Need To Respect Meaningful Youth Agitations

Need To Respect Meaningful Youth Agitations

The #EndSARS protests that rocked cities across Nigeria last year presented an unprecedented mark in the nation’s index of youth agitation. Its spontaneity and organisation presented yet another vista in the history of protests in the country.

It protests ran a course that befuddled the authorities as there was no obvious central command from where the youth took instructions but there were swift responses across the cities in which the protest held.  No one leader was identified. It was more or less a commando operation as many then asserted.

The Youth were protesting alleged high handedness of the Special Anti-robbery Squad, SARS, an arm of the Nigeria Police. Among other things they were accused of extra-judicial killings, maiming, extortion, rapping among other vices. However, the immediate trigger for the protests was a viral video which depicted the shooting of a suspect and his colleague, leaving him dead in his pool of blood with former maimed.

That gruesome sight was irresistible for these restless youths who already had been tensed up by a few other socio-economic factors, including unemployment, lack of empowerment and ultimately crass poverty. It all happened in a hurry as the SARS had already earned a blemished reputation tainted by sundry atrocities. Although the percentage of the pro-number suggests testing youths could not be recorded, their overwhelming number suggests that there may not have been such crowds in any one off protest in contemporary Nigeria.

The protesters were resilient and unyielding as they sustained their campaign beyond expectations of the authorities who at a time ran out of patience.

Then, the reports of shooting and maiming of protesters at the Lekki Toll gate where scores were said to have been killed. Curiously, the government and other actors denied killing any protester even when some eyewitnesses maintained that live bullets were shot at the protesters while on a peaceful protest, with chants of the national anthem as a mantra on that day.

For the benefit of recapitulation, there were counter protests by some other groups who thought differently- the protest was a distraction for the government who needed tranquility to run the affairs of state. The Federal government and its security agencies therefore took on the #EndSARS protesters in a game of fisticuffs, machetes and stones.

There were even unproven allegations that the counter protesters were sponsored by the government who were then overwhelmed by the protests.

By the time the protest ended with bloody consequences, and then came a groundswell of repercussions, accusations and counter accusations and the international angle which condemned the killings of protesters.

 However, we can recall that as the protests broke in parts of the country, the government swiftly responded by disbanding the SARS under circumstance that was not seen as genuine by the citizens. It was soon to replace SARS with another group which modus operandi many feared would not be any significant difference from its predecessor. Even at that the #EndSARS protest continued as the protesters were not assuaged by what they termed lip service to the grave issues they were challenging. 

All the authorities involved, the Army, Police Lagos State government, and  the Federal Government through its public image managers , particularly the Minister of Information Lai Mohammed on five occasions tried to give contrary views to the widely acclaimed positions.

The international community also was not left out of the critical response on the killings which it termed barbaric and unjustifiable as it was not a war situation. Notwithstanding the sustained international condemnation, the actors in the said killings refused to acquiesce to any accusation of culpability.

It was again worrisome that the government sustained an affront against some persons it termed leading lights in the protest as it targeted them for punishment. Some of them had their accounts frozen on allegations that they were either used as conduit to fund the protests directly or by proxies who never wanted their identities made public.

We are in an age that information has become globalised and highly infectious given the power of the social media. Therefore impunity in any guise by any group or individual no matter how strong and copious must be checked.

Nigerian youths by some recent demographics are larger than any group; hence it is now ever difficult to relegate them in the scheme of national planning. The government must of a conscious effort carry them along in a manner they would feel a sense of belonging, with a concerted effort to give them a place where they can be groomed to take over as the next generation.

Their voices must be heard and we must make a place for them by thorough grooming for posterity sake.

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