The recent #EndSARS protest in Nigeria focused mainly against police brutality organised and executed by Nigerian youths is a sign that our youths are waking up and are no longer interested in being passive with respect to the harsh realities they face daily as a result of years of bad governance in our country by the political class.
Trapped in the cycle of a relentless lack of prospects in a greatly endowed nation, the vast majority are being robbed of the opportunities of youth and are forced to mark time with their lives, watching on helplessly as their dreams of employment, academic success, entrepreneurship, marriage and family life remain out of reach with every passing day. Many of them, particularly those living in the northern states of the country, have to contend with the horrors of war, banditry, and general insecurity, afraid for their very lives with no prospects for a normal life. And across the country, youths endure attacks by agents of the state – the police – sworn to protect and defend their lives yet do otherwise.
This frustration and concern about their future – and daily threats to
their mortal existence – resulted in the well-articulated youth-led #EndSARS protest. It would be wrong for the authorities not to recognise these frustrations that made the youths wake up and demand good governance and begin to treat them as enemies of the state.
The statistics are deeply concerning. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics reports that Nigeria’s youth population eligible to work is about 40 million out of which only 14.7 million are fully employed and another 11.2 million are unemployed. It is not rocket science to deduce that the youth unemployment rate is synonymous with poverty and increased insecurity, a situation that is a ticking time bomb for the destabilisation of society. Youths make up about 64% of total unemployed Nigerians suggesting that the most agile working-class population in the country remains unemployed. This underscores the genuine disaffection and restiveness of our youths.
The youths of Nigeria are not “lazy” but are bright, innovative, tech-smart, and have a unique perspective on our opportunities and challenges. We do a grave disservice to our nation when we fail to harness their exceptional talent and vitality. We have seen this exemplified over and over again in the tech and creative industries where the youths continue to exhibit their genuine ingenuity.
Given the huge potential and ingenious tendency of our young people, it would be ill-advised for the authorities to go in the direction of seeking to demonise and persecute the organisers of the #EndSARS protest in a bid to try and cow them. The energy and efforts being expended by the government to go after some of the key organisers of the #EndSARS protest like the Central Bank of Nigeria getting a court order to freeze the accounts of 19 individuals and an organisation linked to #EndSARS, as well as the government barring a lawyer linked to the protest movement from travelling abroad on a scheduled visit by having her passport seized, is in my opinion not the best way to go and is counterproductive. The grievances of the youth are genuine and to resort to state repression instead of constructive engagement to give the youths hope for a better future in the land of their birth will be ill-advised.
We simply cannot afford to exclude the youths from the decision-making process that would shape their future. Our youths are smart and we should not equate their youthfulness with inexperience and ignorance. To do this will be dangerous and damaging for the future of our youths and country resulting in holding all of us back from achieving a glorious future for our citizens and nation. The best foot forward will be for us to take action to ensure young people are truly represented in leadership and decision-making.
Rather than expend energy, efforts, and resources chasing after the leaders of the #EndSARS protest, the government should rather apply these to come up with workable policies and modalities to improve the prospects of our youths with respect to education, employment, health, and political participation. Nothing should stand in the way of a young person’s access to quality education and meaningful livelihood throughout the length and breadth of the country.
However, for government policies and initiatives to translate into the real change we need the political will to include the youths in the planning and policy formulation to clearly articulate a workable path for a nation where the youths have a sense of belonging and ownership.
Charles Anyiam-Osigwe is the Coordinator General of the Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Foundation.