Nigeria is in mourning. According to multiple news report, on Tuesday, 20th October, 2020, Nigerian soldiers opened fire on young Nigerians who were protesting against police brutality. No one has given an accurate number of causalities.
The Nigerian state is murdering her young people. Human Rights Watch, and 40 other leading civil societies in Nigeria denounced the excessive use of force on protesters in these words, “we have watched with shock and dismay of footage of men dressed in military uniforms opening fire on protesters calling for an end to police brutality at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, Nigeria.”
Nigeria’s President Buhari (a retired military general) has unleashed the military and the police against innocent and peaceful Nigerian protesters. Rather than address the bigger questions raised by these protests, the Nigerian government has literally shut down the country and deployed the military and soldiers on the streets. Nigeria’s democracy is under threat.
It is important that policy makers and citizens around the world interested in African affairs understand why the Nigerian youths are protesting and why Nigeria is convulsing today in the ferment of a social revolution led by young people.
The immediate cause of the current social unrest and protests in Nigeria is police brutality shown in the excessive violence of the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
According to Amnesty International, “despite repeated government pledges to address the problems in the Nigerian criminal justice system, little progress has been made. Among the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) there is flagrant and widespread disregard for human rights and due process. People are subjected to enforced disappearances and unlawfully killed by the police before or during arrest in the street or at roadblocks, or subsequently in police detention. Many unlawful killings appear to be extrajudicial executions, and the perpetrators usually go unpunished.”
Amnesty International’s report is also consistent with the report of the highly reputable independent Nigerian SBM Intelligence reports which reports that 41 young Nigerians have been killed so far by security operatives during these anti-police protests. It also reports 149 extrajudicial killing in Nigeria since 2019, and 640 killings by Fulani Islamists who operate freely in Nigeria as ‘herdsmen.’
Another reason for the current protests in Nigeria is the failure of the present Nigerian government to protect the lives and properties of Nigeria. This was a pledge made to Nigerians by the current president, whose military background gave him an initial credibility among Nigerians that he would be a law-and-order president who would rein in the Islamic fundamentalists. Also the fact that Buhari comes from Northern Nigeria, and that most of the acts of terrorism in the country were perpetrated by Islamic Jihadists from the North gave many Nigerians hope that President Buhari would be able to negotiate with his own kith and kin in bringing an end to this reign of terror in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, large swathes of Nigeria’s territory are still under the control of Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa and other Islamic terrorist groups who are waging an asymmetrical war on the Nigerian state. Since the last ten years, over 29,000 Nigerians have been killed as a result of this radical Islamic group, including 37 foreign aid workers from Europe and North America. According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), there are over 830,000 Nigerians in the North-East who are displaced and who cannot be reached by aid workers.
Many of us have lost friends, colleagues, and family members to violence and crimes. Economic and agricultural activities have been stalled in many parts of Nigeria because of the near break down of law and order. The once bustling social life in Nigeria has been lost as criminals, Islamists, and terrorists roam the highways, and streets, some of them wearing police and military uniform. Many Nigerians worry about how easily these criminals and so-called herdsmen can easily acquire high-caliber weapons capable of killing so many people.
Nigerian young people are pouring onto the streets because they are exhausted from long years of suffering, hunger and starvation, and being sentenced to a punishing future. Many years ago, the late Nigerian social theorist, Claude Ake argued that Nigeria needs to embrace the process of democratization to build the national structures, systems and institutions for an inclusive constitutional democracy.
According to Ake, the Nigerian state is maladjusted because it is constructed on the structures of injustice, sustained by tribal politics, clientelism, and religious fundamentalism. He says, because of this state of affairs, Nigeria oscillitates endlessly from one pole to another without any sense of history, direction, national identity or political culture. Every region in Nigeria has suffered under this sinful structure; every Nigerian has his or her own story to tell of our collective guilt, collective shame, and our collective burden.
There is so much suffering, violence and death in Nigeria. The majority of Nigeria’s young people are out of school and out of work. Poverty is spreading like wildfire in Nigeria, and nothing seems to be working in the country, while the national life has become a tale of doom and gloom as Nigerians suffocate under the punishing weight of the pandemic and of structural violence built on systemic and unjust structures, Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, and police brutality.
Ultimately, the problem of Nigeria, as foremost African novelist, Chinua Achebe, said many years ago is leadership. Nigeria is convulsing today because of a corrupt and unpatriotic elite. Nigeria’s military men, ex-military men, and their civilian and religious acolytes have run Nigeria’s economy to the ground by siphoning and mismanaging Nigeria’s oil wealth and exploiting our national diversity and playing us against each other. They have frustrated the hopes and aspirations of Nigerians through extractive and authoritarian leadership, and exploited our ethnic and religious diversity to create schismatic us vs. them binaries. For example, the country lost more than 220 billion Pounds of her national wealth in the first 40 years after independence through the elite network and gatekeepers who control 90% of Nigeria’s GDP. According to the London-based Chatham House, Nigeria loses about 1.5 billion dollars every month to oil theft.
With over 70% of Nigerians suffering from grinding poverty, there is a real frustration and anger in Nigeria today. Nigeria overtook India two years ago as the country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world. In the Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) report of the Development Finance International (DFI) Nigeria placed bottom in a ranking of 157 nations. How Nigeria, the 6th largest oil-producing country in the world should now become the poverty capital of the world requires greater probing. Besides poor planning and management of the economy; and lack of strategic vision for projects and the use of ethnocentric and religious motivation for citing of projects over needs and economies of scale, Nigeria suffers from persistent failure to reorder her priorities according to her assets, capability and needs.
Nigeria does not know how to use her abundant human resources and talents because Nigeria never plays with her best team in anything. We accept mediocrity over merit as long as it favors someone from my ethnic group, region or religious affinity. Tribal, religious, regional, and party loyalties trump common sense on the triumph of beauty or goodness, competence, and character.
This is why health, agriculture, education, social security and safety net receive less budgetary allocation. At the same time, Nigeria continues to run, according to Oxfam report, an ever-ballooning cost of bureaucracy and ‘settlement’ of chains of redundant government and state officials. The report shows that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school dropouts, has one of the lowest level of labor rights and is placed 152 out of 157 in the world’s measurement of human capital index (CPI), a predictor of the level of human security based on five indicators—chances of a child reaching age five, healthy growth, expected years of schooling, quality learning available and the adult survival rate (life expectancy.)
Nigerians are suffering from grinding poverty. Indeed, with more than 70% of Nigerians living in poverty, with our universities shut for most of this year, with an unemployment rate of over 27%, rising debt burden and life expectancy of less than 55 years, Nigeria is in decline and our democracy is under threat. Most Nigerians, especially the poor, are suffering and dying from malnutrition, violence, and hopelessness. The future outlook of the nation is grim.
This is because rather than create wealth and produce capital, Nigerian politicians are obsessed with wealth distribution. Rather than address the cries of the poor, Nigerian politicians are obsessed with unethical forms of power sharing and the parceling away of our national wealth. Rather than dialoguing with the youth, the Nigerian state is killing them on our streets and suffocating their right to freedom of expression, and movement. Rather than addressing the structural violence and injustice in the land through a national dialogue that will lead to restructuring of Nigeria to reflect and valorize our diversity, our political elite are obsessed with pursuing a deceptive and empty national unity which benefits only a few thin top layers of political opportunists, quislings, and jobbers. This is why Nigerians are facing these complex problems and pains under the weight of a punishing current social convulsion, and a frightening future.