacified to allow the government to respond to their demands accordingly.

Welcoming critical stakeholders to the critical stakeholders’ meeting convened by the governor to brainstorm on the way to curtail youths’ restiveness in the state, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mohammed Ubandoma Aliyu said it was sequel to the nationwide protest against the activities of the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police.

 This, he said, led to the subsequent directive of President Muhammadu Buhari to all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to dialogue with their critical stakeholders, adding that the governor, in compliance with the directive, convened the meeting with a view of pacifying youth restiveness as well as sensitise stakeholders on the commitment and genuine intention of government to restore peace as a fall out of the #EndSARS protest.

In a similar vein, governors of the 36 states of the federation have attributed the recent EndSARS protests in the country to social and economic inequalities prevalent in the country.

This was contained in a communique after the teleconference meeting of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) held recently.

Chairman of NGF and Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, said guidelines will be developed at state and regional levels to address the root causes of the protest.

He said:  “Adapt at both the state and regional levels guidelines to be developed and issued by the NEC Sub-Committee on Engagement to reduce restiveness among young people as it is clear that these agitations are attributable to social and economic inequality in the country.’’

 Traditional Rulers in the country have also raised their voice in the aftermath of ENDSARS protests, saying it was worrisome and exposed the gaps in the nation’s plan for the youths and the future of the country generally.

In a communique issued at the end of their Emergency Executive Committee meeting of the National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria held  in Abuja, the monarchs said the youths of today are expected to take over leadership in the future.

The council is chaired by the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar and co-chaired by His Imperial Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, the Ooni of Ife.

In the communique, they said that if the youths are not well groomed for the task ahead, it will spell doom for the country.

“Council appeals to the government and all stakeholders to continue to dialogue with the Youths and to ensure their engagement in productive employment.

“Council noted the serious level of unemployment and the economic challenges facing the citizenry, all of which lead to youth restiveness and other security challenges. Council equally notes the various Youth Empowerment programs of the Federal and states governments. Council therefore calls on the governments at all levels to ensure the proper implementation of those laudable programs; and calls on them to move vigorously to pursue effective economic programs that aim at poverty alleviation, infrastructure development and sustenance, employment generation, as well as demonstrate a renewed commitment to fight corruption in all its ramifications.

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