Change can be both evolutionary and revolutionary. When it’s slow, steady and constructive, that’s evolution. When it’s rapid, even sudden, and transformative in a positive way, that’s revolution.
But revolution is oftentimes violent in changing a nation’s political landscape. And it usually happens when all the institutions of the state have failed and the leadership has become ossified in its corruption and excessive self-regard. And the people are thoroughly fed up with their sorry lot and have nothing more to lose than break their chains of oppression.
Nigeria has refused to embrace positive, evolutionary change. Its rulers, not leaders, seem unwittingly to prefer flirting dangerously with violent revolution. That’s now in the offing. Unless the effete political class and the conniving and complicit elite get out of their comfort zones and do something radical to prevent it.
But we know they can’t stir themselves out of their inertia and complacency. They are too inebriated by their unearned privileges of feeding fat on our collective patrimony to be bothered by the irritating noise of the poor masses.
They had better pay attention this time. Nigerian youths have issued them a yellow card, a clear warning, with their #EndSARS protest. They’re saying, ‘Enough Is Enough’. The country has been badly messed up and their future destroyed. They can’t take it anymore, with virtually nothing to hold on to today and absolutely nothing to look forward to tomorrow.
As many people have pointed out, the EndSARS protest is a metaphor for complete rejection of how the country is and the way it’s being run. It’s a clear call for urgent change, a paradigm shift and focused, concerted efforts to set it right.
Not surprisingly, the federal government’s response has been knee-jerk as usual. Frightened by the sheer energy, unity and determination of the youths to make their voices heard this time around, the government responded with guns to silence them.
What happened late evening, last Tuesday, at the Lekki Toll Plaza, Victoria Island, Lagos, is inexcusable and says more about the vulnerability of the government. Soldiers shot at hundreds of unarmed young Nigerians, many with the national flag in their hands, with automatic weapons and absolute impunity. It was an attack that was totally uncalled for, as there were other options to disperse the protesters with.
The attackers could have engaged the protesters and tried to persuade them to leave the plaza, as there were still two hours to the beginning of the curfew. They could have used tear gas and/or high-pressure water canons. And, as a last resort, rubber bullets.
That they opted for shooting the protesters with live ammunition shows the mindset of the security agents and the government they serve. Nigerian lives, even those of the young, don’t matter. They are valueless and, therefore, expendable.
To further insult our intelligence and pour more pepper on our raw, deep emotional wounds, the army authorities attempted a denial of responsibility for the brutal attack on the Lekki protesters. Scores of them were badly injured and some killed. The actual number of the dead is yet to be determined.
This is the digital age and Nigerian youths are digital natives with the social media platforms their playgrounds. The attack was live-streamed on the Internet through different social media tools and platforms. The soldiers and their cohorts couldn’t hide their identity under the cover of darkness.
The government may have won some Pyrrhic victory by the violent attempt to silence the youths. The real victory belonged to the protesters who had conducted themselves peacefully all over the country for almost two weeks. This was despite the provocation posed by hoodlums apparently employed by the security agencies to disrupt the protests and cause mayhem. The tenacity of the youths and the impact of their protest are a preview of what is still to come – a revolution led by them and which may save the country or end it permanently.
A character in one of Harold Robbins’ novels says, “Desperate people make me nervous.” But in this case, the federal government is nervous. It’s nervous because it’s becoming desperate. And it’s desperate because it’s fast losing its legitimacy.
The people are tired of its gross incompetence, its lack of focus and direction and its consistent and persistent mendacity. The government is overwhelmed and out of its depth and has zero credibility. Presiding over or nurturing this whole mess is President Muhammadu Buhari, of whom the least said, the better.
After hibernating in his luxurious bunker in Aso Rock throughout the period of the #EndSARS protest and the Lekki Toll Plaza outrage, he finally emerged Thursday evening to address the nation. As usual, he was uninspiring, insipid and said nothing that we can take to the bank.
The youths are very angry. Well, that’s a cliche. Who is not angry with the current state of the nation and the Buhari administration’s abysmal failure to, at least, keep us where we were in 2015. Remember that time when we thought things were bad and the country was made to believe that Buhari and his party could make it better?
Where are we now? Far worse off than before Buhari’s second coming and the failure of his APC government to fulfill any of its promises, including creating three million jobs annually.
The youths, aged 35 and under, make up 60 per cent of the population of 206 million. Tens of millions of Nigerians are jobless. Tens of millions more are under-employed. So millions of youths have no hope of getting jobs as the economy is not creating but shedding them.
Older generations of Nigerians are angry but helpless, wracked by guilt for their complicity in the destruction of the Nigerian dream. But the youths are angrier and no longer prepared to put up with bad governance marked by failed promises, unbridled corruption and total disconnection from the people it’s supposed to serve.
Why will the youths not be angry when they see our ‘rulers’ and traducers and their families and cronies having luxurious lives at public expense, while over 100 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty?
Why will the youths not be mad when the president enjoys a fleet of 10 well-appointed aircraft with his extended family; some governors have executive jets at their disposal, bought and maintained with their state resources; and others only travel on private executive jets within the country, again at public expense?
Why will they not demand accountability from those in government when they have no hope of getting jobs, while the children of the over-privileged elite of all stripes just walk into plum ones whether they merit them or not?
Why will they not look at the older generations with contempt when many of them are compelled by their suffocating circumstances to flee abroad in the hope of getting the chance to have a useful life? And many others die in the vast, unforgiving expanse of the Sahara desert and drown in the Mediterranean Sea while attempting to get as far away from their country as is possible.
Why will they not seek a day of reckoning for all those who have betrayed them and wrecked their future when nothing works in Nigeria today?
Nigerian youths have said it in unmistakable terms. EndSARS means end bad, corrupt and wasteful governance. And end it now. So that the country can begin to breathe and give them the opportunities they need to realize their potentials. As they realize their potentials, they help develop the country and make it grow.
But do we have the leadership or rulership and elite that can rise to the occasion and make the urgently needed paradigm shift? The answer is a depressing no.
That’s why all of us should be very afraid. It could be fire the next time the youths decide to occupy Nigeria.