• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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#ENDSARS protests and its aftermath

#EndSARS protests

When analysing Nigeria a metaphor of merging halves comes easily to mind. Its history is defined by the confluence of the rivers Niger and Benue at Lokoja. Seamlessly they meet, floating placidly down the country into our delta for a destined meeting with the Atlantic. 

Less successful than our defining confluence has been the amalgamation of Nigeria, since 1914. Like the seasonal floods that blight us, the deluge of crises that plague the country is predicted, endured, explained and repeated, continuously. 

Nothing is ever new under the sun, and no experience, no matter how brutal or horrifying and humiliating is unusual for a Nigerian. We predict; we endure; we explain; we repeat. That same cycle may characterise this latest campaign to #ENDSARS. The bloody toll paid at Lekki, the evasions and diversions from those in power, and the declarations from dissidents that this time really is different are all tunes from a familiar song. 

I can only plead that my scepticism is earned. Protesting youths, earnest Western supporters, clumsy responses by a government with its legitimacy in the gutter and ostentatious claims that nothing will ‘be the same’ are about as Nigerian as ‘I better pass my neighbour’.   

All Nigerians have their means of coping with our existence in a country where few 21st-century opportunities cohere badly with many 16th-century challenges. My coping mechanism is an aversion to cliche. 

It is with that in mind, that I with ‘fear and trembling’ render my verdict on the recent #ENDSARS protests and its aftermath. The careful reader will correctly guess that I am going to say that it is all ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing’. 

Its one significant implication is that it marks the rise of what I call the Gidi Arts and Tech nexus as a political actor in Nigeria. Like the other political actors in the country, they have demonstrated a capacity to put themselves at the forefront of a shared grievance, mobilise funds and find crowds from among Nigeria’s endless masses to lend support on the streets. And exactly like the other political actors, they have not shown any indication of having a political programme capable of righting the ship of the country’s destiny. That can be forgiven, for now, due to the deliberate decentralised nature of the movement. Regardless, absence is absence. That absence marks them as distinctive, from the others, only in their mastery of modern means of mass communication.

There are likely two objections to my verdict from those convinced of the historical importance of the #ENDSARS movement. 

The first will be to laud the immense capacity of the internet as a tool of organisation and mobilisation. I agree that the internet possesses that ability. Tens of millions of players also engage in simulated warfare, online, in the videogame, Call of Duty. That has no bearing on real-life conflicts or the skills necessary to win them. The allures of the metaverse must not be confused for reality. See the litany of failures from the Arab Springs for further reminders of that fact. 

The second objection is that activists should not be expected to govern. Their role is to highlight problems that the government should fix. I will not deny that some societies see fit to conduct their affairs thus. I will deny the fitness of that idea for Nigeria. It does not need more activist political actors.     

Chinua Achebe famously placed the problems of Nigeria squarely at the foot of ‘leadership’; I disagree. The problem is Nigerians. We are caught between two realities and we lack the means of unifying the ensuing discordance. The initial protests revolved around a single issue of reform. That was punctuated by State violence. It has since been replaced by looting and gang violence. That too will be met by State violence. Some Nigerians have the means to put issues first; others, through circumstance must seize what they can, when they can. 

An American, John Adams, once said, ‘I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.’ I posit that Nigerians must first create a country worth fighting for so that our descendants can live in one worth protesting in. 

Successful governance, in my books, is simply adaptation to your circumstances. That is the reason none of the successful societies across the world followed the same blueprint for success. Rather, their success remains evidence of their continued adaptation. Civilisations fall when they fail to adapt. 

Yes, Nigeria is bad; yes, we are angry; yes, we want change. And? Nigeria needs those with the means, will and capability to tame the storms of our reality. It is those Nigerians-by-conviction who will be deserving of Clio’s embrace. They will be historic. 

Emmanuel-Francis is a graduate, pending convocation, of the Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos