Nigeria is experiencing a rude reawakening with the #EndSARS protest entering its 10th day, today, Sunday, 18 October. The protests staged across different states have been flawlessly organised by Nigerian youth with the Feminist Coalition as anchor. The protests which started without warning on Thursday October 8 with crowds of fed-up youths calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to abolish a dreaded police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), has since gained global prominence with international activists, policy makers and celebrities endorsing the current agitation by Nigerian youths.
Barely a week after Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary for which President Buhari led members of his cabinet to a colourful celebration at the nation’s capital, as the country is gradually found its feet after months of battling the Covid-19 pandemic, young people commenced the unprecedented #EndSARS protest demanding an end to years of brutality, extra-judicial killings, extortion and rape by personnel of this once ubiquitous squad.
The Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, in what some have described as a knee-jerk reaction, announced the introduction of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team, as replacement for SARS which he had announced its ban days earlier. The protesters immediately rejected SWAT; they also rejected the public apology letter shared by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The President’s recorded public address in response to the protests also received a cold treatment from the #EndSARS movement.
As the days of protests went by with the crowds getting larger, even as young people fearing a hijack by government insisted that the protest has no leaders or representatives, on Saturday, 17 October the movement issued a seven-point demand. With the far-reaching seven-point agenda, it became clear that the #EndSARs protesters have looked beyond the five-point placatory document on police reforms.
Ironically, the well-organised protesters who insisted on not having leaders had demanded a mindset and methodology reset from the nation’s leaders with their seven-point demand.
The well shared document started with specific police reforms to detailed suggestions to government on security, education, health, budgeting, restructuring, transparency and accountability. Indeed, by Saturday night, it was clear Nigeria’s over 60 percent youth population wanted good governance, government transparency, accelerated development and equity before the law. As had been speculated for days of the protests, Nigerian youths through Saturday’s manifesto reiterated their disdain and exasperation with unaccountable, corrupt and unproductive leadership.
Youths by taking their protest to governors recognized that the national rebirth they seek can only come with the bottom-up approach. The #EndSARS protests hit Imo State on Tuesday, 13 October with youths storming Government House, Owerri. Governor Hope Uzodimma addressed protesters, stating his support for police reforms. However, not much has been heard from him unlike the Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who set up a panel of inquiry to look into cases of extra-judicial actions taken by SARS operatives.
As an indigene of Imo State I write to remind youths of our state to stay ‘woke’ this critical period of our nation’s history. It behoves on our youths not only to call for action from Gov. Uzodimma with regard to his promise on police reform and also see to the presentation and implementation of Saturday’s manifesto from the #EndSARS movement but to stop the more-you-look-the-less-you-see style of leadership. Imo is in a state of despair from lack of direction and the haunting air of stack poverty multiplied by lack of payment of pensions and salaries.
Beyond the predictable suggestion from the average person that all states in Nigeria need to implement suggestions from youths as contained in the #EndSARS seven-point demand as sectors such as education, health care, infrastructural development fall in the concurrent list, Imo State particularly needs saving after years of maladministration. Beyond increased investment in social services young people are demanding an end to high level corruption often entrenched by rudderless leadership propped up rent-seeker elites.
Imo’s underdevelopment is traceable to poorly funded social services, infrastructural decay and endemic corruption.
Has the current administration in Imo State shown signs it can change the state’s recent history of under-development and bad leadership? Majority would say ‘no’. Does Gov. Uzodimma need to study the seven-point demand from #EndSARS protesters judging by Imo’s development indices? Many would agree to this. Gov. Uzodimma, who detests being called the ‘Supreme Court’ governor, was sworn in following a controversial ruling by the apex court on 14 January 2020 and 10 agonising months after, his governance philosophy is blurry with little to show as dividends of democracy.
More worrisome is the new trend from the governor’s team to throw up questionable statistics to whitewash nearly a year of unproductivity. The latest of false narratives from the Uzodimma Administration is that it increased Internally Generated Revenue from N620 million as left behind by the Emeka Ihedioha Administration to N1.2 billion in two months. Unlike the Uzodimma government which cannot identify the policy by which it achieved its hyped doubling of IGR, Ihedioha as governor introduced the Treasury Single Account in Imo State, data online and other sources show an increase of IGR between June 2019 (N253m) to N926 million by January 2020-December 2019 had Imo recording a remarkable feat of N1.1bn as IGR. Gov. Uzodimma who recently quipped that he beat other candidates for governor using disgraced US sprinter ‘Ben Johnson’s’ style should take time to study the seven-point agenda of decent protesting Nigerian youths to understand the demand for transparency and accountability.
Pensioners who received prompt payments under Ihedioha’s short tenure, as expected are now blaming government corruption for stopped bank alerts. Another issue that caused worry among Ndi Imo and human rights activists in the country is the amendment of the Imo State Administration of Criminal Justice Law, which purportedly gives the governor power to detain any citizen in his state indefinitely at “the Governor’s pleasure”. Respected journalist, lawyer and activist, Richard Akinola, described the new law as Uzodimma’s “own variant of State Security (Detention of persons) Decree 2 of 1984”. “Nothing can be more insipidly preposterous and silly, in 21st century and this chap is supposedly in a “progressive” party”, Akinola added in his Facebook post on the law.
For Imolites who also witnessed Emeka Ihedioha’s leadership emphatically say he made impact in seven months of his stay in office with achievements like the introduction of TSA, payment of counterpart funding for the N13.5 billion Rural Access and Mobility (RAMP) Project backed by the World Bank and the renewal of trust in government, hence the lingering despondency months after his removal by the Supreme Court.
Nevertheless, Imo youths like their counterparts across the country, who shook off national hopelessness, must rise above state-wide dejection to demand good governance for the state and redeem the image of a state that is almost resigned to hopelessness from the empty promises, lacking of direction, looming number of unemployed youth, improvised pensioners, failing educational system, a dead health system, intimidation of journalists and freedom of speech, a demand for truth and justice on the supreme court’s governor’s self-acclaimed Ben Johnson emergence as governor of Imo State.
•Okafor, an Imo indigene, writes from Okota, Lagos.