Public Intellectuals and Street Protests in Nigeria

The cliché “ideas rule the world” suggests that a zero index as regards ideation constitutes a huge deficit for good governance. In developed climes, engineers, scientists, captains of industry and other stakeholders are produced in the classroom. This shows that mass mobilisation for sustainable change is a consequence of qualitative literacy and showing poverty the exit door. Where illiteracy and material poverty thrive, a docile citizenry emerges.

From Plato to Socrates, Aristotle to Aquinas and Augustine to Albert Camus, public intellectuals shape history. In both theocratic and secular states, intellectual power has always been an open cheque for transitioning to the next level. This is why mentoring young men and women for the changing narrative is key. This can only come about if academics do not shy away from raising global citizens.

This is where the cerebral social critic and Nigeria’s finest political scientist who doubles as the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese and Convener of The Kukah Centre plus its sister Not for Profit Organisation, The National Peace Committee, Most Rev. Dr. Mathew Hassan Kukah come in. It is crucial to note that there is no Nigerian, at home or in Diaspora, who has delivered public lectures like Bishop Kukah. To be sure, students of Kukasiya, a movement which marries leadership and faith with public policy as instruments for sustainable change are increasingly being incubated by the Bishop’s superior arguments about the Nigerian State.

Recently, while highlighting grey areas on the current state of African politics, the Prelate bared his mind during the latest Toyin Falola interviews. The host, Prof. Falola disclosed that: “The Bishop [Kukah] anchored the nation’s fate on the youth he enjoined to colonise the street for a systemic and strategic purge of the Augean stable. At the moment, it is elevating that Nigerians are rising beyond limiting their political participation to the election period, as seen in the recent protests and burgeoning political awareness/consciousness.”

In the light of the above, intellectual engagement and street protests are accountability mechanisms. During that interview, the Bishop noted that he hopes to see students writing dissertations on street activism as drivers for integral development. Recall that during the #EndSARS protests which took place in various paths of the country, young Nigerians combined resilience with technology (social message) to drive home their message.

To all intent and purposes, the political elite now know that the years of Mango-Park are gone. In the words of Prensky (2013), young Nigerians have demonstrated that they are Digital Natives while older folks are Digital Immigrants. As such, our media savvy youth would defer the sounds of rifles and bullets to demand for a better country. Like their ilk who debuted the Arab spring, these youths are not only contending with determination and resilience as weapons for bargain. On the contrary, they are powered by the sound bites of global news and events that would train them on how to hold public office holders accountable.

Not even the ban on crypto-currency can deter them. Indeed, in a nation that is dwarfed by bribery and corruption, voices such as Kukah’s are capable of purging the Augean stable. Since there is a trust deficit between those in positions of authority and the poor masses, the citizenry is more than ever positioned to listen to detribalized Nigerians like Kukah who have travelled around the globe to market hope to a traumatized world.

What is worrisome is that political gladiators in Nigeria do not care if the people pay attention to what they say except during elections. With scandalous public attacks and counter attacks on each other, they do not give a hoot about public perception. In the light of Political Communication, we have jobbers whose only interest is to lock the hoi polloi in the chimney of ethnic, religious and political shenanigans. With this divide and rule tactic, they keep the people in perpetual limbo.

The most traumatic experience in the Nigerian political landscape is that the same political buccaneers who recruit young adults as political thugs, turn around to blackmail protesters for demanding good governance. Their stringers who supply them with all sorts of information to eliminate their political rivals and who also act as their microphones are suddenly silenced after the polls.

It is not shameful that the same individuals who protested during previous governments are now placing ban on street protests? It is not embarrassing that the current people in power are quick to make reference to international best practices when it is convenient for them but fail to realize that protest is an indispensable requirement in any constitutional democracy? How about the unreasonable show of force, at various times, by the Nigeria Police in the wake of protests across the country?

At a time that Nigeria is celebrating Afrobeats stars, Burna Boy (Damini Ogulu) and Wizkid (Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun) for winning the 2021 Grammy awards, young people should be determined to rule the world. They should not just be carried away by the “Not too Young to Run” Act. They have shoulders of public Intellectuals like Prof. Falola, the new Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Bishop Kukah et al to lean on.

It is on the shoulders of these and other elder statesmen/women that the young can cry “Sore Soke.” What would further guarantee a change of narrative in our country is when academicians tie the nuptial knots between the gown and the town towards producing global citizens with intellectual probity who are dressed for street protests for a just and equitable society. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

NB: Happy Feast of St Patrick to all St. Patrick’s priests and associates, death and alive. May his missionary zeal inspire you to live a life of service to God humanity in all mission fields.

Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.

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