This is perhaps one of the most difficult OpEds for me to write.
It has taken me 2 weeks to eventually make the decision to pen this.
But I know that I must even though I have friends in the current Nigerian government and may be dropped from ongoing proposed preparations to meet the current Nigerian President.
This essay is not a rebuke to the current Nigerian government.
It is an admonishment so that we can have a Nigeria where all of our people are happy and can live full lives of fulfilment.
If I was only seeking my personal interests, the risks of writing this will be too great. But as I have watched young Nigerians protest, bleed and die for a better future, I knew I could no longer keep quiet. Young Nigerians have shown what is possible in a fair Nigeria. I have heard stories of selflessness on protest grounds. The poor giving to the poor. Selfless donations and even lost purses being returned by those who could have made away with lost goods. This confirms to me the goodness of the Nigerian heart if only Nigerian leaders consciously create a social & economic justice system that works for Nigerians. Not the current dog eat dog society we have cultivated but one where are people no longer have to be anxious for jobs, food, shelter and their lives.
This essay will be different. I will keep it simple. Simple enough for the Nigerian masses to understand. Although I am writing to the Nigerian government of today, I am also writing to that of tomorrow.
I will not be using my usual writing style that is often heavy on data analysis.
I must now begin…
Several cities in Nigeria since October 3, 2020 have been convulsed by young people asking the government to #endSARS. It is estimated that more than 10 of these young protesters have died for the cause of seeking police reform. Many people across the world have since come forward to support the protesters (amazing how people never respond when your house is flooded, but come rushing in with embers when it is catching fire).
Many who have followed my public discourse on Africa and Pan Africanism over the last 10 years have reached out wondering about my silence on the matter.
I have taken my time to try to understand the situation in-between my heavy work load managing a fast growing global tech company.
Having lived in Nigeria for the vast majority of my life, I can attest to the experiences of other young Nigerians as regards the Nigerian Police. However I also know many fine and decent Nigerian police officers who despite living through harrowing work conditions are the first to show up to protect neighborhoods across the country. However it was not until I went through horror stories on EndSars.com that I realized the extent of decay in the Nigeria Police. This is not just a case of a few bad apples, it is a systemic problem in the police force that reflects the wider ongoing decay of Nigerian society over the last 60 years of our independence.
I have also observed the efforts of the current Nigerian government to address these issues raised by young Nigerian protesters. However in my opinion, the government has moved too slowly and at first acted in a non-chalant manner that seemed to reflect some form of tone-deafness.
Perhaps they thought this was just one of those Sowore-type protests that would burn out.
They seemed to have completely mis-interpreted the deep discontent across Nigeria’s large youth population. Even now despite their good-hearted measures to address the issues raised e.g. disbanding the SARS, sacking & demoting police officers, putting up for trial some ex-SARs officers and constituting state-based panels of enquiry to review police conduct across Nigeria, the current Nigerian government has still not grasped the extent of these protests.
These protests are not about just SARS, they are about lack of opportunity for Nigeria’s burgeoning youth population. They are about the Nigerian government making Nigeria work for young Nigerians rather than for the 0.1% elite and their pale-skinned financiers from Europe, USA, Arabia and China. The Nigerian Youth is crying for their future.
I said this article is difficult for me to write because of all the Nigerian leaders, Mohammadu Buhari the current President is the one I most respect. He sincerely and as reflected through his ascetic lifestyle does have a good heart towards the Nigerian masses. I do not want to be misinterpreted by friends who work with him. However I must lend my voice in support of young Nigerians on this pertinent issue.
I have proved my loyalty to Buhari for years. Even while many of my Yoruba kinsmen have often voted for the ex-ACN & PDP parties, I have voted for Buhari all through his time in the ANPP and CPC since I had the first opportunity to vote more than 10 years ago. This is because to me, the Buhari and CPC group truly embody the social-democrat character of Aminu Kano and Obafemi Awolowo.
I and many others truly believed they would institute social justice and ensure that social democracy works for Nigeria’s poor masses.
When Buhari won the elections back in 2015, many of us were so excited. Of course, my Yoruba Kinsmen were most happy because for the first time in Nigeria’s history, the Yoruba were actually allied with ruling party at the Federal level.
The belief for many Yoruba people was that for the first time Yorubas could propagate Awo’s social democratic tenets across Nigeria. A focus on welfare for Nigeria’s poorest. Increased state investment in education and health. A prioritization of the Nigerian labor force in all aspects of the economy as against the preponderance of foreigners. Stoppage of public purse leakages which had become a gush in the prior regime.
Some of us who had a better understanding of the elitist economic policies of the ex-ACN bloc were concerned that some of these social democratic hopes will not come to pass if Buhari handed over economic management to the ex-ACN bloc but we held out hopes that the ex-CPC bloc could at least modulate the extreme tendencies of the ex-ACN bloc in their pursuit of uncaring capitalist policies which much like the PDP’s only served to enrich the already rich and their foreign counterparts at the expense of Nigerian masses.
Some actions of the Buhari government made us feel that the government was on the right track with social democracy. Take for example the monthly stipends to Nigeria’s poorest citizens and unemployed youths as well as the revolving loans to the traders. Even the recent efforts to remove the fuel subsidy (something which I advocated for back in 2012 (read here) ) is on track to unlock the resources needed to fund education, healthcare and create jobs for young Nigerians- assuming the resources are judiciously used.
The set up of technology tools and a centralized accounts system for the Federal government and its parastatals has also helped to stem the gush of corruption in government. Good measures have been taken. However they could have been done faster and even more wide-reaching reforms implemented.
Some critical matters such as security, economic justice and social justice are in an even worse state.
For instance, security has worsened. The Boko Haram crisis is still raging, banditry is engulfing the North and herdsmen vs farmer clashes have become rampant. Kidnappings and armed robberies have escalated as well.
As to economic justice, jobs have evaporated. The cost of living is rising and Nigerians simply have no more wiggle room. Meanwhile they watch as Nigeria’s elite and their foreign collaborators continue to lavish amidst widespread penury.
On top of this, social justice is completely absent for the poor and disempowered. The rich lord over the poor. To get justice you must pay the same police who are often only seen serving the interests of the wealthy.
To make matters worse, young people who have grown up receiving nothing from the state and who have no jobs and who struggle to make something for themselves from the global digital marketplace are subject to extortion, torture and extrajudicial murders from the very same police that does nothing for them.
Yes as Buhari rightly said in his October 1, 2020 independence broadcast , the decay of Nigeria started since independence- from in-fighting among our leaders and inadequate long term strategic planning and implementation for our fast growing populace that has now tripled over the last 60 years.
We- all 200million of us- still occupy the same space (territory) that 60million Nigerians occupied in 1960. And by 2050, 400million of us will occupy this same space and I shudder what the quality of life of the average Nigerian will be by then if it is as bad as it is now.
It is a shame that the quality of life of my generation is worse than that of our fathers and grandfathers back in the 1970’s and 1940’s respectively. Most of us feel more safe outside Nigeria than in Nigeria.
So many Nigerians who truly love Nigeria and who have had to leave to become the diaspora away from their loved ones, do so not because they love these foreign lands.
They face discrimination and economic exclusion daily even from those who can hardly match their brain power nor are fit to clean their shoes.
I have been privileged to travel to more than 40 countries across the world and it is a shame to see how our people live in these foreign countries surviving via menial jobs at the bottom of society. Yet they cannot go back home even while they suffer in foreign lands. Even their embassies do not serve their interests. It is often the case that many Nigerian diaspora get no support from their consulates in times of trouble and many have to bribe their way through to get basic services such as passport renewal. It is a shame that for example American passport holders get better service at Nigerian consulates than Nigerians do.
That so many Nigerian diaspora have joined this #endSARS protests is only a sign of how popular this discontent is among Nigerians across the world with the state of things in Nigeria.
It will be a missed opportunity for the Buhari government to not use some of what is left of its social capital to address this popular discontent.
And please I beg the current Nigerian government to not politicize these protests.
Yes there are political opponents who are seeking to reap from these protests even when they have also been primary contributors to the decay of Nigeria. This will remain a risk but only if the Buhari government does not seize the moment to meet Nigerians where they are. For the good of Nigeria, the Buhari government must recognize these protests for what that they- a popular and organic youth uprising.
The reforms Nigerian youths are asking for must acceded to and implemented faster.
The reforms that mandate accountability must be implemented across not just the police but across all security forces. The security agencies must be completely reformed, only the best and well educated candidates must be recruited. They must be well compensated. And the use of arms must be restricted to only those units engaging violent crime.
The current government must not become what it sought to replace. The CPC which is the leading bloc of the current APC was founded for the Nigerian masses. It cannot afford to become elitist and tone-deaf to their cries.
The current protests give the Buhari government the mandate to push through the reforms that put Nigerians at the heart of governance in Nigeria.
How for instance did the Nigerian government sign up for loans from China, agreed to pay interest while also buying Chinese equipment and allowing Chinese workers to manage, lead and staff massive construction projects across Nigeria- while our youths are massively unemployed?
We are creating jobs across the entire value chain for the Chinese meanwhile our youths are hungry and have no jobs even after being adequately schooled. This is what these protests are about.
Across our private sector we are allowing foreign capital to take over swathes of our industries, disrupt the livelihoods of our SMEs while allowing these foreigners bring in their own compatriots to take over industries that erstwhile employed our youths. For example 33% of Nigeria’s pharma industry is controlled by Indians who are allowed to capture the profits and cart away to their country. The few Nigerians they employ are poorly paid and ill treated in their own country. This is what these protests are about.
There is a reason why India does not allow foreign multinationals such as Amazon compete against their retail traders- it is to protect the so called small people jobs.
How can for example the entire inventory management software of Nigeria’s Ministry of Health be outsourced to an American company when there are many Nigerian tech companies run and staffed by Nigerians that can provide even better software at lower prices. This is what these protests are about.
Why are we shutting out our own people from participating in their own economy when the USA, India and China do not reciprocate and allow our youths take over jobs in their countries. This is what these protests are about.
When Buhari talks of the cramping of space it is not just the cramping of physical space but also of economic space for the Nigerian youth. Every year a new generation finishes NYSC, there is less and less opportunity for the Nigerian youth in their own country and economy. This is what these protests are about.
The Nigerian government needs to accelerate its direct intervention in the economy, protect the economic space for its citizens and ensure full participation in it for its youths before opening up to foreigners. Nigerian Youths simply have no opportunity and the Nigerian government needs to start giving them economic opportunity and quickly too. This is what these protests are about.
Infrastructure projects should be done at scale using direct youth labor. FDIs can be gotten but the Nigerian government must insist that all staff levels must be staffed by Nigerians.
Please Buhari & Co. look into how the Chinese implemented their economic revolution. They allowed in foreign capital but ensured that that capital employed Chinese people. They therefore were able to keep in their populace the rewards of labor and the transfer of experience which then helped fund Chinese innovation and new tech companies for the next generation. This is how China lifted 900 million of their citizens out of poverty in 20 years. They continue to export their workers to countries such as Nigeria as part of deliberate state policy to achieve maximal citizen employment rates.
China is the only place I have been in the world where my White friends complain of racism. This is because the Chinese government (despite all the evils said about) it focuses on one chief objective i.e. to make the Chinese happy and ensure they are masters in their own lands. This is what Nigerian youths are asking for to be the case for Nigerians in Nigeria. This is what these protests are about.
Some of us long term supporters of Buhari expected that the Buhari government would have revised the current elitist economic model it inherited from the prior government to one that actually works for the Nigerian people but instead it has doubled down on the Lagos model.
This model is known for creating fine infrastructure but mass poverty where only the top 0.1% elite and their foreign collaborators wax in stupendous wealth while the real Nigerians wallow in penury.
This is not the promise of Nigeria’s Independence. Our forebears did not fight off the British only for their grand children to wallow in penury while foreigners cart away Nigerian wealth. Nigeria must work for Nigerians if our young people are to have any chance for their future. This is what these protests are about.
Further the Nigerian government must create a New Deal with the Nigerian people that invests in their health and in their education and in their security. The resources spent on government and the fuel subsidy that enriches an already fat and decadent elite must now be spent on the Nigerian people. This is what these protests are about.
These are your own people, why can you not care for them? Stop pursuing theoretical GDP growth numbers that have no real world impact on the welfare of the Nigerian masses.
This #endSARS protests gives the current government a unique opportunity to reshape Nigeria into a system that works for Nigerians. Please do not bungle it.
Posterity will be your judge. Also remember that recent civil wars in Libya , Syria and even the government overthrow in Sudan were started for matters less grievous than what Nigerian Youths have endured. When these other protests started, they started small and no one gave them much heed. But we now know how all of those uprisings have ended.
I enjoin the Nigerian government to catch the wind while it can. Before it becomes the whirlwind.
God bless Nigeria.
God bless the Nigerian Youth and People.
God bless the Nigerian Government .