A lot has been said and written about the #End SARS protests recently ignited in Nigeria and a lot more is still being expected. On the face of it, the protests are about the long-term brutality of a tactical arm of the Nigeria Police, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) which had more than a penchant for harassing the youth, maiming them and often carrying out extra-judicial killings.
In response, the youth of Nigeria started the protests which within a noticeably short time not only engulfed the whole of Nigeria but received significant international attention courtesy of technology, celebrities, political figures, and social media platforms.
It is extremely easy for the #End SARS campaign to be seen only in the context of Nigeria but that will be a fundamental mistake. #End SARS may have started as a protest against police brutality, but it goes much deeper than that. It is symbolic of all the societal ills of poor governance and the determination of the youth to reverse the trend and take their country back. The remarkable thing is the organisational prowess exhibited by these youth including logistics, medical services, social and philanthropic work. They also raised a significant amount of money which they accounted for in the most transparent manner. On a micro-scale, they provided succor many governments have not been able to do.
For two weeks they held the country in a vice-like grip which forced the governments of the day to quickly accede to their initial demands of disbanding SARS and bringing its rouge officers to book. Suddenly, they discovered ‘Youth Power’ a latent but very formidable force that can change our political landscape forever.
No longer are the youth willing to put up with poor unaccountable governance. They are pressing for changes in all ramifications of governance that eschews vices like corruption, avarice, greed, intolerance, ineffective leadership, and dictatorship.
Undoubtedly, this fever will sooner or later spread across Africa since the challenges faced in the Nigerian situation are prevalent across the continent in varying degrees. Most governments in Africa practice some form of gerontocracy which inputs wisdom to the older generation with extraordinarily little room for the youth. It is sad that even positions reserved for the youth in political parties and governments are unfairly occupied by this same older generation.
Yet Africa’s greatest assets are in its youthful population. Three-quarters of the continent’s population is made up of youth under thirty-five years of age according to a recent United Nations population survey. Even when some youth find their way into office, they are usually handpicked by relatives and friends already in office, denying others the opportunity to compete effectively. Little wonder the quality of leadership in Africa is often poor and lacking in creativity.
The pent-up frustration of these youth-led to the protests in Nigeria, the violence unleashed directly led to aftermath riots which left many businesses, investments and state assets destroyed. The damage caused can and will run into trillions of Naira and in an already depressed economy with a serious infrastructure deficit, this can only make matters worse.
With the power of social and global media, it is likely that this ‘revolution’ can and will cross the very porous state borders of Africa. Therefore, governments across the continent who do not want their states engulfed, must pay attention to the power of the youth or this ticking time bomb will explode. As in the case in Nigeria, no amount of suppression and engagement of state security apparatus can and will hold back the youth from unleashing their phenomenal power. African leaders must ‘wake up and smell this coffee’ before it is too late for them.
Africa cannot and will not achieve its full potentials if our youth are fleeing legally and illegally to western countries where they perceive and know that the opportunities are far better for them. Africa cannot continue to stifle the chances of her youths with the elders holding on to offices for life.
As much as the wisdom of the older generation is valued, it must be blended with the creativity and ingenuity of the youth for the continent to achieve its goals and originality. African leaders must do more to guarantee inclusion for the youth who after all are the future. Leaders in government must make themselves more accountable promoting justice and equity in pursuit of an egalitarian society.
The African Union has a role to play in driving Youth Inclusion on the continent. The body must develop or fine-tune if it already exists, a dynamic and impactful Youth Development Policy that clearly maps out how the youth on the continent can leverage opportunities and compete effectively with their peers in other climes, otherwise its Agenda 2063 will return hollow.
Many organisations such as the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Access Bank and the African Development Bank have initiated programmes to uplift the youth of Africa. As commendable as these efforts are, it is like a drop in the ocean. We need more corporate organisations working within and outside Africa, to place in much larger quantum, opportunities, and resources for the African Youth to be the best he or she can be.
The Nigerian government like others in Africa must embrace dialogue and strategic engagement to get the best out of the youth. It must find areas of common ground for their development. The temptation to break their ranks through unwholesome practices like financial inducement must stop. In particular, the Buhari Administration must set up or fully support an impartial panel of enquiry to determine the immediate and remote causes of the End SARS protest especially the Lekki Shootings.
On the part of the youth, they must resolve that nothing will break their spirit in the birth of a new Africa. They must be ready to take power legitimately through the ballot box. They have the numbers. Their hitherto nonchalant attitude to local, state, and national politics must stop. Rather than some of them being used to ferment trouble, they must understand that they have the power and must no longer remain content to receive handouts from the unscrupulous politician in exchange for their future.
In this wise, the very educated ones must carry along the less educated. The privileged must look out for the underprivileged, ensuring no one is left behind. After all, it is a collective battle. The journey be will be long and likely torturous, with few quick wins. But with great resolve, the youth can and will make it.
This is a clarion call on all governments, to immediately #End SARS in Africa!
Yomi Badejo-Okusanya is the current President of the African Public Relations Association (APRA) and he is based in Lagos, Nigeria.