Clearly, the masses are not comfortable with their situation, including the wide gulf between the rich and the poor. And unless something drastic is done to bridge the socio-economic divide and quell the state of anomie, the targets of the anger, including public officeholders, may not be twice lucky.
Nevertheless, there is nothing moral or justifiable about the looting spree. It is a show of shame to our collective nationhood and betrayal of our civility. It is a manifestation of some level of depravity and thoughtlessness in the average citizen. Those involved should be ready for necessary sanctions when caught; and those not caught should bury their heads in shame. They are a disappointment to the Nigeria Dream.
The chain of looting and destruction is dumbfounding. Nigerian masses in major cities across the country, driven by hunger, anger, distaste and disgust at their ruling class, thronged en masse to warehouses where COVID-19 palliatives were suspiciously hoarded and carted them away. Seemingly encouraged by the free-for-all, the ‘looters’ went further to invade anything that has a semblance of warehouse, supermarkets, private shops, malls, government quarters and residences of public officeholders, supposedly looking for remains of the commonwealth.
The unfortunate development showed Nigerian masses as having had enough of poor governance that keeps widening the gap between the haves and have-nots, the elected and the electorate, the leaders and the followers. They have seen through the selfishness of the ruling class and simply latched on to a golden opportunity to challenge the status quo. The ruling class should take responsibility for this dysfunctional and polarised society.
Second, the EndSARS protest has shown that the Nigerian youths are finally on the move, in a country that appeared to have confined them to stagnation; and that means a crisis for the country. The youths want a better country and have seen that they could jolt attention through civil disobedience. Though the protest was hijacked and suppressed, its genuine cause has not diminished, as the youths have continued the conversation on social media, which is more powerful than remote gathering in public spaces.
Third, the Nigerian elite should no longer be comfortable when youths are restive and jobless. No one is safe when anarchy erupts again. The delusion of State protection has been upturned by the fact that police escorts would not always be there in times of real crisis. After all, the police force itself is embattled in the crisis, even counting its massive loss.
The elite should come off their high-horse of indifference to the plight of the masses. The country should avoid a situation where the poor are so impoverished, harassed and abandoned to their hopeless fate. Politicians and those in privileged positions should demand an urgent improvement of the socio-economic landscape, in the interest of all. There is more to public offices than the next election and vote-buying.
The imperative of engaging the youths in profitable ventures is non-negotiable, to restore governance and confidence in the State. There is more value in the Nigerian youth than to be used as political thugs and hoodlums. They are an army that can be empowered with special skills. It is curious that one in every three Nigerians is unemployed, yet the Nigerian Police Force is grossly understaffed.
Initiatives to engage the youths, now being embraced by some states are welcome, even if they are late in coming. Anambra State government has pledged to empower 20,000 youths across the State. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State said he would engage the youths in direct repairs and renovation of damaged properties. Oyo and Lagos are revving up the engine rooms of youth empowerments too. These are noble quick-fixes that should be embraced by all, and done transparently to reduce discontentment.
Basically, the EndSARS peaceful protesters are neither the hoodlums nor looters. They are those who want a better Nigeria and have just found the way to draw attention of policymakers to that need. The looters succumbed to primordial criminal instincts as well as to anger and frustration boiling in their crevices. They have been halted temporarily. But the only thing that can stop them permanently is for the polity and those in helms of affairs to deal with them as human beings; recognise their legitimate craving for positive engagement and fulfilment. They are fed up with empty promises and a waste of their lifetime. Public officials must come to terms with the fact that the best time to do good for the Nigerian State was 20 years ago. The next best time is now, for public good and enlightened self-interest.