Nigeria’s Struggle to a New Nation in the Age of Digitization: A Perspective on the #ENDSARS Protest
Marwan Haruna, Ph.D.
Obviously since the return of democracy in 1999 to date, the self-evident truth that the security and welfare of Nigeria’s citizens is far from settled. Recent happenings across the country, are a manifestation of that and a consequence to the new world order; DIGTIZATION. The imperative then, for a change in governance that must conform to the current realities.
As a victim of police brutality sometimes in 2002 around the Lagos airport, I never doubted the call to the “#ENDSARS” (a quest for an end to police brutality and ultimately to police reform). It is definitely a call to good governance. The “#ENDSARS” was an excellent agitation that started peacefully with a five point demand and going very well, to the extent that some real agitators started fishing out some groups with a hidden agenda. Consequently, and as a great victory to the pursuit, “SARS” was disbanded and the remaining four requests were accepted by the Federal Government. Moving further, President Muhammadu Buhari made a clear speech of assurance to the agitators about the Government’s acceptance and readiness for implementing the five point request. In a similar vein and with respect to the implementation of the requests, the Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo, summoned a NEC meeting that ended up with the recommendation for all state Governors to set up a judicial panel of inquiry (that will bring to justice all culprits that brutalized innocent citizens), that will realize one of the agitators’ requests. So far, as at the time of writing this article, about half of the 36 states have done that. Lastly and perhaps a thing that would have brought a peaceful/smooth end to the protest, was the government’s call for engagement with the leaders of the agitation; none, however showed up.
Thus, a protest, which began peacefully started taking a different shape by trampling on other people’s right through road blockades, vandalization of vehicles and an increase in the number of requests, one of which was “#BuhariMustResign”. Although there were a lot of support for the agitation, many citizens called for imploring caution right from the beginning of the protest and especially when the president made that first speech of “assurance”. However, what would have been a peaceful protest, spilled over to outright vandalization/looting of government and private properties. Definitely, the protest went clearly at parallel with the supposed aims; apparently hijacked by those with hidden agenda and/or miscreants. A reason that made many called for caution, knowing fully well how so called “peaceful protests” in Nigeria, result to. No doubt, the violent nature of the protest led to curfew in some states across the federation. Lagos state being one of such states experienced the worst, led to the loss of lives of some citizens. Amongst the many places where lives were “wasted” in Lagos, was in Lekki. A lot of condemnations followed from across the globe. Today, the judicial panel of inquiry set up, is doing its work in that regards.
The former President of America, Bill Clinton put his statement about the #ENDSARS issue wisely: “I am deeply concerned over reports of violence in Lagos and urge the Nigerian government to engage in peaceful dialogue with the #ENDSARS protestors for police reform and the end to corruption.” Indeed, a diplomat and a highly experienced person with respect to conflict resolution, in my opinion, refused to be hasty in conclusion talk less of passing the buck to a side. Clinton’s statement was outstanding and unlike many other local and international figures’.
Considering Bill Clinton’s statement, some questions that will arise include: 1). Were the citizens’ demands, right?; 2). Was the protest meant to be peaceful?; 3). Did the federal government accept the demands?; 4). Did the federal government engage or call for peaceful dialogue with the citizens?; 5). Why the violence for a protest that ought to be peaceful and for citizens exercising their democratic rights? The wise and experienced Clinton did not only shown concern to the “ENDSARS” and the violence that followed, but also called an “END to CORRUPTION”. So, will it be that corruption also fueled the agitation?
Given how the Nigeria’s governance/social system works with class disparity, it’s entirely possible that an aversion to the ruling and political class increase. Thereupon, feeling of dejection, oppression, and hatred along ethno-religious divides aggravates. Hence, gullible citizens are being deceived in accepting all kind of news; no thanks to the new DIGITAL order. That “crack in the wall”, makes some local and international groups and personalities achieve their aims, for or against Nigeria. In this circumstance, even failed and corrupt individuals/groups easily achieve their selfish aims of either sponsoring or instigating instability in the country. A “crack” then, that must be closed by the government. What we witness today, is a surge of the social injustice, which climax along the years.
The #ENDSARS agitation is just one out of many. Corruption is another big monster that the government must tame; it is not just stealing that is corruption, but also the “deliberate” delay of high profile criminal cases, which leave the so called high profile persons moving freely on the streets, while at the same time hastily jailing a small criminal hawker, is in itself a big corrupt practice that the three arms of government must address. The consequences of the protest that turned violent will only gradually manifest itself with time. Although places like lagos are beginning to suffer the severe consequences. In some communities, hoodlums are said to be terrorizing innocent Nigerians as they mount illegal toll gates in Lagos in the absence of the police. Lagos is surely taken aback by the #ENDSARS protest. As Emmanuel Oladapo put it: “The wool that were drawn across the eyes of the youths by social media influencers have been removed. They now behold the ruins of one-time Centre of Excellence. Government cannot be in a hurry to fix the destroyed public utilities due to lack of money. Its agencies are still busy clearing the debris across the states.” Undoubtedly, it’s now the death of BRT buses and the resurrection of “Danfo” or the famous “one chance”; so sad. What would it have been, had the protest turned to a full scale violent demonstration across the country? South Sudan, Iraq and Libya are good examples for Nigeria’s citizens to reflect upon. Their imperfect yesterday, is better than their unstable today.
In this circumstance, awareness campaigns by the National Orientation Agency are a necessity. The agency must be actively online to help the nation in achieving unity and good governance. Governors must be up and doing, they must also govern their people transparently. It is noteworthy, that so many citizens don’t understand the governance system. They see the governors as being answerable to the president; this fact has to be cleared, all by NOA. With this, citizens will be able to hold their Governors accountable. NOA must be awake and Legislators as well, must accept the current reality by first working towards reducing their salaries and allowances in such a way that the ordinary citizen don’t feel cheated.
While commending the setting up of judicial panel of inquiry across the states, it will only be excellent if the members will be just to all. “Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor…”. They should note and realize that even Security personnel were killed during the protest. As such, just like the inquiry on other citizens’ right, such should be applied to the Security personnel. No amount of sensationalism and pressure locally or internationally, should make the members tamper with justice. Members have to be cautious about unverified evidences.
No doubt, lessons have been learnt from the protests and in order to prevent the recurrence of the ugly experience, I recommend the following:
1. Nigeria must always come first, for no matter the citizenship you’ve(‘re) taken, you’re only a second citizen;
2. Nigerians must learn to organize “peaceful” protest or other means of making the government work without allowing those with a hidden agenda to hijack;
3. Nigerians should also understand more on conflict resolution; even after war, there is also peaceful dialogue. Hence, no need for violence;
4. The federal government should as a matter of urgency rejig its communication apparatus, in such a way that the citizen are transparently carried along in all governance reforms;
5. The federal government should always show without delay, implementation of its commitments to the citizens through townhall meetings;
6. There should be justice to all (civilians and securities) that were either wounded or lost their lives. Similarly, anyone found guilty must be punished as provided by the constitution;
7. Monitoring and evaluation of government’s various social intervention programs is key. More employment avenues should be created and synergy amongst MDAs to achieving that, is key;
8. An end to ASUU strike is key; government must ensure sustainable solutions that will get our universities compete with international’s;
9. The leaders must come together in reducing social disparity with the citizens;
10. Anti-corruption should be strengthened and;
11. Nigeria’s intelligence system should also be strengthened
Overall, government must wake up to the new world reality of digitization to improve inclusiveness and transparency which will then provide good governance. It should also initiate diplomatic talks with the international communities for a partnership on good governance and to prevent misrepresentation of facts. Nigeria citizens on the other hand should learn the peaceful strategies that spur good governance. Youth should also avoid fake and unverified news, they should shun away from both local and international instigators that might want the country to plunge into war. We should all imbibe the culture of justice, for justice to prevail in our land.
Marwan Haruna Abdulkarim (PhD)
Executive Director - Dela Sustainability and Resource Institute, Abuja.