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Now that we have eggs on our faces

By Dare Babarinsa
05 November 2020   |   2:55 am
Big men and women are responding to the wake-up call delivered by the EndSars protest. The youths of Nigeria, unmindful of what their protest could call forth, may still be smarting from the hijack by the darker sides of youth protest, which has led to about 100 deaths. Nonetheless, the protest was a qualified success…

Big men and women are responding to the wake-up call delivered by the EndSars protest.

The youths of Nigeria, unmindful of what their protest could call forth, may still be smarting from the hijack by the darker sides of youth protest, which has led to about 100 deaths. Nonetheless, the protest was a qualified success for it is leading to serious scrambling by the leaders of Nigeria to keep the polity safe and address the grave problems of arrested development which many young people think Nigeria is afflicted with. Everyone now knows that this country is great, but it also harbours the potential for great evil.

One area in which the political elites are responding is employment for our youths. President Muhammadu Buhari and the 36 governors are sharpening their weapons to tackle the hydra-headed monster of unemployment. One thing the Federal Government is doing is to make available billions of naira to small and medium scale enterprises through its agencies like the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria, SMEADAN, and others. As of now thousands of small-scale entrepreneurs have undergone SMEADAN training and are waiting for funding. In some cases, waiting for this fund is like waiting for Godot.

There is no doubt that these federal agencies involved in battling unemployment have done a lot of work, but a lot still needs to be done. The government should not allow the process to falter or be hijacked by some unscrupulous people just like hoodlums hijacked the EndSars protest. Two things need to be done. First, the government should ensure that the process is not entangled in needless bureaucracies so that whatever needs to be done is done expeditiously. Two, the names of beneficiary companies, their promoters, and their addresses should be published in leading newspapers and magazines. This is to ensure that fake companies and fraudulent people do not take advantage of this laudable programme. This is more so because our environment is peculiar. Once these publications are made, those living with the beneficiaries and their neighbours would know their sources of new funds in case some of them decide to marry new wives.

The last protests have shown us that we have a huge army of the unemployed. We have all experienced for a short while the Hobbesian state of nature where life is nasty, brutish, and short. There was video footage of a young man in Ibadan, in the excitement of the protest, climbed the back of a Camry saloon car. The driver sped off furiously. The young man fell off, head first, onto the macadamized road and he died instantly.

Almost everyone had a taste of the hell that lawlessness can breed. Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State decided to address the EndSars protesters. He walked to the venue, followed by a retinue of aides and security men. He was still talking when hell was let loose. The protest had been infiltrated by evil men with evil intentions. The attack on the governor was vicious and his cars were damaged with axes and machete cuts. The hoodlums were not done yet. They detoured to many shops in the neigbourhood and visited them with looting. They ended up in the old colonial Post-Office, one of the iconic buildings in Osogbo, and torched it. By destroying that building, they succeeded in burying part of Osogbo’s history in the rubbles.

Governor Oyetola did what can only be done in Osun State. He made a statewide broadcast and challenged his people to return the looted items, reminding them that they are not thieves. By last week, many items, including generators, fridges, farm equipment, motorcycles, and other items have been returned. They are kept on the front lawn of the Government House at Oke-Fia.

During the looting stage of the protest, hundreds of people have invaded a warehouse in Ede, the neighbouring town to Osogbo, which was keeping goods donated to the state’s COVID-19 Committee. The committee, headed by Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeem Christian Church of God, has not officially handed over the donated items to the state. Moreover, more items like rice were still being expected from Abuja. Waves of mobs simply descended on the warehouse and looted the entire place. They also moved to private business premises, including a poultry farm where they made away with chickens and eggs.

Now the eggs are on our faces. The army of the street can no longer be ignored. In the past when you are a university graduate, employment is assured. You may not get the kind of job that you want, but at least you will be employed. Today, most people who finished the compulsory National Youth Service Corps, NYSC are guaranteed to join the army of the unemployed. In one farcical video clip, a lady who had ended her service was weeping profusely. When asked what was the matter, she said she would have preferred to continue her NYSC for another year where she was assured of a monthly wage no matter how paltry.

It is ironic that Nigeria remains an economic power in Africa simply because the other African countries are worse hit. Moreover, despite the inclement weather, Nigeria has been able to grow strong business leaders who are now players on the global stage. Which other Africa country can boast of the like of Aliko Dangote, Mike Adenuga, and Jim Ovia? The truth is that we may have clumsy politicians, but at least we have astute businessmen and women.

The Federal Government and the states need to find a way to find jobs for the army of the street. In the 1980s, this country can boast of the largest vehicle assembly plants in Africa. We had Peugeot in Kaduna, Volkswagen in Lagos, Steyr in Bauchi, Leyland in Ibadan, and Mercedes-Benz in Enugu. They are all now history. We now have at least two indigenous vehicle assembly plants. The Nord and the Innoson vehicles are now made in Nigeria.

One area where we have failed woefully to recover lost ground is in the textile industry. In the 1980s Nigeria had the biggest textile industrial sector in Africa. Today, the textile market has been taken over by imports from China and India and second-hand rags from Europe and the Americas. Even some of our aso-ebi are now imported.

The third industry that signpost our decline is the furniture industry. In the 1970s and 1980s, Fawehinmi Furniture Factory, FFF, had its factories in Ondo town and Ikorodu Road, Lagos. It had show-rooms in Lagos and Ibadan. It also had a showroom in London because the British recognized that furniture from Nigeria was of the highest quality. Today, almost all the furniture in the Aso Rock Presidential Villa is imported from Germany. It is rare to find any made in Nigeria furniture in most of our 36 Government Houses. Most of the new Federal Government housing projects also use doors and other fittings imported from China. Such is the extent of our falling.

If our leaders do not recognize that a nation that is not using its own furniture, that eats bread imported from the United States, where its citizens wear rags imported from Europe and its elites ride cars imported from Europe and Japan cannot really complain that its youths are unemployed. We created the army of the unemployed by having the wrong appetites and the wrong policies. It is time we make amends or else it would be fire next time.