#EndSARS: Nigerian youths come of age

It is unlikely that EndSARS protesters or the government ever envisaged the intensity and tenacity of the protests convulsing many states in Nigeria over poor and repressive policing methods calcified by decades of misrule. In the past few years, as the repression worsened and policing decayed, and insecurity became unmanageable, the government had enough time to anticipate a crisis of confidence between the government and the people, a crisis capable of truncating democracy, instigating chaos, and even fracturing the country. But there was no anticipation. Worse, when the protests began, perhaps inauspiciously and inchoately, the government thought that a few timely concessions would mitigate the discontent against the police. Bucking the trend, however, and surprising themselves even, the mainly youth-led protests have displayed maturity and organisation fired by modern gadgets, and lasting much longer than anyone ever guessed practicable. Nigerian youths have seemed to come of age.

For more than two weeks, the protests have demonstrated staying power and won significant concessions, including the dissolution of the hated anti-robbery unit, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Though the protesters, whose age group is expanding as their demands have become elastic, have surprised themselves and the world, and are gradually widening the focus of their action, the government has contrastingly exhibited confusion, panic and, even in the flurry of their concessions, incompetence. It became clear that as the protests lingered something tragic about governance in Nigeria was unearthed. Four times or so, SARS had been tinkered with on account of the squad’s blatant excesses and the people’s very audible groans. But four times and more, the squad had become even more flagrantly repressive, cocky about extrajudicial killings, and acted clearly above the law and the constitution. That the government and law enforcement were unresponsive to the anguished cries of the people is a reflection on their incompetence even more than their irresponsibility.

It also remains to be seen whether this government or any succeeding government has learnt any lessons from the revolt, particularly in respect of the youths it has failed to educate properly and plan for. To curb the frustrations and alienation many Nigerians feel today, particularly among the youths whose participation in the ongoing protests is a logical progression from their state of helplessness and hopelessness, the quality of Nigerian leaders must be much higher than it is. But ultimately, the responsibility of putting competent leaders in office rests on the protesters and the people themselves, a task they cannot complete in one protest, given the country’s ethnic and religious variegation, but must keep working on if their society is not to disintegrate or fail altogether sometime later.

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