DAREY ART ALADE
2020 was indeed a year for the history books as COVID-19 changed our world and lives forever! It will also undoubtedly be remembered as the year millions of youths across Nigeria and the Diaspora found a unified voice and took a bold stand to protest against police brutality that popularly became known as #Endsars. Many were present at the Lekki Tollgate, which was basically Ground Zero for the movement as we experienced the vibrant soul of our youthful energy burning the pavement and showing a high level of organisation.
Our voices reverberated all over the world, shaking the seat of power in Abuja, while our “twitter fingers” held the world captive, as we garnered unsolicited support from international superstars like Drake, Beyonce and Will Smith. Though it began as a protest against the rampant bullying and brutality of SARS, the #Endsars and #FemCo movement also captured a broader underlying concern. It became a catchall phrase to END all the injustices, hardship and suffering that all Nigerians have been enduring for as long as we can remember.
There is no doubt that we are a vibrant generation. We all bear witness to how our creative exploits in music and film have penetrated the deepest corners of the globe and in many cases, even dominating, all without government support, and in spite of extremely harsh economic conditions. From conversations with young Nigerians around the world on my IG Live as well as on the streets in the heat of the protests and during our various peaceful congregations, I came to appreciate that not only are we creative, and have a strong collective voice, but our young population is bursting with ideas and insights into how our nation can move forward.
The lessons learnt from the government response to our gripe was that our voices, as loud as they were, were not truly being heard. Yes, SARS was promptly “disbanded” albeit cosmetically, but the protests did not cease. Why? Because the government missed the point. All we wanted was to be listened to, understood and considered; to be treated with empathy as children of our fatherland, and not enemies of the state!
A democratic government is elected by the people, and with 70% of the population falling within the youth demographic, by design, our government must work for and with us. #Endsars presented a real opportunity for engaging the Nigerian youth. It wasn’t the first time the youth had taken to the streets or campaigned for change online. The youth had previously occupied Lagos in 2012 and successfully campaigned for the #nottooyoungtorun initiative.
The question then is, after the protests are quashed with armed might and social media campaigns run out of steam, what next? How do we bottle and encapsulate our energy and use it as fuel to propel and progress as a nation?
Considering the overall condition in the country, which often appears to be retrogressing most times, it is not surprising that our vexation will boil over and flood the streets. Sometimes, I am amazed at how restrained and peaceful we are on a day-to-day basis, all things considered. But the reactive bursts of energy that give rise to protests and even aggression end up either being quenched like a stubborn flame, or highjacked by unscrupulous politicians and opposing forces.
While peaceful protests are a part and parcel of our constitutional rights, as young people, it is apparent that we must have a fuller understanding of our pivotal position within the process of democracy. When we fully understand our power, we can truly be drivers of change, and not victims of it. The leaders and elder statesmen must also appreciate this power, which they only try to leverage once every four years. Young people must be made aware of the tenets of democracy, which aside from freedom of speech and assembly, also incorporate the concepts of inclusiveness, consent, membership and voting.
In other words, to effectively promote youth involvement in the electoral system we must move beyond voter registration drives. There has to be a national orientation process that informs young people, through the language they understand, about the inclusive, interactive nature of the democratic process. Young people must understand that we own the democratic process (and government) and are not owned by it.
Our generation does not take interest in what we don’t have a stake in. This is the magic of the social media and blockchain era. It is the age of true decentralization. It is one of the several reasons why young people unanimously decided that #Endsars did not need a leader. We understand that leaders will evolve naturally only after gaining the people’s trust. With the current dynamic, the youth do not feel included in the 2-party system that reigns supreme over the country, so are not motivated to partake in it. In addition, there isn’t a lot of representation in top leadership positions. In contrast, Finland’s Prime Minister, Ms. Sanna Marin, was only 34 years old when inaugurated in 2019, leading an all-female coalition.
Our political godfathers must deliberately make room for the youthful and energetic to engage at all levels, and hand over the keys. Youth want to not just jostle for the scraps on the floor but to assume top leadership positions on the dining table of power. Many of our current elder statesmen were in their 30’s when they assumed various positions (even if taken by force). They should make room for the next generation, with a key emphasis on women, to drive the process and not be driven by it.
In summary, we don’t need any more cosmetic campaigns and voter registration drives. We need to educate our youth on the fundamentals and our nation’s political history. We don’t just need a seat at the table, we need real ownership of the table because where the old guard is reluctant to give up the power, the young people will have no choice but to create their own table entirely and the bitter truth is that with 50% of the electorate under the age of 35, the power to usher in a new dawn of leadership is squarely within our hands!
Darey is an entertainer, Chief Creative Director at Livespot360, a coach on The Voice Nigeria and writes from Lagos.