October now stirs a bad memory among a segment of Nigerian youths, and the victims of this history converged on Lagos and Abuja last week to remember what transpired during the #EndSARS protests last year. What was intended to be a memorial inspired a conversation beyond the veracity of the killings in Lagos, and it’s neither Lai Mohammed’s theory of the contested events at the Lekki tollgate nor the crude animalization of the protesters by security agents. The protesters want the energy channelled into taking power in 2023, and the passion is palpable.
To demonstrate this aim, a group approached the High Court in Abuja last week and asked to have Aisha Yesufu and Folarin “Falz” Falana compelled to run for president on a joint ticket. The proposed candidates are in their 40s and 30s, respectively, and represent a hugely powerful, albeit economically disadvantaged, demographic. What the ticket would’ve added to the race isn’t youth, for that has been achieved in past presidential elections, but the anger of a demographic that’s convinced the APC government is a mass murderer and has deployed everything at its disposal to show its wrath.
There are two problems with most of the conversations I came across. The first is the strange conviction that their anger is enough and the second is their naive profiling of political office-holders. The outcomes of past elections, after a prolonged outrage on social media, easily destroyed the argument that the recent burst of anger is enough political leverage. These protesters have vastly understated the credentials of today’s politicians, and attempted to paint that the political office-holders’ lack of empathy is a result of their absence in the fields of activism in their younger days. And that’s where the problem lies.
Aside from Buhari, the most maligned politician in the #EndSARS protests is the former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu. When the protests broke out last year, there was a suspicion even in his political party that he was a covert sponsor and then, in just a few weeks of the chaos that ensued, with the police clamping down on the protesters, he was singled out as enabler of the violence against the youth. Maddened by this theory of Tunubu’s involvement, a mob went after properties identified as his and even set the TVC New office in Lagos on fire.
So, I wasn’t surprised when, during the memorial, some character argued if Nigeria were a sane place, Tinubu and his ilk wouldn’t have smelled the corridor of power. It’s funny because if power is a product of struggle and activism the mandatory dues to pay, Tinubu may be one of the most qualified to occupy high political offices based on such credentials. What most of the young citizens didn’t know was that Tinubu dared General Sani Abacha’s gun to silence, and sacrificed everything as a founding pillar of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) to fight for return to this democracy. When the going got tough, he fled Nigeria to escape the wrath of the military regime.
The holes in these conversations around Nigeria’s civic history is the insularity and ignorance of the youth. The assumption that those in government today got there by chance or that they didn’t struggle in the field like today’s agitators perhaps reflects the quality of education bequeathed to us. In such ignorance, one of the figureheads of the #EndSARS once sparked a backlash for tweeting that if the past generations had fought as fiercely as the youths protesting now, Nigeria would’ve been a better place.
The same October that such sensationalized ignorance was being cheered by gullible youths is the anniversary of the killing of the fearless Dele Giwa, a journalist who lost his life in speaking truth to power. On the same Twitter being deployed to misinform by that uppity activist is Shehu Sani who spent years in jail for demanding a better country. Senator Sani has been elected into the Senate to make and defend the law of a country so grossly violated by its leader and, under his watch, a massacre took place in Zaria, his home state, and he couldn’t have the President summoned to the National Assembly to explain the killings of over a thousand Shiites in his home state.
There’s no point in Nigeria’s history when the street was empty as these youthful and emergency activists want to believe or tell their cheerleaders. Nigeria has always been closely scrutinized, and its jailhouses have buried billions of dreams from the renowned who languished in prisons to the unknown and undocumented citizens who disappeared after opposing a repressive government and asked to take back their country.
The dream hanging above the youths ahead of 2023 isn’t unattainable, and the organization of the #EndSARS protests, at least before it was hijacked by violent mobs, gave us a hint of what sustains mass advocacy. The untraceable donations, notwithstanding the accusations of misappropriation that trail it, propelled the protests and played up the essence of money in a country where the majority think with their bellies. This economic reality hasn’t exactly dawned on the young Nigerians aspiring to run for high national offices in 2023.
But what should bother the youths isn’t the adequacy of activism in this hero-starved country, but why so-called activists across generations have failed to replicate their values when they eventually find themselves in government. This puzzle should be studied along with the fact that elections aren’t won on social media, and neither are online polls a reflection of our political realities. Nigeria’s next president is unlikely to be the favourite of social media users, but a candidate who appeals to the sentiments and bellies of the majority, who are typically offline.