In this emotive piece Ebenezer Okike lights a fire for the new generation of young Nigerians. In it he adds some needed (on the ground) context to the #ENDSARS protests in Nigeria. As history details time and time again, protests are merely the visual representation of individuals reaching emotional and psychological breaking points. Sadly, (for our writer) the cause/s for #ENDSARS are anything but new. A greedy in-effectual government, intent on maintaining a lucrative status quo are the ingredients fuelling the brutal police atrocities. Importantly we must be aware. The Western media saw it fit to highlight the protests in their media, but this police brutality is far from new.
The facts are the #ENDSARS movement is the culmination of years of dissatisfaction with the Nigerian government. It is clear there is a deep seated and toxic malaise. Indeed, this malaise (courtesy of a lack of access to resources in Nigeria) drives the country inexorably to the existence of just two classes of people: the high class and the poor/lower class. This is particularly evident in the cafes in Nigeria. They are places, for the multinationals and those with wealth. There is no room for the middle and lower class.
From Nigerian independence till date there has been a gradual reduction of intellectuals in the country. Even though people are aware of this, they do not fully grasp the idea and how it influences the new generation. The government seek to monitor and control. George Orwell’s classic Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) comes to mind.
Nigerians have become accustomed to suffering and struggling for hazy causes. In turn any sense of unity crumbles and erodes in the arid environment of a negligible, corrupt, and greedy government. The government in-turn leaves the system with so many loopholes. Subsequently people lack a sense of what should be expected from a leader. And when a leader does offer basic amenities, they are a god. But basic amenities are rights-correct? Unfortunately, our collective memory is gradually failing us. We were born into a failed state and do not know the true form of excellence.
We are susceptible to abuse. Any remedies to this endemic abuse seem far away. Who can we run to for solutions? Indeed, how can we run to anyone when we are conditioned to see ‘abuse’ as ‘normal’. For our government this is favourable. It makes their rule stress-free. It ensures the heart of the people can be easily won during election campaigns.
Our standards have been made so low. They [government] know a structure does not exist. They know the price for good labour is low and it takes a daily toll on the average man. Come the incentive of being elected or being re-elected, the government goes into faux concern. Suddenly measures (which are short-term) are possible. They provide bread for an empty stomach and the stomach vocalises its pleasure at finally getting some sustenance. The masses mostly soak up these kind cheap gestures from the most ‘benevolent man/woman’. They in turn reward that person for their paltry ration of bread with their precious vote.
A malignant and aggressive cancer has taken full form due to these failings in leadership. The leaders of Nigeria (not immune to predatory behaviour) become prey to the power hungry and wealth of countries from the West and to a growing extent the East. In the face of an accumulation of naira, there is little room for intellect and sound governance.
The military, paramilitary, the civil service (to name but a few) are awash with those vying for individual riches. Positions are open to people with loyalties in government and/or who can be influenced. It gives rise to people with an outstandingly low intellect. They proliferate top government and military positions with no sense of purpose or execution of intent when it is needed. They in turn employ like-minded and intellectually pliable individuals. A perpetuation of greed and poor intellect.
And those who are intellectually astute with a mind set for collective improvement of Nigeria are in the minority mixed in the dark crowd. This minority can serve as a pillar. But on investigation it is clear this minority pillar is in fact made of cracking and sub-standard concrete. It is unable to take the weight of trying to defeat a system geared towards making the richer even richer.
Any suggestions or acts threatening the status quo is met with absolute force. This is the rule in Nigeria displayed perfectly in the Niger Delta. In a region where one of the largest reserves of petroleum and natural gas sits the degree of instability is quite tragic. A place where bloodshed has become the norm in the struggle to control resources. Security in this region is a national priority. The best officers from the military and para-military should be there. They understand discipline and have a strong sense of maintaining order. But this attention to professionalism is not the case in other areas. I have been privileged to travel extensively across Southern Nigeria and during my time in Port Harcourt I experienced a lifetime of errors from our police officers.
The #ENDSARS protests aroused that which has been asleep for years. A hunger in the youths to be active in the political system in the country. A desire to be properly represented. To have a voice which can drive change.
Dexterity was employed to ensure best results. Skills were used in various areas, a great deal of selflessness was in motion, a new system was desired, and that system was brought to life during protests to show the leaders the kind of system we desired. A system free from tribalism, religious intolerance, corruption and unaccountability.
This was young Africans telling the world their story their own way. The African way which is one filled with creativity and innovation. But this was also met with violence as diplomacy is a tool our leaders lack. They can’t understand the use of compromise to reach certain terms. The fact that the compromise would need to be reached with some ‘kids’ an affront they could barely disguise
At the Lekki Tollgate, a group of soldiers killed its own citizens, citizens they swore to protect. That night they soaked the country’s flag in the blood of innocent protesters and followed it up with shallow lies. So shallow you will question the calibre of people that have been left to lead us or rather the calibre of people being led. maybe we are the dumb ones. Maybe we shouldn’t be prioritised enough to be told the truth or a well thought lie. Maybe we are just pawns.
The week following the protest was the hardest, going through the city of Lagos in the days that followed one could feel heavy silence hanging in the air, this was the sort of silence one could never get used to. It was silence that was loud enough to haunt you but silent enough to make one feel as though in an eternal fall. This was silence filled with horror. The horrors of violence still whispered in the air.
The country seems to be moving on, gradually turning a tragedy to a story, a story to a painful memory. Businesses slowly picking up to their past heights, but the horror remains unchecked. The government has lost much, and they are ready to make the youths pay the price. And like always, it is layman’s cross to bear while the powerful are cloaked in the wealth and influence. What extremes could be reached in one’s quest to secure wealth and power. What is the price that should be paid and should there even be a price?
These are questions that if understood will give meaning to the lust amongst men for power and the defiance of the young against tyranny.