BusinessDay

EndSARS protest: The youth rage that defined 2020

The EndSARS protest that rocked Nigeria in early October 2020 was perhaps the most significant event that shaped the out-going year, following youth demonstration initially against the brutality of the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the police unit notorious for extra-judicial killings, rights violation and extortion.

The massive protests organised by young people across Nigeria quickly expanded to demand for general change in the governance system and constitutional changes and reforms, propelled by an unprecedented fit of rage devoid of political undertones.

But it was the unity of purpose, organisational efficiency, tact and strategy premised on ICT of the youth that rattled the Federal Government and stirred panic among the elite as they allegedly tried to scuttle the protest by sponsoring subversive elements to disrupt and discredit the protesters. Yet the young men and women refused to budge until brute force was allegedly deployed to smash the protests.

The protests, which lasted for over two weeks, compelled the Federal Government to disband SARS, and accepted to implement other reforms of the youth made in their initial Five-Point Demand and more.

Media aide to former President Jonathan, Ruben Abati, described the situation as “the nerve-centre of youth revolt, and a cultural melting pot where solidarity is the normative code, and rebellion is the spirit of the congregation.”

The youth made very impressive and far-reaching demands on the need to arrest the worsening economic condition of the country and corruption, which have manifested in massive youth joblessness and frustration, especially in the last five years.

The largely peaceful and well-organised protests later turned bloody when hoodlums, allegedly hired and sponsored by government to disrupt and discredit the protest, hijacked the protests and unleashed mayhem on the country with killing, arson, looting and destruction of public and private properties running into trillions of naira, especially in Lagos.

The police suffered perhaps the biggest casualties as many of their posts and stations across the country were burnt down and over 22 police officers reportedly lost their lives in the mayhem, according to police sources. There were reports of jail breaks in Benin City, Edo State, where prisoners jumped the fence at the prisons in Benin City, and escaped. Many other citizens lost their lives across the federation.

Perhaps the most dramatic and painful episode of the protest was the alleged shooting and killing of an unidentified number of protesters by armed soldiers at the Lekki Tollgate, one of the most outstanding centres of the protests in Lagos on October 20. This has prompted various judicial panels of inquiry into the incidents in the most affected states.

The Lekki incident is still generating controversy as the popular Cable News Network (CNN) documentary on the alleged Lekki shooting appeared to have exposed an attempt by the Lagos State government and the military authorities to cover up the killings.

Some experts, who spoke on the EndSARS protest, said it was consequent on the myriad of issues of discontent with the governance system, even as they condemned the attempt to blame the mayhem that ensued on the protests.

Public affairs analyst, Majeed Dahiru, said, “Every attempt to muddle up the EndSARS protest that was peaceful, well-organised and purposeful with the wanton destruction of property is a bit disingenuous. Both issues are completely different. EndSARS protest was simply a protest and call for police reforms. It was when hoodlums were brought in to disrupt the peaceful protest that there was a gap that was taken advantage of by some other hoodlums that were not invited to carry out mayhem.”

Also speaking, public intellectual, Katch Ononuju, said, “The young people know that when they are together like they demonstrated during the EndSARS protest, they have the power. So, the biggest problem the elite have is the youth. They are more intelligent, they are better educated, and they also are savvier in communicating. All the youth need is a phone and drone, and they can defeat a battalion of army. You can see what they have done; they used block chains to hide their money. They were smarter than these leaders and that is why those in government were panicking.”

The Nigerian youth probably learnt the power of protest to change the governance system and even unwanted leaders just like it happened when youth protests in Sudan brought down the over 30-year government of Omar al-Bashir on April 11, 2019. In Mali, the regime of Boubacar Keita was toppled after persistent youth protests in August 2020. It would also be recalled that the Arab Spring protests that led to the collapse of the government of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and of course Muamar Gaddafi of Libya about 10 years ago, were caused by youth revolt.

Poor economy may trigger bigger protests in 2021

Experts have posited that the crumbling economy and increasing insecurity will be the issues that may trigger far more protests in the coming year if drastic measures are not taken to salvage the nation’s dwindling economy.

Nigeria has officially plunged into a second recession in 2020 after the 2016 recession. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has said the current rate of inflation in Nigeria is 14.89% and this has very negative impacts as prices of food items have gone beyond the reach of the ordinary man. The NBS notes further in its recent reports that Nigeria’s unemployment rate is 27.1% and may jump to 33% or more at the end of 2020.

The World Poverty Clock says about 50% of Nigeria’s population of over 200 million is living below the poverty line, which makes Nigeria the country with the poorest people in the world. The World Bank has also warned that if drastic measures are not taken to address the economic problems of Nigeria, 25% of the world’s poor will reside in Nigeria by 2030.

This gloomy situation is made worse by Nigeria’s population, which is growing annually at 3.2% with an economy that has contracted by 3.6%. These indices make for future youth unrest inevitable as the Nigerian government is grappling with dwindling resources and lack of capital to invest in human capital due to falling prices of oil, Nigeria’s main foreign exchange earner.

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