EndSARS protests as mere smokescreen
Sir: I wish to preface this press statement with some preliminary remarks. First, EndSARS protest must be peaceful as violence resolves no issue but trigger destruction and hurts the economy. Secondly, it must be remembered that Nigeria is our country and most of us have no other place to call ours. Lastly, any death arising cannot be excused. We should therefore remain civil and not allow things to degenerate. Some tentative conclusions are also imminent. First, competitive electoral democracy is not an end in itself but a mere means to an end. If those are missing, then, procedural democracy is a waste of human and material resources. Secondly, our approach to governance and policy measures are not ameliorative of social conditions and escalating of social discontent. If democracy fails to improve on the human condition, certainly, it is not worth protecting or defending. Democracy cannot just be about stuffing the pocket of leaders.
A literal, indeed an illiterate and surface reading of the current EndSARS protests will take them as a call for an end to police brutality. Of course, Nigeria Police is overwhelmed in several respects – poor funding, poor training and absence of low ethics. But more seriously is the task of being asked to police and maintain an impossible and an unequal, exploitative and oppressive material relationships. What is happening in Nigeria should not be completely unexpected for obvious reasons.
Of course, the Buhari-led government is not to be held entirely culpable for the current imbroglio. It would be most uncharitable and a historical to so submit. Of course, government’s handling of the immediate causes is abysmal. In the main, the causes are in the remote as the situation has fostered for generations.
Over the years, governments at all levels, had shown much tardiness and unresponsive enough to cries of poor and unethical governance. Youth’s worries and cries had been left unattended to for too long. Our youth cannot see any dim of light at the end of the tunnel but hopelessness and frustration. Yet, through social media, the positions of youth in much poorer lands are known. They keep on asking ‘ why do we remain this way? The older generation even wallowed in ignorance. They are punished in retirement. Only ex-governors, their deputies and current public officials get retirement benefits.
Though the houses of worship had proliferated, Nigerians now think more of this world before imagining and figuring what the heavens would look like. Religious leaders are no longer saintly. In their prayers, they patently and eagerly identify with the dominant political leaders and pray earnestly for their triumph over the downtrodden. Worst practices had become elevated. Pockets of ethical islands had become diminished and scoundrels have had a field day. Assuming for a second that the decay is at the centre, what are the striking features at the states and local governments, as crippled financially as they may appear to be? Are they completely handicapped?
Yet, we cannot gloss over the befuddling structure-agency problematic in Nigeria. The dominant structure of governance needs to be urgently reformed. But agents of the structure should be infused with a large dose of ethics. The money culture in public and private life has become so notorious and rapacious. The once vibrant culture of service has become diminished and moribund. Institutional effectiveness have become drained of their core essence of service delivery. Attempts to turn around by government is often met by organised resistance by benefiting from status quo. The very thought of how to revive things can indeed be intimidating. And yet, to ignore it can be suicidal. Culture, whether at the material or ideational level are central to development. To assume that the current impasse can be ameliorated through a structural intervention alone will be missing the point. Our practice and attitude toward governance and particularly its resources must change.
Governments have been approached for too long as sites for spoilation and bandit. There cannot be any justification for Nigerian legislators to be competing in salaries and emoluments with their American and European counterparts. Nigerian per capita income is paltry and should be embarrassing to us all. Definitely, no government can throw its youth into the abyss of life and hope to rest peacefully, not even in the graves. Indeed, time is running out and all governments need to act fast. But as it controls a large chunk of national assets, the onus is on the federal, and particularly the national assembly to trigger and guide the reform process.
The executive needs to demonstrate willingness to tolerate and embrace change. It is in our collective and self enlightened interest to respond with alacrity to this crisis of governance lest we perish in the consuming inferno. Of course, no government can effect desirable change miraculously. Any good process take time to germinate. But the process should start without further vacillation.
Lai Olurode, Dept. Of Sociology, University of Lagos.