Stricken with poverty, unemployment, hopelessness, repression and large scale insecurity, most Nigerian youths have nothing but mobile phones and Internet services at their disposal. The only handy tool they could use to better their condition. It wasn’t therefore an accident that they have woken up to the realization that they can use what they have to raise awareness and mobilize for a change in their living condition through #ENDSARS hashtag. And to a large extent it worked, albeit with so much unintended negative consequences. This is the type of movement that is going to characterize all future protests in Nigeria, Africa and beyond against any perceived maladministration, as seen in Libya, Syria and Yemen where such popular protests though succeeded in ousting dictatorial regimes, uncontrollably spiralled into anarchy, disorder and war. This is why government must make fundamental shift in ways and manner it respond to this protests in order to avert this inglorious descent for the good of all.
The recent ENDSARS protest that started peacefully and later snowballed into a violent chaos has placed Nigeria on this trajectory of social movement and has currently raised the embers of ethno-religious tension and thievery across the country to a frighteningly unprecedented level. Although no single administration can be blamed for the present mess Nigeria has found itself into, especially in the area of employment, poverty and general hardship as they all seem to be a cumulative effect of bad governance and poor planning over the years. However, the state of youths’ hopelessness, poverty, distrust, and disaffection against leadership soar with every new government in a way that every administration eventually ends up worse than its predecessor in the eyes of the public.
This is simply that all new administrations comes into power on the crest of fabulous promises and glowing developmental agenda that tend to inspire renewed public hope and expectations that are mostly unmet at the end day. The foregoing has incrementally not only undermined public trust and confidence in leaders but has also pushed the generality of the public into a state of hopelessness and mass poverty: a fertile condition for mass movement and violent protests that is just waiting for a spark.
However, after swearing in of elected leaders or staging of a successful coup detat , most new government are immediately confronted with the huge leadership challenges. Sadly, the first reaction of every administration to this immense challenges is that of self preservation rather than confidence building, accountability and transparency. This made appointments to sensitive offices to be based on loyalty arising from political and ethno-religious affinities in place of competence and measured result. This therefore creates two serious leadership dilemma: of (a) leaders wanting to protect their loyal appointees in order to preserve themselves and (b); appointees protecting the leaders at all costs despite any glaring and apparent leadership failures on the ground. It is in this type of atmosphere of mutual gang-up leadership protective alliance that anything goes, especially corrupt practices, misinformation and bad governance as the two groups of leaders watch for each other’s back.
In doing this, the masses are unavoidably alienated, invariably fracturing the initial trust between political leaders and their followers, thus, forcing government to resort to lies, blackmail, bribery, repression as well as mass appeal to ethnic-religious sentiment to legitimize their stay in office. Meanwhile, this negative actions from government has been stealthily creeping into the fabric of our national cohesion and rust the fragile connecting rods between various nationalities that made up Nigeria in a more damaging way which may in no distant future decimate the country if not urgently addressed.
One of the consequences of this trend is the recent reaction of the youths who employed the tools of social media and mobilize a national protest to express their grievances to a successful end. The development which became uncontrollably violent equally released a windfall of negative opportunities for thugs, undesirable elements and the poor masses to help themselves with loots. Consequently, both group of youths, the desirable and the undesirable will always look for a repeat of this type of protest and disorder to push for their collective positive and destructive agenda respectively if fundamental changes are not made in governance and security enforcement.
This goes without saying that strong arm security tactics as recently observed will only lead to escalation and attract negative local and international reactions that could not only undermine the economy but national security. Moreso, it must be essentially noted that the combined Nigerians security forces would never be able to put down violent protest of the Nigerian youths even if it is only 25% of them that are out in the streets without pushing the nation into extinction. Meanwhile, the threat of force is likely to fall flat in the face of unemployed youths who have nothing to lose, as the saying goes, “he who is already down fears no fall”.
To avert this grim prognosis, the importance of sincerity, accountability and justice in governance as well as impartial investigation of the ENDSARS protest tragedy becomes two major linchpin intended at facilitating national healing, cohesion and prevention of further protests.
While this administration has shown some level of transparency in it finances, a lot need to be done in a transparent display of how much revenue from all revenue generating agencies are being made everyday, every week, every month and every year. The populace should also be made to know how much money goes to each Ministry, Department and Agency (MDAs); for what purpose and physical evidences for such money used. This necessary in eliminating the prevailing poor perception of leaders as thieves, which is itself, a major instigator of social unrest.
There should be visible effort to reduce the cost of governance, ranging from huge salary payment, severance allowance for political office holders, purchase of expensive foreign official vehicles among many other and on the other hand increase investment in human capital development and employment opportunities.
In addition, there should be honest appraisal of major security operations through performance measurement, public reactions and engagements to build public confidence and refocus such operations for effective results. This will go along way in clearing widespread differences in what government seem to be saying and reported realities on the ground so as to mobilize public support and confidence for such operations. This times call for courageous truth in the face of national challenges to form a baseline for a sincere national response and long lasting healing process after the crisis.
Pertaining ENDSARS protest demands, the government has already taken the right decision by accepting all the 5 demands of the protesters. Nevertheless, there is a need to assure the populace of their safety in order to encourage them come out with their complains without any fear of intimidation by the security forces or powers that be. Persons who hired thugs to foment acts of violence and attacked peaceful protesters which precipitated the chaos must be identified and prosecuted for setting the nation on fire. This is in addition to government apology and compensation to the victims of the violence. The foregoing will motivate people to point out looters and other undesirable elements that latter hijacked the protest to cause mayhem.
Leaders must also avoid the temptations of connecting with the people through institutional channels only, but efforts must be made to use back door extra-institutional channels to link up with the grassroot so as to test the integrity of their appointees who are running the institutions to protect personal interests. By now leaders must have realized the folly of blocking democratic space of expression which is tantamount to invitatation of anarchy.
Personification of governance along with it command structure must cease to exist owing to prevailing political awareness amongst the populace. In it place , a new order has risen that can only be sustained by transparency, accountability, justice as well as deep connection with the souls and visions of the general populace. The earlier leaders come to terms with this, the better for our collective safety and total security for all citizens.
Writes from the Department of Political Science and International relations, University of Abuja