Nigerian youth expose a dire need for equity
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
By Dalila Da Silva Lopes
Frustration with Nigeria’s socio-economic and political landscape finally reached a tipping point and the #ENDSARS movement became a rallying cry for Nigeria’s youth.
SARS refers to Nigeria’s ‘Special Anti-Robbery Squad’ which originated in Lagos State back in 1992, a time where armed robbers were in control of the state. The squad was created as a faceless police unit that performs undercover operations against armed robbery. The #ENDSARS movement exposed the level of corruption within this police unit and further revealed this police force has no recognizable structure and no system of operation. SARS officers often act based on self-will, with little to no regard for fundamental human rights.
A recent report by the World Poverty Clock crowned Nigeria as the “poverty capital of the world” surpassing India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty. In the same country, Senators receive $450,000 annually in expenses and a $25,000 basic salary (source African Liberty).
Tired of living in a nation whereby corruption runs rampant and no one is held accountable, the youth decided to take matters into their own hands; organizing and mobilizing the masses, they took it to the streets peacefully calling for an end to police brutality and bad governance. They were met with even more violence. According to Amnesty International, at least 12 protesters were killed during the Lekki massacre on October 20. Nigerian authorities have yet to disclose the official number of casualties while the army maintains they did not use lethal force against civilians.
In 2016, the Nigerian police force was officially ranked as the worst in the world by the World Internal Security and Police Index.
Police brutality itself scratches the surface of a much broader set of barriers to equity; the police force is one of many interconnected-dysfunctional Nigerian institutions in urgent need of reform. Ultimately, SARS police officers are human beings reacting to a set of incentives and limitations within a system inherently corrupt and unjust.
As recently as 2018, a Panel on Reform of the SARS unit recommended the dismissal of 37 members of the notorious police unit and the prosecution of 24 members for professional misconduct. President Muhammadu Buhari received the report but did not take any action towards the implicated officers, reported Amnesty International. Despite the adoption of a democratic system of governance for decades, the Nigerian government and its institutions have failed to be transparent, responsible and accountable to its people.
As Africa’s top oil producer, resources are available, but the prevalent corruption has continued to prevent economic equity.
We must look at the #ENDSARS protests as being emblematic of a much wider problem. The overarching issue is that the existing power structures ensure that despite the country’s immense natural wealth and human capital, Nigeria continues to languish at the bottom of virtually every global measure of human development.
The #ENDSARS movement is a referendum on the future of the Nigerian ruling class, the architects of an oppressive system held in place by a tightly knit group of religious, cultural and economic elites who work in collusion to create and maintain a system that works for the few and not for the many.
For the average unskilled worker in Nigeria, it would take 792 years to earn the same amount of money a lawmaker makes in a year.
#ENDSARS is an awakening of the Nigerian youth, who comprise over 40% of the country’s total population. This generation is witnessing the socio-economic regression of a nation that offers them no prospects for educational or professional advancement. The National Bureau of Statistics estimates that 55% of Nigerians aged 15 to 35 are unemployed. Extreme poverty, lack of education and healthcare, systemic corruption, election fraud, and nepotism have all become the norm.
This moment of political consciousness could transform Nigeria’s political landscape, and potentially define the key campaign issues for the 2023 election.
As the amazing achievements of Nigerians and their descendants all over the world have shown, when given the opportunity, Nigeria’s most talented individuals are more than capable of unlocking the country’s potential to become a true African giant.
The #ENDSARS movement has given the youth a voice and they are finally demanding accountability. As Nigerians continue the fight for a fairer and more equitable society, some have paid the price with their lives. One can only hope that their sacrifice is not in vain. Nevertheless, they should never be forgotten.
CHINEDU ANI, DANIEL TELLA, AUGUSTINA AREBU, TONY ORUAMA, FEMI BELLO, KOLADE JOHNSON, AYOMIDE TAIWO, CHIKA IBEKU, IFEOMA ABUGU, TIYAMIU KAZEEM, LINDA IGWETU, GODGIFT EKERETE, AZUAMAK MADUEMAGO, EMEKA OJINZE, JOY NDUBUEZE.
(These names represent some of the people who reportedly died in the Lekki toll gate massacre.)