By Ochereome Nnanna
For decades, the Nigerian youth had been living in the bubble of civic isolation. The forces of darkness that took over the reins of power after the civil war, not being an enlightened political movement, lacked the capacity to plan and govern a civilised society. They had their eyes only on rewarding themselves and their regions for defeating Biafra. After all, every conqueror deserves his booty.
In their rapacious self-reward, they did not think of tomorrow. Nigeria was one of the few oil-rich countries which did not have a Sovereign Wealth Fund until our own Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala created it in 2011 as the Minister of Finance and the Economy. We initially put in $1bn there, then an additional $500m and $650m.
After the Muhammadu Buhari government’s latest withdrawal of $150m, we have only $201m there. It has become more of Nigerian Sovereign Poverty Fund! Poverty has become Nigeria’s official alias: the Poverty Capital of the World. There is POVERTY everywhere you look. The people who monopolised the reins of power since the civil war ended have shown what they are capable of producing – Poverty!
Poverty is a psycho-mental disease. It starts from the mind and manifests in everything the poor mind touches. Nigeria, one of the most naturally-blessed countries of the world in terms of human and natural resources, has become a virtual write-off. Endemic corruption, Islamic terrorism, armed Fulani expansionism, violent crimes, extreme nepotism, broken infrastructure, near-comatose educational and health sectors, over-indulged political officeholders, gun-smoke democracy and all perceivable anomalies, rule the landscape.
How can our Police Force, the primary constitutional authority for law-enforcement, be free of our political and social diseases? Any surprise that our police officers reacted to the endemic poverty the society imposes on them by using the guns given them to maintain law and order against the ordinary, law-abiding citizens?
Nigeria is the only diverse federalism that I know of where a single, centralised police force and prisons systems obtain. Even at that, the Police has long been hijacked by a section of the country and deployed in an oppressive manner against the rest of the country. You have youths from the South East, South-South, South West and North Central calling for #EndSARS/SWAT, while their counterparts from North West and North East (along with their leaders) are calling for their retention. One Nigeria? Don’t make me laugh!
Government has abandoned its responsibilities to our children. Woe betide any child who is born into a household which cannot give him 100 per cent support. Drive through our urban streets, you will see the “refuse dump” where children from extremely poor homes find themselves. In the North, they are the almajirai. In the South, they are street hawkers. We now have an estimated 15 million out-of-school children, the highest in the world!
Our womenfolk are still victims of backward cultures built mostly on archaic religious precepts. Though the women’s historic Beijing Conference of 1995 drew greater attention to the plight of our women who now enjoy a modicum of improved access to the education of the girl child, Nigeria is still 138th out of 144 of the Girl Global Index.
The youth in general have received the heavy brunt of poverty of governance. The rapidly-expiring generation of post-civil war generals, such as Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo, Muhammadu Buhari, and others, were pampered at youth. They benefited from the free education and scholarships of the post-independence leadership of the three defunct regions. They took over the governance of Nigeria in their middle 20s and early 30s. They have kept their grip on power to date; Obasanjo and Buhari have even ruled us as coup-plotting military generals and elected civilians. They took everything Nigeria had to offer with very little to show for it.
Reduced to educated illiterates, abject poverty, perennial unemployment, lack of opportunities and unemployability, the youth were set adrift. Poverty removed the fire and dynamism from them. Some sold their souls to politicians and became thugs, handymen and “pay per post” internet propaganda vermin.
Some headed into the desert towards Europe, and many died in the Mediterranean or became street nuisances giving Nigeria a bad name in foreign countries. Some took to cybre crime. In the North, some joined Islamic terror outfits (Boko Haram, bandits, and armed herdsmen) and started killing their own people. Some also explored their artistic talents in ICT, start-ups, music, and the movies, stamping Nigeria’s “swag” unique on the global scene.
The Nigerian youth had generally buried their heads under the sand. It is a great irony that after recently surfacing from the opium of Big Brother Naija 2020, they are plunging right into this #EndSARS movement. Never in the history of this country had there been such a non-violent, non-partisan, non-ethnic, non-religious, nationwide series of protests by the Nigerian youth. They have been at it for over two weeks, and it appears the end is not in sight.
The Federal Government has predictably offered a series of cosmetic manoeuvres meant to get the protesters off the streets, but the youth are not impressed. Instead, their demands are piling and tending towards the initial outlines of a push for system change. Unless this #EndSARS movement produces the change we need in order to permanently fix the problems of the country – including of course, those of the Police, it will be a wasted effort.
Meanwhile, the FG and its sectional backers have grown increasingly restless. Some are threatening “war”. If they are such great fighters why are they running from Boko Haram and bandits? The army has embarked on its “Operation Crocodile Smile”, and “Python Dance” soon to follow.
Whatever they do, the protesters must never lose focus. They must remain nonviolent, nonpartisan, and non-ethnic. The Federal Government must also avoid a violent crackdown; it will backfire and spin the situation out of control. #EndSARS is now a global movement for Nigeria’s rebirth.
It shall be well with Nigeria.