In real terms, the issues canvassed by the EndSARS protesters revolve around good governance and just society where the youth can have a conducive environment to fulfill their personal aspirations and to contribute meaningfully to the nation’s development. Doubtless, the environmental circumstances, created by an inept government that has stifled the youth from realising their potential cut across all states and regions.
Young people in the country, whether they are from the North or the South, look up to a brighter future. For anybody or group to suggest otherwise, as the northern elite sought to do in their recent communique, smacks of dishonesty, and a hidden desire to perpetuate the unwholesome status quo. The northern youth, like their counterparts in the South, are victims of corruption and bad governance epitomised by bad leadership in all parts of the country. They all want and deserve reasonable improvement in their lives. That was the only message of the #EndSARS campaign.
On Monday, November 2, 2020, northern governors, traditional rulers, legislators, and other stakeholders held an urgent meeting in Kaduna where they discussed the recent #EndSARS protest and insecurity in Nigeria. At the end of the meeting Simon Lalong, chairman of the Northern Governors Forum (NGF) relayed the position of the gathering.
Lalong said the meeting “rejects and condemns the subversive actions” of the EndSARS protesters and accused some agitators of attempting to change the reigning regime “outside the ballot box” by taking advantage of the peaceful protest to push their separate agenda. He said the meeting took note of the devastating effect of uncontrolled social media in spreading fake news and called for a major control and censorship of social media in Nigeria.
Also, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, in an interview after the meeting, commended youths in the North for not participating in the violence experienced in other parts of the country. This line of thought was amplified by Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai who praised “our youths for not succumbing to be used by those who have an agenda against the government.” The attitude of the northern leaders expressed at their meeting has only thrown up very salient matters capable of putting further strains on the peaceful coexistence within the polity.
The position of the northern leaders is a gross misreading of the mood of the country and an assault on the fragile unity of the nation. It is also a spectacular failure to understand the workings of social media and the whole gamut of the digital revolution that has come to stay. Any entity purporting to control the digital space or mute the voices thereof is on a wild goose chase. The digital space is a coat of many colours where diverse ideas contend.
Specifically, one of the most dangerous outcomes of the meeting is the attempt to drive a wedge between northern youth and their counterparts in the south. That tendency smacks of leadership deficit on the part of the northern leaders. Thanks to social media, the handshake across the Niger is well and alive among the youth across the nation. How, for instance, have the leaders in the north plan to respond to the concomitant protest of their youth who also canvassed for “#End insecurity in the north” in some northern states including Kaduna, Kano, Taraba, etc at the time the #EndSARS protest was loud in southern Nigeria?
An indication of the unity of purpose among the youth across ethnic or regional divides was promptly demonstrated by the response of the Arewa Youth for Development and Progress (AYDP). President of AYDP, Danjuma Sarki rejected the position of the northern leaders on the social media regulation, noting that it showed the lack of commitment by the northern leaders to develop around the globe and their plans to keep the North and the country under perpetual subjugation. He warned that the attempt to trample on the rights of Nigerians through restriction of social media will fail and will be resisted. Other voices from northern and southern Nigeria have joined in condemning the northern leaders’ position.
But the larger implication of the northern leaders’ position is that they are not in touch with present realities both technologically and politically. The mantra of regime change and the belief that President Buhari is their own is both dangerous and preposterous. This was a president who on his inauguration day in 2015, declared that he was for everybody and so would be for nobody. The vote that made him president came from every part of the country unlike his first coming as a military leader through the barrels of the gun.
What the youth are asking for and supported by the majority of Nigerians is good governance, provision of infrastructure, freedom from oppression, and recognition of the equality of all parts of the nation. No amount of quizzing or equivocation from the leadership will obviate these demands. Arm-twisting tactics will not solve the problems. Rejigging the structure of the nation to ensure equity, justice, and fair play is a better path to tread than a haughty, pretentious, and archaic appeal to primordial sentiments.