By Pat Utomi
In the wisdom of my forebears they used proverbs to garnish conversation. As such, Rhetoric that elevated the common person to sage-like dignity abounded and included one which says that until you have seen the backside of dusk weary not about the despondency of dawn and then write off the day. In other words, until a day is over do not dismiss its possibilities.
The EndSARS Now taught me that to despair about the apparent docility of our youth in the face of horrific governance taking away their future was foolishness, and I thank God for being made foolish in this sense.
In dozens of opinion pieces through the years I have marveled at this generation that seemed to care more about BBNaija when the fire alarm was going off with poor leadership incinerating their future. I quoted Franz Fanon to them about it being the duty of every generation to out of relative obscurity discover its mission and either betray it or fulfill it. I reminded them in public lectures that I completely forgot my 18th birthday until about 8.30pm that day because I was passionately consumed in planning, mobilizing and protesting police killing of a UI undergraduate Kunle Adepeju. And that it was not until someone (Chairman P as we called a student elder of the time) was making a speech at a rally we organized at Margaret Ekpo Ref/auditorium at a UNN and referred to the date February 6th 1974 as a day to be remembered, that I realized it was my birthday. So I wondered where the sense of outrage of this generation of youth had journeyed to because, as the old cliché goes, if at 18 you are not a socialist, something is wrong with your heart but if at 40 you are still a socialist, something sure is wrong with your head. But it seemed the youth paid no heed to my entreaties.
Thank God I refused to despair and in interview after interview I talked of the quality of young people I met in the daily effort I made to make my shoulders available for them to stand on so they can see tomorrow more clearly.
Then suddenly, without giving me notice dry bones decided to rise and walk. It was Sunday October 4th that the news hit me. I began to type. What I put out follows. It urged that policing must be civil.
Policing must be civil – Young lives matter
It is with great pain that I have received the news of the loss of another young life to bullets from a gun assigned to an officer of the law. The reaction from social media blowing up with anger from the youth of our land suggests increasing exasperation with repeated cases of extrajudicial killing of young people.
I would like to call on the Inspector- General of Police to say Enough is Enough and act with courage to stop this fratricide.
The Inspector-General of police must act to do justice lest the youth lose confidence in public authority. Setting up another committee or just talk can’t be accepted this time. Some people must be held accountable immediately. He should recall the erring part of the service, SARS, and then hold a town hall meeting with select representation of youth groups on the matter to reassure all that civility is back to police/ society relationship.
A committee dominated by statesmen and Civil Society should then be empaneled to redefine rules of engagement and suggest police/society training.
I want to appeal to all law enforcement agents to recognize that the future of our country can be lifted by paying due regard to the dignity of our young people.
We are of one family and need to do justice to each other.
On behalf of the National Consultative Front, the Centre for Values in Leadership and The Concerned Professionals I would like to say that the imperative of National healing includes dealing with investing in our youth. We cannot make progress if our young do not feel safe.
As I posted that chat I thought to myself would they sustain their point until they get a listening from a deaf political establishment?
It was gratifying to see the young, members of this youth bulge that could gift us with a demographic dividend as the competitive advantage of nations matter more and more to our well being, get passionate about good governance. Then they seemed to sustain it. And I chatted my relief.
At last the youth of Nigeria awake
When eight days ago I sent out a chat; Policing must be civil – young lives matter, it would have been hard to imagine that today a youth uprising would be in flight and approaching full bloom.
This is on the one hand cheering news that a democracy may still be able to arise in the land, but scary that the tactics of raising the voice of social groups may be so rustic for a society that stepped aside from rational public conversation that you are troubled something could go wrong.
Whatever may be the cost, in getting something wrong, it seems worth it for the awakening of the spirit of the youth, as they respond, like Bob Marley pitched many years ago, to Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights. Get up stand up. Don’t give up the fight.
Beyond SARS and extrajudicial killing the youth have quite a few potent issues that constitute existential threat to their future and present wellbeing. They include the state of education and the state of strikes and permanent crisis the sector is locked into. Worthy of their protest effort is the commitment to legal plunder by public office holders manifested in a security votes with no oversight and obnoxious pensions. Those drawings have denied the poor, hospitals and youth.
And they persisted even in the face of provocation by forces of unreason. And I tweeted a prayer: I am thankful to God that I lived to see this day. May the thoughtfulness of our youth redeem us from the cowardice of my generation.
EndSARS is just another word for; we need justice in Nigeria. I commend the youth to the prophet Amos.
May justice, and not power fuel their rage. I feel like Simeon in the temple at the presentation of the child Jesus. My recent inclination toward despondency is lifted. My life’s work is almost done, my gratitude for the privilege of seeing tomorrow.
With that tweet I have become content, like old pensioner or teacher enjoying watching his protégés outperform him with joy I was quite pleased to just step aside and watch with joy but I cannot but keep my candle in vigil that those who strive to divide so they can reap where they did not sow may not come between this thoughtful generation.
I desired to let this much-abused savor the triumph of their spirit. I had lost the privilege of reminding them that I was visiting the Afreximbank in Cairo when the Arab Spring broke out there and how the youth used the technology we did not have in our years of seeking justice on the streets. They had turned unwittingly to Ghandi and outdone the Arab youth in this spring of our discontent. I could tell that they would go from reforming the police to a myriad of injustices that flow from state capture.
What entitles people to Oil wells allocation? Why does merit not matter? Why are political parties so badly organized that they are unable to be the Channel for descent virtuous leaders that care more about the people than vainglorious pursuits which dominate us and so make the arena of political authority that of the incompetent and inconsiderate who squander as many perish out of the misery of their place of birth? The mode of organizing of these youth suggests to me they will understand human solidarity as they are showing to understanding the principle of subsidiarity.
I pay tribute to the youth of Nigeria for not making my struggles object of mockery, for as Mo Ibrahim rightly says, it is not easy to be mocked by serious people.
Patrick Okedinachi Utomi, Centre for Values in Leadership.