It appears for those of us who are not too young to understand the feelings of our youth, the current happenings are distant irritants we could rather do without. But not so for our children. My son is angry and JUSTIFIABLY so. Why? Whereas for most of us the adult populations these protesters are images and numbers, for our children, these are friends and colleagues, people they shared a lot in common including school experiences, aluta struggles and hopes for future they all see as bleak. My son attended a public secondary school and later a public University. His circle is not as limited as the sons of the elites who schooled abroad or in choice private institutions in Nigeria. He could very easily name names of people involved in the protests in Lagos, Abuja and other cities. They are not numbers. They are not images. They are real people. Friends and comrades. So what do I tell him to stop him from being angry? Absolutely nothing.
This protest did not start a few days ago. This protests started months ago or even years ago. This protest started when our hypocracy and insensitivity become intense. This protests started when we ignored the demands of our citizens for a better life and became insensitive to their plight. This protests started when poverty, hunger and despondency overtook our collective desire for a better life. This protest started when we criminalized all our young people by the way we threat them as leaders, as clergymen, as security operatives, as media houses and even within the creative industry. I am sure the youth are not deceived by clergymen who often preach the gospel that sees all young successful men and women as Yahoo boys or cultists but today claim to support the protests. Our youth are not deceived by those who see anyone in dreadlocks or wearing a tattoo as a criminal but today claim to support the protests. Even our film industry portray the success of our youth as being the product of cultism. We have criminalized the youth in Nigeria for too long. Now we are paying for it.
While this whole protests are avoidable, now that they have started we could end it very easily but not with the pedestrian thinking that prevails presently within official circles. At times like this the government is not seen in the mould of it’s officials. It is seen in the mould of it’s leader. Mr. President should now take charge. He should speak to the youth not as president but as a father. He should show that he abhors bloodshed not as a soldier but as a patriot. He should pacify the protesting youth not as a sign of defeat but as a sign of victory for the country he leads. He always remember that there is more courage in making peace than in washing war. Here in lies his opportunity to do right. In addition, Mr. President must accept that his security apparatus have failed him and failed the nation. He must accept that some members of his cabinet had failed him and failed the nation. And since governance is not an examination, failure should not attract a repeat. He should rejig the system.
In the past when there is a crisis of this nature government reaches out to all voices influence and voices of reason for intervention. Traditional rulers, clergymen of all faiths, professional groups, civil society organizations and the Media to appeal for the voice of reason. If this were done three days into the protests the story would have been different today. But it could still work. Better late than never.
My son is also angry because sundry criminals have infiltrated the protests. For him that is double jeopardy for the citizens. Criminals parading as protesters can only mean one thing – a licence to loot, to steal, to rape and to inflict hardhips on an already dispossessed population. It means blockage of roads, extortions and more serious criminality. My son is angry because the response from agents of government is precipitating further escalation of the violence. He is angry because apparently conflict merchants appear to be highjacking the process on both sides.
And because my son is angry I cannot be happy.
Ahmad Sajoh is Executive Director/CEO of FutureNow project based in Abuja.