442 views | Justine John Dyikuk | November 4, 2020
Our local press is replete with news of cities across Nigeria which have fallen under siege by those described by the media as looters and hoodlums. In an unceremonious manner, what initially started as peaceful #EndSARS protests took a dramatic turn. Many commentators have blamed the chaotic situation on government’s inability to engage the youths in dialogue in the first instance as well as the alleged shooting of the peaceful protesters at Lekki toll gate, Lagos by suspected military personnel on 20 October 2020. While the looting and destruction of lives and property is condemnable in its totality, it is crucial to reflect on the causes of the chaos rather than dwell on the symptoms.
In times past, Nigerians watched with shock and empathy how citizens of countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and other war-torn countries scampered for safety. Before the militarization of these nations, the political authorities were inept, autocratic and unable to manage diversity. Most importantly, they could not engage young people in meaningful dialogue towards making a prosperous nation. This hatched bigotry and created an army of jobless youths who saw the government as enemy number one. Then unrest and looting followed by the destruction of lives and livelihoods. The devastation in terms of human and capital developments were monumental. Without the requisite energy to quail the political upheavals, the international community weighed in and what remains of those nations is better imagined.
Right before us in Nigeria, youths that were considered lazy by the political class suddenly woke up from their slumber to demand for a better nation. They organized themselves, sought their own funding, distributed food and drinks and prayed together not minding religious differences. To the amazement of the elite who have always used religion, politics and ethnicity to balkanize the people, the youth sustained the peaceful protests for about two weeks. What would happen next? Suspected sponsored hoodlums who were delivered in trucks and SUVs started attacking the protesters. While this trick worked out in some parts of the country and Lagos, the Lekki Plaza protest was different. It was elegant and electric! Is this surprising? Well, not to the writer!
The Lekki axis of Lagos is a neighbourhood of celebrities who have toured the world. They know how things work in other climes. For them, the protest is not for themselves because they are well off. On the contrary, it is for a better Nigeria. The youths who were mostly Generation Z (8-23 years old) and Generation Y or Millennials (24-39 years old) saw how the Arab spring changed the narrative in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. Also, no thanks to the #BlackLivesMatter protests in the US, the technology-savvy youths exploited the power of the Smartphone. Like one Professor observed, if the government knew the power of the Smartphone, it would take the gun from soldiers and give them cellphones. No doubt, the television also creates irresistible globalization which trains them on how to hold their leaders accountable.
The trouble with Africa is that the patriarchal nature of our society does not make room for feedback. Although every democratic experiment is supposed to have checks and balances, this mechanism seems nonexistent in many countries. This is why opposition or voices of reason are treated with iron fist. At the heart of every true democracy is feedback mechanism. Protest like strike is a feedback tool. As such, when a government fails to engage with striking workers, it opens way for another feedback instrument.
Regrettably, before the international community, the news coming out of Nigeria is that of looting and destruction of lives and property. Instead of pouring iodine on a fresh wound, we appear to be hurting it all over again. In the past, Africans have accused international media like CNN, BBC, et al of news framing. However, what have we made of our country today? From Lagos to Abuja, Calabar to Kaduna, Jos to Jalingo we are contending with reports of people local media has labelled as looters of palliatives. Well, while activities of suspected hoodlums are reprehensible, why would politicians hoard palliatives that are meant for the people? So, who is actually a looter or hoodlum? Those who steal public treasury, divert what is meant for the poor or the masses who shared what belonged to them?
Even a newly born knows there is hunger in the land. That a measure of milk goes for N2000 and a bag of rice N32,000 says it all. A report released by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on September 18, 2020, indicated that: “Nigeria has emerged as one of the countries to be most hit by food crisis across the globe in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic which had worsened the already bad situation.” According to the report, the food crisis is worsened by longstanding religious and ethnic conflicts and organized crimes by some bandits which greatly affected farmers working on their farmlands. Is it not clear that a hungry man is an angry man?
If the only thing we can do for our beloved country is to be parading suspected “looters” and “hoodlums” who broke into warehouses to end hunger and even died in the process, then ours would sadly be seen as “A Nation of Looters and Hoodlums.” How do we expect other nations to respect us? How do we expect the diaspora community to explain that Nigeria is not all about social upheavals? Public perception is a driver for foreign investors. Therefore, government and other relevant stakeholders must expedite action by engaging the youth in dialogue. Since the future is theirs, we must listen to them. I urge the youths to restrain from unlawful acts that are capable of truncating their legitimate demands. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.