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Nigerian youths have found their voice
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Nigerian youths have found their voice

Tens of thousands of Nigerians and numerous individuals worldwide especially on social media are protesting the inhumane treatment of Nigerian youths. Muhammed Badamasi, a 25- year-old, Nigerian Commonwealth Correspondent, shares highlights of the ongoing #ENDSARS protest and the need for the Nigerian government to engage youths.

The time is 6 pm, and motorists at the Lekki tollgate appear tired, impatient. Although this is not unusual in Lagos, the home of traffic jams, what is strange is that right across from the stranded motorists are hundreds of people barricading the road. Several emotions occupy their faces. Anger! Laughter! Rebellion! All of them are disrupting the flow of traffic, yet some of the drivers join them in encouragement. No, this is not an excerpt from a fictional book describing a dystopian Lagos. It is the year 2020.

On October 1 2020, Nigeria marked its diamond jubilee. Days after the celebrations, protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) began, spreading to several locations within and outside Nigeria, including the Lekki tollgate. SARS is a unit in the Nigerian police force, notorious for human rights violations, which the government has claimed to dissolve on several occasions only for them to re-emerge, bolder and more brutal. Although this is not the first time there are protests in Nigeria, many people say ‘End SARS’ is different.

One distinguishing feature of these protests is the predominance of young people. Unlike many previous agitations, the ‘End SARS’ began organically by people united, not by a single body or group of organisations, but by their sense of purpose.

The unprecedented use of technology has also played a critical role in setting apart ‘End SARS’ from other protests. Protesters have used technology to fund expenses, provide legal and health assistance for arrested and injured protesters, organise people across various locations, and demand accountability from elected officials.

More interesting is that, while demanding an end to injustice, some protesters still uphold civic responsibilities by ensuring that protest grounds are not littered. The End SARS protests have also exposed vast differences between young Nigerians and the older generation. Many people claim that the older generation’s belief in ideologies that encourage subservience to authority, and the rejection of the same by young people, have made the former docile and the latter recalcitrant in the face of injustice.

On October 20 2020, after a number of instances of force, including firearms, being used by security forces to dispel peaceful processions, protesters at the Lekki tollgate were shot at by men alleged by eyewitnesses to be members of the Nigerian Army. Several people died. This was nineteen days after the president in his independence day speech stated that “Democracy, the world over and as I am pursuing in Nigeria, recognizes the power of the people”.  Both the Army and the Lagos state government have claimed non-involvement. 

With the rising tensions across the country, the question many people are asking is – can young people bring about peaceful systemic change?

Protests may not always effect change. They are usually the ultimate measures of showing displeasure after all other means have been exhausted. Moreover, eradicating dysfunctionality is a two-way street that needs the collaboration of several actors. 

According to an article by the Institute of Development Studies, there are stages in the state’s engagement with citizen voices:

  • “Hearing moments – when it engages with citizen voices but does not change the way it acts;
  • Consultation moments – when it engages with citizen voices through two-way dialogue, resulting in one-sided action; and
  • Concertation moments – when coalitions between reform-minded officials and politicians and organised citizen voices engage in two-way dialogue and action for accountable governance.”

Synergy between the youth and state actors is a necessary ingredient for change. Hence, it is not only important for the Nigerian youth to have found their voice, but they must also discover their power. Nigeria has one of the largest youth populations in the world, and the youth are an integral part of her development. Ironically, the reality of youth participation in governance is irreconcilable with this observation.

For example, the national youth policy defines youth as someone between the ages of 18 and 35, yet the age of candidacy at the upper house of Nigeria’s legislature is 35 years. Apart from representation in leadership, there is minimal effort in entertaining the perspectives of the youth.

There is also the belief that young Nigerians are not interested in governance; however, this is not so. It is the unfavourable laws and conventions that often prevent the youths from contributing.

With their large numbers and relevance to national development, the power of the youth includes the ability to establish functional governance through active participation.

By demanding better representation and youth-friendly laws, exercising the right to elect representatives who share progressive views, developing a culture of accountability, and participating in activities ancillary to voting such as contesting, campaigning, funding, and educating, they can change the trajectory of governance.

From the demand for a better police force and an end to police brutality, the ‘End SARS’ protests have aroused several conversations on governance and accountability. It is clear that the Nigerian youth have found their voice, and the question of whether a change will occur is now a matter of “when” because finding their voice is itself, change.

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Photo credit: REUTERS

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About Muhammed Badamasi: I am an enthusiast of expression in its various forms, from music to writing. I am also an advocate for good governance and accountability. When I am not writing or pretending to like legal work, I am learning from the thoughts and experiences of people around the world.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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