Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Are #EndSARS campaigners losing focus?

What is next for millions of young people who hope for a better, safe and prosperous Nigeria?

• November 14, 2020
#EndSARS protest used to illustrate the story
#EndSARS protest used to illustrate the story

The two-week long #EndSARS protest has simmered down, yet it leaves much muttering in its wake. The agitation to put an end to police brutality threw up other governance malaise within the polity. There were calls for structural and economic reforms—even regime change.

A lot of questions are still being asked: Has the protest achieved its goal or did it overreach itself? Did the protesters miss a golden opportunity to productively engage the government? Could the protest have been better organised?

Should the organisers re-strategise and come up with a fail-proof template to extract the best deal from the Nigerian state? What is next for millions of young people who hope for a better, safe and prosperous Nigeria?

What next?

Fuelled by government’s dour response in the aftermath of #LekkiMassacre, a lot of chatter ensued online. Many called for the sustenance of the tempo on holding the government accountable by morphing the public demonstrations into a more organised political movement.

Singer Simi chimed in a tweet: “I don’t know if this is ignorant but is it possible to form a community of sorts where we can start to groom or have leaders who are accountable to us and maybe eventually a party that is funded and powered by us. Or something of that nature?”

Her question amplified the frustrations of many who had been let down by President Buhari’s speech of October 22, which paid neither attention nor empathy to victims of the Lekki Toll Gate shooting by the military just two days earlier.

Joining the conversation, Arit Okpo, a journalist, believes it would take more than just forming a political party for the youth to achieve the country they desire. “We need a bit more to change the system,” she said in a tweet.

Ms. Okpo’s take tallies with that of Daniel Ajiroba, a community organiser with the Action Corps in New York. Mr. Ajiroba told Peoples Gazette that “just forming a political party or movement is not going to be enough.”

He said, “The way some of these challenges can be addressed is for young people to start leading mass reorientation efforts with the lower-class citizens as the target audience.

“In addition to this, we need to push for electoral reforms that make it difficult for rigging. Reforms such as limiting campaign finance, enabling electronic voting and allowing people in the diaspora to vote can also be good steps in the right direction.”

Amara Nwakpa, a public policy expert, has a similar view. He thinks the #EndSARS protest has shown that a social alliance between the lower and middle class could be feasible, but he warned that harnessing the alliance to demand for social justice and deliver political power to a new class of Nigerians is outside the scope of #EndSARS.

“#EndSARS was a governance campaign, political participation requires a different set of entrepreneurs and skills to build and sustain,” Mr. Nwakpa said in an interview with the Gazette.

He corroborated his stance by stating that young persons would only be motivated to participate in the political process “if it gives them fair power to influence the outcomes.”

“This is what the voting figures for #BBNaija illustrated. That is also what #EndSARS has shown,” Mr. Nwakpa said.

Not losing focus!

But champions of the #EndSARS campaign would rather not have people run with the idea that a political intention is an endgame of the agitations for better policing.

Chioma Agwuegbo, an activist and convener of #StateOfEmergencyGBV, argues that the struggle against police brutality is “hydra-headed enough” to retain the attention of the protagonists. 

Ms. Agwebor told the Gazette that conversations about creating a political movement off the #EndSARS campaign could fuel “lazy claims” by persons, who are already suggesting that the aim of the movement was to force political or regime change. 

“They conveniently ignored the fact that the protest was ignited by an incident of police brutality in Ughelli and grew organically around the country,” Ms. Agwebor said. 

She also believes that protesters who have ambitions are free to independently form political groups or run for political office, as no law bars activists from politics.

As people said online during the protests, #EndSARS protesters do not appear to be “losing focus.” But time will surely tell.

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