The past month has been revealing to the government and people of Nigeria. As the dust of the epochal youth protest tagged #EndSARS settles and the billows die down, everybody is taking note of the costs, what was done, what shouldn’t have been done and the possibilities ahead. For once, the young people have said it loud and clear to the people in government that they are watching and can change the course of history.
Yes, for the period the protest primarily targeted at ending police brutality lasted, these defiant youths proved how activist they are, and if care is not taken, the next time around, they might even be vanguardist. Many observers watched with amazement how these young men and women from different social backgrounds organised themselves properly on the streets in protest against police brutality in a peaceful and orderly manner. Just discountenance whatever new narratives now being pushed out by the government to discredit these young people who used #EndSARS as a metaphor for speaking out against poor governance in the country. Forget about the abracadabra, lies and the shenanigans going on over the conscienceless shooting of unarmed youths at the Lekki Gate, the truth is that Nigerians know the truth.
Now that it is clear to the young people some of whose comrades paid the supreme price during the protests across the country that they are dealing with perhaps a rogue state, it is high time they sat back and re-strategized. The same government that was on its knee begging them to pull back and allow it to process their demands and respond, like reckless drivers, has forgotten the accident spot and gone back to the bad habit of driving recklessly. There are now several reports that the government is allegedly using its agencies like the Central Bank, Immigration Service and even the Police to track identified leaders of the #EndSARS and mete out punishments to them. Their bank accounts are allegedly being frozen and some of them placed on no-fly list. It is interesting to note that this is happening in the regime of people who made protests their pastime when they were in opposition pre-2015 Nigeria, without molestation by the Goodluck Jonathan government.
Whatever game the Buhari government is playing, the ebullient young people who organised themselves so well and swept our streets clean even as they protested; the security-conscious youths who prevented pickpockets and street urchins from harassing people while the genuine protests lasted; the technology savvy young men and women who provided real time pictures and videos of their protests to prevent disinformation; the responsible youths who had among them doctors and other healthcare practitioners taking care of the weak, the weary and the wounded; and above all, the young Nigerians who displayed exemplary accountability in the management of the little funds they allegedly received in the course of the protests from some of their more endowed colleagues, have in no uncertain language told their countrymen and women they are indeed ready to birth a new Nigeria devoid of nepotism and united in transparency.
It is therefore necessary for the youth to understand that all they marched against for weeks and lost some of their comrades for, are embedded in bad governance. Whether you complain of rogue policing, lack of essential amenities and infrastructure, or insecurity and corruption in government, it is all about bad governance. Sometimes, the solution to these existential problems may be in calling the attention of the government to them through street protests. At other times, especially with deaf and dumb governments, direct and active participation may hold the key.
I have followed several comments urging the youths to seize the moment and run with it by organising behind an essentially youth political party. Those pushing this idea are not entirely wrong. Available data suggest that young people between the ages of 18-40 years bracket constitute the majority of the voting public in the country. Thus, if they can mass into one political party and challenge for votes, they are likely to carry the day. Just maybe.
But ours is a peculiar system, the current political elite have shut the doors and have made it extremely difficult for younger people to get involved in direct partisan politics, and contest elections. The subsisting electoral laws are such that have made free and fair elections almost impossible in our system. What this means is that most of those unleashing bad governance on the people today are in fact not voted in by the people but rigged their way through. For instance, the subsisting law with the provision that, to be eligible for the office of the president and governor, all one needs is to be educated up to the secondary school level is indeed laughable.
In this age when our young people are sophisticated and educated, this provision only allows the worst of us to rule over the best of us contrary to the political ideas of classical philosophers like Plato who argued that political power ought to be left to the most knowledgeable in society. In the 2019 presidential election, we saw how the argument in the courts over eligibility for the election was shamefully about a mere WAEC certificate in a country of educated people. Let’s not mess around this fact, knowledge is still power!
Now that our youths have seen that they have the ability to change the course of history and the sinking destiny our country, they must now see the need for re-channelling their energy and activism towards reforming the process of getting into elective positions in our country. As Joe Biden, president-elect of the United States, recently stated: “No fundamental social change occurs merely because government acts. It’s because civil society, the conscience of a country begins to rise up and demand – demand – demand change.” In spite of the spirited efforts of the APC federal government to weaken civil society since it came to power in 2015 by attempting to gag the people through sponsorship of anti-social media bills and other broadcast regulations, there are still some genuine civil society groups who have refused to be cowed into submitting to the arbitrary pleasures of the anti-democratic elements in power today. Yiaga Africa, SERAP, AFRICMIL, OSIWA, Centre for Liberty (CFL), and many others have remained committed to promoting good governance and electoral reforms in the land.
Our young people who have apparently rediscovered their latent power can now team-up with CFL and other CSOs who are canvassing for the amendment of the electoral act and passing same in 2020 by the National Assembly. With support from OSIWA, CFL for instance believes that elections can only reflect the choice of voters and enable credible and upright people to be elected into government when the 2010 electoral act is amended to allow for electronic transmission of results from polling units. By this method, the rigging that occurs in the name of carrying result sheets to collation centres would be eliminated. They are also proposing a one-day election by which all elections take place the same day and thus reduce its disruptive effect of shutting down of the economy on election days.
In its electoral reform advocacy, CFL had stated inter alia that, “We will, among other provisions in the Amendment Bill before the National Assembly, be advocating for Full Biometrics for Accreditation, Electronic Collation of Results, Conduct of All State (Governorship, House of Assembly) and Federal Elections (President, National Assembly) in One Day, Free Movement of Electorates to enable a wider voter participation, Election Finance Reform, as well as other important provisions.”
“We believe that the 9th National Assembly has a responsibility to actively aggregate the general views of all stakeholders in Nigeria’s democratic process including the civil society organizations, Political Parties, International partners and especially the electorate, to legislate an enduring Electoral Reform Act that will reinforce the trust of the electorate and other stakeholders in the credibility of Nigeria’s electoral process.”
Before our #EndSARS protesters are misled into believing that they can change anything through the ballot boxes in 2023, they must realize that the elections will be governed by a body of laws, the Electoral Act, in addition to the Constitution. If they do not lend their voices to the call for peaceful disinfecting of the electoral process through the reform of the laws and plunge headlong into partisanship, they would have bought a pig in a poke. If the National Assembly does not amend the electoral act as it is today, our young people may well be on the streets again after 2023 perhaps with a different hashtag protesting police brutality, which we all know is just a metaphor for bad governance. Electoral reform is the right road to travel!
Ugboajah, a public affairs analyst writes from Abuja.