Opportunity in #EndSARS protests, By Issa Aremu

Opportunity in #EndSARS protests, By Issa Aremu

Two years ago yours comradely did a reflection on the challenges of youth bulge. Entitled Nigerian Youth; A SWOT Analysis (Daily Trust: April 23 2018 ), it was inspired by the controversy triggered by President Muhammadu Buhari’s remark according to which they (the youth) “ sit and do nothing” expecting “..housing, healthcare, education free”. President Muhammadu Buhari is certainly not given to “presidential correctness” on a number of state and even personal issues (remember the “other room” unquotable quote). Of course the Proverbial water had since passed under the presumed “official bridge of “idle youths” . In the last three weeks the “Hashtag” youth generation has shown not just the resilience but resistance against police brutality and insistence on good governance in general. And that is the first strength of this historic #EndSARS protests. The hitherto peaceful protests (against the backdrop of documented historic violent excesses of some members of the moribund Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS) had for once exposed the limitations of a nation building without the inclusion of the youth. Indeed in the last few weeks, Nigeria had paid heavy price for Youth exclusion and criminalization of some of them at arbitrary checkpoints and illegal road blocks. Avoidable deaths and sheer degeneration into anarchism. Put positively, for once, the voices of the youths are being heard “loud and clear” fighting for inclusive development. President Buhari delivered 60th independence anniversary on October 1st . I search in vain for a single reference to the role of youths in national development in a country in Africa with one of the largest populations of youth in the world as many as some 40, 000,000.

No President is perhaps better positioned to mainstream youths in governance narratives than President Buhari whose electoral base is significantly youthful and remarkably fanatical. Talking about youthful fanaticism for President Buhari. We all remember Suleiman Hashimu who enthusiastically walked 750km (460 miles) from Lagos to Abuja, “wore out six pairs of shoes over 18 days in order to see President elect before his inauguration of as Nigeria’s new president in 2015. His long trek captured public imagination. He was received by the President elect with demands and expectations of the youths for the new administration. Better that in less than three weeks in recent times , President Buhari had umpteenth time “engaged” the restless youths with sundry feverish statements, the anti-climax being the last Thursday state of the nation ( sorry, plight of the youth!) address. “#EndSARS protests offer a timely opportunity for Nigerian governments at all levels to integrate the youths back into socio- economic development of the country. Certainly government has the singular responsibility to restore law and order undermined by criminals u the cover of legitimate peaceful protest. But for too long through youth mass open unemployment, (as high as 50 per cent) prolonged closures of universities due to ASUU strikes, income poverty and Police criminalization, Nigerian youths have been unacceptably pushed on the margins of the Society. The point cannot be overstated that the crisis at hand is nothing but the price for youth exclusion and in general crisis of governance by exclusion. A recognition of this singular point would be a worthy take away from the current youth street explosion. The second strength of the “#EndSARS protests lies in the 5-point demand of protesters against police brutality, namely halting the use of force against protesters and unconditional release of arrested citizens, justice for the victims of police brutality, including payment of compensation, and the psychological evaluation of policemen, including increasing their salaries. It was commendable that the Presidential panel promptly acceded to the practical demands of the youths. The President had commendably also directed National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission “to expedite action on the finalization of the new salary structure of members of the Nigeria Police Force” while the “emoluments of other paramilitary services are also being reviewed upwards”. Which then points to the fact that the youths could be (and must be consciously cultivated!) as partners in development process. When the history of the current police reform is written, no one can ignore the role of the youths in raising the noise level of the urgent need to adequately compensate the men and women in police uniforms. From the entrepreneurship, organization, solidarity as well as empathy we witnessed on all major streets of Lagos and Abuja before the protests were rudely hijacked by lumpens, I bet that the Nigerian youths can be worthy partners in attainment of SDGs 2030 17 Goals dealing with industry and innovation, poverty, illiteracy and hunger eradication and environment among others. #EndSARS protests is certainly a metaphor for all the failings of the state that include poverty, unemployment, lack of access to quality education, armed conflicts, girl child discrimination, absence of constructive Youth participation in development processes in Africa, especially Nigeria.

It’s time for deliberate policy initiatives to eliminate the factors that prevent the youths from participating meaningfully in decision making and implementation especially on matters that affect them including the current challenges of police brutality. Never again about the youth without the youths. There must be urgent bi-partisan national committee to combat youth unemployment and underemployment. The administration must also revisit the 2014 National conference report with respect to youth and Labour empowerment. There must be full implementation of the National Youth Policy (?) and the Nigerian Youth Employment Action Plan (NYEAP) with Legal backing to be given to the documents to aid implementation. There should be a Creation of an Agency backed by law ( against the background of the latest development) to be saddled with the responsibility of drawing up policy framework and work plan for Youth development as contained in the robust recommendations of that historic confab.

Issa Aremu mni

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