Lekki toll Plaza in Lagos, on October 12, 2020. – Nigerians protested to pressure the government to follow through on disbanding a feared police unit after authorities made the rare concession in the face of widespread anger over abuses.
Around 2,000 people blocked one of the main highways in the country’s biggest city Lagos, demanding officials make good on an announcement on October 11, 2020, that the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was being scrapped.
Near the heart of government in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, a defiant Jennifer Martins thrusts her placard into the air.
Her voice adds to the swelling chants coming from demonstrators all around her demanding for the most basic of civil liberties; the right to life, and other demands all under the umbrella protest slogan called #EndSars. A cliché used to demand better governance.
After a while, she wriggles her way to the front of the energetic youthful crowd assembled near the country’s Central Bank Headquarters building echoing loudly their demands for a better standard of living for generation Z, the newest generation to be named born between 1997 and 2012/15. They are currently between 8-23 years old and are a generation that insists that they can no longer tolerate the failure of the Nigerian state and leadership.
Like her fellow youths around her armed with strength, education and creativity, Blessing Usman hopes to escape from poverty and give her unborn children a better life, however as the Nigerian economy continues to falter, there is justifiable fear that more families will continue to fall into poverty, and remain trapped in it, perhaps for more generations, perpetuating a vicious cycle of poverty.
Nigeria’s youths want an end to the special anti-robbery squad or SARS, popularly known for its brutality, its indulgence in extra-judicial killing of many innocent Nigerians its members terminated with impunity.
However, Police brutality is not the only beast: the youths of Nigeria have since identified more beasts: a problematic foreign exchange rate, poor infrastructure facilities, legislators who are underworked and overpaid, insecurity, unemployment, collapsed health system and a failed leadership elite, all of which combined threaten the future of the average Nigerian youth.
Although some of them realistically agree that resources are thin considering an out-sized population, however many admitted that poverty and inequality in Nigeria are largely due to misallocation and misappropriation of resources, a development that has fuelled extreme hunger in the country with over 95.9 million people living in extreme poverty — that is, people living below the poverty line of $1.90 per day.
In countries like Norway, the government is toiling night and day to protect its unborn generation by insulating its rainy day fund from political pressure, for Nigeria its government is less concerned as its excess crude account has fallen by about 98 percent within the last 5 years to about $72 million, with little accountability of how the funds were used.
With high unemployment and overstretching of inadequate and poorly maintained infrastructure, many Nigerians have had to seek their fortunes abroad as smaller nations such as Ghana, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates hold more promises due to efficient usage of scarce resources and higher life expectancy.
For most youths, they can’t fathom why 2019 World Malaria Report said Nigeria had the highest number of global malaria cases (25%) in 2018 and accounted for the highest number of deaths (24%) when other countries have turned the tide against the disease while also making progress in infant and maternal mortality rates.
At the same time, multinational corporations that could have reduced the country’s alarming unemployment rate of over 27 percent as at the second quarter of 2020, based on data from the National Bureau of Statistics, find the Nigerian business climate difficult.
They point to a lack of stable electricity supply and endemic corruption, both of which impede their smooth operations.
There are a number of factors that come into play with the tensions that have happened in the past few weeks, and one of them is the fact that “you have an economy that would have twice gone into recession between 2016 and 2020, with population growth outgrowing economic growth,” one renowned economist told BusinessDay.
“EndSARS was only an avenue for people to vent their anger, but the real issue is the economy. When the economy no longer exists. When there is no hope for a daliy bread and people are being killed, you should expect this kind of outcome,” the economist said, who doesn’t want his name mentioned.
Many years of bad governance have caused Nigerians to have a huge distrust for its leaders, making the youths, the country’s biggest assets, see little or no hope in the future of the country.
From a lack of jobs, down to failing health care, failing education, bad roads, insecurity in various parts of the country and an epileptic power supply, Africa’s largest economy is tottering on the brinks, and the situation appears not to be getting any better.
In healthcare, Nigeria has a doctor to patient’s ratio of one per 5,000 people, drastically below the WHO-recommended one doctor per 600 people.
But it is not like it doesn’t have enough trained doctors churned out from its Universities every year. The country’s health sector has suffered massive brain drain with many of its best doctors practicing abroad due to poor remuneration and a lack of infrastructure. This has been the case of the Nigerian health sector for years yet its elite spends $1 billion annually on health tourism.
A similar scenario is also playing out in the educational sector, with Nigerian tertiary students having to spend long years in universities due to failure of the Federal Government to meet with the demands of the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU).
A majority of young people that BusinessDay interviewed say they have been hugely disappointed by President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator, who first assumed power 2015 as a reformed democrat, portraying himself as a messiah and a supposed poster child, claiming to fight corruption to a standstill, create jobs, and restore the economy’s almost lost hope.
Buhari’s first tenure was greeted by a lengthy recession that sent the economy in a tailspin due to a collapse in global oil price, the country’s biggest earner, and destruction of pipelines in the Niger Delta region.
This was worsened by his failure to quickly appoint key cabinet officers after his election, that would have helped kick-start the economy.
Under his watch, Africa’s biggest economy is yet to return to its pre-recession days, growing at an average of 2 percent annually since 2016.
Per capita income in Nigeria has declined to $2,229 in 2019 from $3,268 in 2014, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Citizens are worse off, with consumer prices soaring by 13.7 percent in September, their highest levels in 30-months, further reducing their standard of living.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), while delivering its October 2020 Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Economic Outlook attributed the recent social protest in the country, (EndSARS) to economic difficulties, saying that conditions in Nigeria for the last four years have been very difficult in the wake of the decline in oil prices in 2015-16.
According to the IMF, there has been a lot of pressure on standards of living, “so there has been this dislocation and you know, as always when you have these kinds of economic difficulties, social protests are not uncommon.”
For demanding good governance, the youths of Nigeria met their worst moments, after men of the security forces opened fire at the peaceful protesters, allegedly killing and injuring many.
The Nigerian President Buhari sought to calm frayed nerves with an address to the nation last week, which however kept mum on the alleged shooting of protesters in the Lekki area of Lagos.
Following the President’s speech many young Nigerians took to various social media outlets, venting their dissatisfaction, with many expressing little sign of hope in the country.