One of the major issues that characterized the #EndSARS protest which rocked Nigeria and has dominated global discourse in the last three weeks is the alleged complacence of the older generation towards major developmental issues affecting the country. This accusation was largely part of the narratives generated by the protesting youths who were calling for an end to the endemic police brutality in the country. There was a very strong resistance from these youths who refused to listen to the voice of the people they perceived to have been part of the complacent generation. For the disgruntled youths, their slogan is #Sorosoke which literally means to speak louder. And anyone who refused to disagree with their strategy of asking for their rights was told to do “Fem” a word signifying that such people should shut up. However, in a treatise, a Nigerian Diasporan, Bola Awosika Oyeleye charged the youths to see nation building as a process. She called their attention to past struggles and made them see the reasons why they need to get more involved if they desire to see a new Nigeria. The full Facebook post is here….
While the Nigerian youth is angry today, Diasporans have been angry for a long time. Angry that they had to leave, and angrier that they can’t come back, leaving many feeling like they’re in exile. The exodus and disenchantment started in the 80s. Ask your parents about the ‘Andrew’ commercial and ‘checking out’ (played by Enebeli Elebuwa, if my memory serves me).Before many of us left, we also did our bit to ‘soro soke’ ‘Ali Must Go’ on my mind. Ask your parents.
Notable University of Ife activists included Dele Babatunde of blessed memory, Wole Olaoye Femi Falana, Femi Kuku, Victor Oladokun, Obinna Duruji, Greg Obong Oshotse and others. We all were involved in campus politics. Though originally from Unilag, I must pay homage to the late Mr. Segun Okeowo, the tireless leader of the Nigerian Union of Students. He took OBJ on and paid the price.
UNILAG expelled him. Ife later admitted him, during which time I, along with then Deola Ayodeji had the pleasure of sitting side by side with him in some of our classes in the English department. A more subdued man, but he maintained a dignity that was enthralling, still. We obtained our degrees the same day. May he rest in peace.
Can anyone forget the day OBJ came to Fajuyi Hall and the amazing leadership provided by the late Dele Babatunde, who probably had not turned 21 at that time. Many left the country, most stayed, all still yearning for a better Nigeria. Your parents may look old and irrelevant in your eyes. That will be a mistake. Ask them how it was. You might learn something. I understand that this government acquiesced early in the protest and agreed to your initial requests.
I can tell you without any fear of contradiction that that was a first in the history of Nigeria. Nigeria’s young democracy did that.That was more than we got from OBJ and his military govt. Our rallying cry was: “We no go pay o! We no go pay! Extra kobo, we no go pay!”Well, Ali didn’t go, and we paid the one naira increase (200% increase per meal) in cafeteria food that we were rejecting. And still, lives were lost.
I remember Wemimo Akinbolu, among others. May they all rest in peace. Yet, activism and agitation continued until Nigeria became democratic. Do you know that OBJ wanted a third term? But he didn’t get it. You were not the ones that fought that fight. Your parents did. Your parents also put their heads down to work and give you the opportunities you have that allowed you to mount the uprising that you just accomplished. Many of them have battle scars. Now you know. Most of the civilian leaders have been ex-military. So, we’ve had a ‘para-military’ democracy. So, it’s a case of ‘hot potato’. This government just got caught holding the potato. No be today.
There’s movement, but it is slow and nearly imperceptible. This is where your own vision comes in. You can’t burn it all down, & you can’t be complacent, either. What solutions does your ‘woke’, internet savvy, generation have? Unfortunately, the young ones destroying properties today will be voted into office tomorrow, and will go the way of their predecessors. What have they demonstrated so far that gives any indication that they will be different? Like begets like. A house cannot be built in the air without a foundation. Do not disparage or discount what went before. You should do your part, but build on something.
All politics is local. International bodies can talk and condemn. The next day, a new crisis will subsume your own.Do you have a voter’s card? Anyone over 18 who claims that their elders failed them should show how they have voted in previous elections.
Did you vote? If you voted, did you vote based on issues or based on your tribal leaning? Did you take as much interest in the politics of your locale? Or was Election Day a vacation for you or for watching Big Brother? That was then. What do you plan to do in future? Do you know the name of your local government chairman and councillors?
Do you know the amount of money those people are voted? What about your governor? Who is watching him/her? Do the ‘angry youth’ know the budget of their states of origin and what the money is earmarked for, and whether it gets done?
Do you know the names and locations of your state & National Assembly members and hold them accountable? Is Lagos the seat of federal government? Do you know the difference between the responsibility of the state and federal government?
You can’t take over a system you don’t understand. 2023 is on the horizon. Is there a strategy? Let’s not kid ourselves, protests are just a means of venting and creating awareness. And sometimes, we all need to vent. However, venting does not produce long term positive results if the real work is not done. We are all culprits regarding why Nigeria is the way it is. We cannot rile against a system that we perpetuate.
Is it ‘government’ that buys or sells exam questions? Is it ‘the leaders’ that sit on your file in those offices until you have ‘appreciated’ them? Is it the ‘leaders’ that import fake drugs? Is Buhari the one driving facing on-coming traffic in your town? Is it Buhari that sells the same piece of land to different people? Is that person who builds your house with more sand than cement in government? What about your mechanic that claims to have replaced something with a new part but only cleans the old one? The lecturer that fails a student for not providing special ‘benefits’ nko?
Everyone knows a Diasporan who has tried to return to do something for the benefit of the country. They have mostly been frustrated out of there, not by the government or leaders, but by the people that they’re trying to help, many of them among the ‘youth’. You can’t ignore that. After ‘soro-soke’ nko? There should be ‘ise bere’(work begins).
Is anyone ready to do the work that is required? Soro soke is not enough . You must task yourselves with building the country you want, and that requires work. Anyone who disagrees that the real work is more than talk is not telling you the truth.
Nation building is hard. It requires skills that many still need to learn. It is not too late. The internet is full resources. But who will stand up for that? As many have now learnt, the razzmatazz of social media, though exhilarating, is fleeting. The smoke is clearing. After protests and venting should come planning and dialogue.
That process requires listening, compromise, and a balancing of interests, especially in a patchwork amalgamation called Nigeria. Many of us don’t have the capacity for that yet, but we must try. Let the young people who wish to lead begin from the basics. It is entirely possible that as soon as leaders emerge, the ‘youth’ movement will fracture into tribal and social camps.
That is a challenge you must face and tackle. I promise you that a lot of well-intentioned Nigerians at home and abroad will rise and help you build. Otherwise, the rot continues and you will be an integral part of it. #isébèrè