By NJ Ayuk, Executive Chair, African Energy Chamber
Nigeria has been attracting the world’s attention in recent months for all the wrong reasons.
Nigerians have taken to the streets to protest police brutality after social media users spread accounts of an unarmed youth being shot and killed by a police officer with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The protests quickly grew, from their epicenter in Lagos, into a nationwide plea to end government corruption and widespread human rights abuses.
Violent police responses have only worsened the situation: At least 69 people have died across the country since protests began in October.
Calls to #EndSARS on Twitter and other social media streams are emboldening more and more citizens to demand government action. As Ayo Sogunro, a prominent Nigerian author and human rights lawyer put it, “People want some kind of systemic reform that would not just address police brutality in the present, but would also ensure that it is possible in the future.”
Police brutality is not new, and SARS has been involved in countless other examples of human rights violations — but in the past, no one was held accountable for such incidents. Today, thanks to technology and social media, the problem cannot be ignored any longer. President Muhammadu Buhari has responded with promises to dissolve the special forces, and the world will be watching to see if he follows through.
Unfortunately, the violence on the streets of Nigeria only represents one example of human rights violations taking place across Africa, from mass displacements to abductions to terrorist attacks. At the same time, government failures to address these atrocities — along with systemic corruption in many countries at the local and national levels — impact millions of Africans.
These practices must come to an immediate halt, first and foremost because they are horribly wrong.
What’s more, on top of the devastating impact that violence and corruption have on lives, on families, and on communities, they also jeopardize our opportunities to harness our natural resources to their full potential. In a free-market society, international energy companies will choose to operate elsewhere if corruption and human rights violations make a country too expensive and too risky for operations.
That will result in missed opportunities that African countries cannot afford to lose. Opportunities to strategically harness our petroleum resources to grow our economies and bring about a better, safer quality of life for Africans. Opportunities to minimize energy poverty. And opportunities to lay a strong foundation for a successful energy transition.
To build a better future for Africans, we cannot be lackadaisical about addressing corruption, violence, and unacceptable treatment of men, women, and children. In addition to being wrong on every front, the devastation these activities cause today also rob Africans of a better future.