OPINION: The anti-police brutality protests tagged #EndSARS which recently fueled an uprising on the streets of Nigeria may have left the streets following its dramatic hijack by hoodlums. But the agitation for reforms which could upset the status quo in 2023 seem to still linger as seen in the cyberspace, a major tool used by the protesters.
Shortly after government acceded to the five point demand of the #EndSARS protesters, the movement, goaded by a decades of mistrust for government, became a symbolism for addressing latent and salient issues in the country..
Although the wave of violence and lootings that trailed the protests generated lots of concerns across board, the movement which some pundits said was reflective of bottled-anger and frustration, defied ethno-religious and culture differences.
However, the question remains, what impact will the EndSARS movement have on 2023 polls?
This is very likely the question on the lips of most political watchers in the country. It is obvious that even the political class and those in power are not only perturbed by recent developments but are also unsettled as to what tomorrow holds.
“Everyone in Nigeria has seen the number of educated youths articulating the problems of this country because what is up there is like sitting on a gun powder and if we are not careful it will explode”, said Senator Abiodun Olujimi during a media briefing at the Senate press corps at the National Assembly after presenting a motion on flow of the red chamber to address police brutality, reforms and other issues.
The troubled lawmaker added, “If we do not pick up this issue, it is not about them any longer, it is about the unity of this country, it is about the stability of this country, it is about the future of this country and no governor will sit there and say oh no nothing has happened…..We are now waiting for huge amendment so that going further, we can all help ourselves by ensuring that we do what is right within the circumstances.
“I believe it will not be business as usual. It is business unusual from now on and whether we like it or not, we must work collectively in the interest of this country.
“If we do that we will rekindle interest in government, because right now there is deficit whether you like it or not, they do not trust any of us,” she warned.
Also during the weekend, in his remarks at the Arewa House, Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi, acknowledged that the older generation of leaders have failed the country and so they have pushed the youths to the margins.
“What started as an innocuous online protest over police brutality snowballed before our very eyes into a mass movement that assumed more frightening dimensions. From the demand to #EndSARS, we have seen vigorous demands for greater accountability, and greater efficiency in government.
“What I understand the youths to be saying is that we the older generation have failed them by our inability to create a system that supports their dreams and accommodate their aspirations. From the language of their protests, we can see clearly that our youths feel pushed to the margins of our nation’s socio-political and economic structures”, he said.
Interestingly, while the protest raged, attempts by the two major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to have the upper hand over the matter by resort to trading blames didn’t seem to sway the narrative.
Before now, the key issues that had dominated the political space was zoning of presidential ticket and war-chest for the 2023 polls. The politicking for 2023 had started even before the end of Buhari’s first year in his second term in office with alignments and realignments by major political leaders across regions. Mallam Mamman Daura’s recent call for the jettison of zoning in place of competence, had attracted lots of backlash.
In the broader political space, while the larger debate over restructuring and constitutional amendment, and insecurity lingered, there seemed to be little or no regard for the large youth population vis-a-vis proper governance as a critical element in seeking electoral mandates.
While some pundits aver that the narrative ahead of 2023 might have changed in light of recent developments in the country, it however remains to be seen how significant the political equation within the two leading political parties and by extension the polity, will be altered, if the current tempo persists.
Although, there were allegations few days into the protest, that the protest was being sponsored by leaders of opposition who wanted to discredit the government, leading figures among the protesters were able to establish a helpline where funds were raised to respond to emergencies.
They also provided legal services to those in need and even set up a radio station. It was first of its kind in the country’s history and some public affairs analysts argue that the level of organisation exhibited so far reflects the quality of coordination among them.
For some pundits, the current political class as analysts would now have to deal with a much more political conscious youth population. They argue that youths are now more aware of how influence they can wield going into the election.
For others however, while time will define the impact of this protest, underestimating the political experience and sagacity of the current political class will be a major undoing.
#EndSARS and political structure
For the proponents of the protest, the acceptance of their agenda and the resort to quick fixes in states has given them some mileage. Their ability, in spite of the mindless violence that tainted the protest, to get concessions from governments’ in less than two weeks, was insightful.
A fallout of this scenario has been a call for the youths to engage the political system more ahead of 2023. One of those who has advanced this call is the Chairman of non-profit organisation, ANAP Foundation, Atedo Peterside, who advised Nigerian youths to link the #EndSARS protests to the upcoming general elections by mobilising themselves to take over political power in 2023.
But does the movement possess the craft and tact to beat the current political order, managed by experienced politicians with large war chest. Will the raging debate around zoning ahead of 2023 mean much or little to them?
“Power rotation is not a product of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but more of a political adaptation to balance power and give Nigerians an equitable sense of belonging in the scheme of governance of the country across its diversity. So, zoning can be classified as a Doctrine of Necessity adopted along political parties conventions, an APC chieftain, Elton Onwu, explained to LEADERSHIP.
He added “coming back to the subject of discussion bothering on EndSARS and altering the equation in 2023 when power is presumably returning to the South after having resided in the North since 2015 under President Buhari/Osinbajo ticket, I am of the school of thought that power should return back to South in 2023.
“However, the micro zoning within the South is what I think may be altered by the turn out of events from #EndSARS protests. The concept of the hashtag #EndSARS is novel to Nigeria and in tandem with modern protests mobilisation leveraging on social media platforms. Nigerian Youths have woken from their slumber and have realised the efficacy and potentials of the power latent in effective use of social media as a veritable tool in social re-orientation and re-engineering for positive change.”
While he acknowledged that the positive gains of the original #EndSARS protests will be harnessed to shape the political spectrum and discuss, he however cautioned that “there are fundamentals that should not be browsed over which the youths currently lack but can be classified as foundation of every political agitations.”
According to Mr Elton, “You need political parties and structures to effect Political changes. Unless the #EndSARS protest will galvanize into a political structure, it’s just an exercise in youthful exuberance and will bear no political consequence to alter the equation of 2023 as regards zoning and outcome”.
He noted that Nigeria’s political class got a wake-up call and will go back to drawing board to counter whatever damage they are currently suffering from what the protest had snowballed into.
“Definitely there will be hard questions and and possible reforms arising from the basket lists of the protesters, but above all, three years to another general election is still a very long time in politics. Anything can happen!,” he concluded.
On his part, the national youth leader of Labour Party (LP) Anslem Eragbe, believes that the protest will upset a lot in the polity because there is a change of orientation among Nigeria youths.
“Nigerians can be rest assured that the political equation is about to be altered permanently, at least for the next 60 years. Young Nigerians have realised suddenly that the need to stand up and take their own destinies in their hands and the need to determine who and who amongst them can occupy leadership positions in Nigeria going forward”.
Eragbe who recounted how the youths in the country have over the years been almost exclued from the scheme of things by those he described as those in the ‘old brigade’, said “the political inclusion of young Nigerians in the days and years ahead cannot be overemphasized”
Asked how the youths will turn table in their favour, the Labour Party youth leader and SUG President in ABU, said his party has offered its platform for youths in the entire wards and 774 local governments across the country as the rally point to for all.
However, a PDP faithful and Abuja based lawyer, Kamin Asunogie, sees the leaderless nature of the #EndSARS movement is a setback.
He explained that the shift of power would be determined by the two major political parties in the country and warned that “once the issue of 2023 takes over the drive of the protests, ethnicity would come in and the struggle will melt into insignificance.”
While he commended the movements and what it has achieved in the short-term, he said “the only useful purpose the #EndSARS agitation can serve is from the perspective of a pressure group. It can continue to act as a reference point for future agitations aimed at keeping vigil over the political leadership and power control in our polity.”
He further warned that “the politicisation of the struggle with an eye on influencing the 2023 election would be its undoing. Like Caezar’s wife, it should be seen to be above the board of politics.”
Public affairs analysts, Efe T William, said while zoning is not the best option for democracy, the essence was to balance political equation between the North and South, an ingenious way to downplay the acrimonious occupation of central power in Nigeria as well as to solve “sublime issues in participatory democracy, giving sense of belongings to the complexities of Nigeria.”
He said ahead of 2023, there are already “growing acrimony and political subterfuge over where the zoning pendulum swings. Though, southern Nigeria is the ideal region to take the slot, permutations are ongoing before the EndSARS protest”.
William further explained that the forces behind who takes or gets what in Nigeria are masters of the game who do all it takes to keep themselves in control.
“On the question of whether the outcome of the protest will have any adverse effect on which region will clinch the presidential ticket. Those who determine who and where the ticket goes do not care about the thoughts of the people, they are consumed with protecting and preserving their interest. Do the votes of Nigerians truly account?, he asked.
For Abu Abdulganiyu, a former candidate for Edo State House of Assembly election, the protest was clearly a wake-up call for the incumbent political leadership ahead of 2023.
“The #EndSARS campaign has opened a new vista in the political permutations in Nigeria with respect to the 2023 elections. You may want to ignore the obvious signs to the eternal disapprobation of our dear nation. It is in the interests of the power brokers to do the right thing in 2023 for the cohesion and unity of Nigeria.
“The protest might just be a tip of the iceberg,” said Abdulganiyu who also posits that there could more to it than meets the ordinary eyes.
As the conversation continues, youth mobilisation and various meetings are already going on across most local governments in the country under the auspices of Youth Democratic Movement (YDM) and many others, what will become of this political movement remains a matter of time and conjecture for now.