#EndSARS and the question of political power - OPID News

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Friday, 11 December 2020

#EndSARS and the question of political power

#EndSARS and the question of political power

In the wake of the #EndSARS protest whose replay was narrowly averted recently, several commentators including state governors have called on the movement to sheathe their swords and enter the

political space in readiness for taking power in 2023.  In other words, rather than stage more protests to bring about change, the movement should occupy itself with organising the takeover of power from the extant political structure in the next elections. Obviously, the advice itself could be a tactic to chloroform the group as a way of rendering it ineffective; nonetheless, in a generation when several world leaders are in their thirties, it makes sense to examine the possibility of the protesters gaining political power. It should be noted that this is not the first time the issue of young Nigerian political leaders is being openly discussed. Two years ago, the not-too-young-to-run advocacy gained traction nationally and resulted in the passage of an age reduction bill in legislature. That notwithstanding, the pay-off of the idea appears to have been minimal in terms of young candidates who actually got elected into office. Bear in mind too that attempts to get the youths at the level of presidential candidates to form a united group encountered several obstacles and was eventually abandoned, with all of them standing in their own personal recognition.

 The point to note is whether the #EndSARS movement will be able to forge a common and united front or whether they would splinter into rival camps with many of them joining the existing parties. Undoubtedly, with a youth-centred demography, it is logical that a united plank for young men and women should be able to make a difference in the bid for power if they employ the remarkable organisational strategies that they brought to bear on the #EndSARS campaign before it was hijacked by hoodlums. One has in mind here the fundraising strategies, deployment of social media,  the creation of new websites and the ‘sorosoke’ radio outlets.

For a nation as organisationally challenged as we are, the protesters offered an interesting model in building and sustaining coherence.  Perhaps, this is one reason why the movement made the impact that it did apart from the fact that most of their grievances evoked a sense of collective outrage, not just among the youths but the entire populace as well.

That said, it should be pointed out that youths as a social and generational category is hardly enough to bring about lasting and important changes in the absence of an ideological glue that gives power to the clamor for change. It is of interest that the young Prime Ministers of Finland and New Zealand tapped in to a groundswell of progressive politics as expressed in left wing political parties.

This is another way of saying that age by itself does not tell us very much about what the young men and women stand for nor does it predict the values and the political orientation that will inform their activities when they get to power. To put it in another way, we know a great deal of what the youths are against but remarkably little about what they are for. They will need to develop core ideas around governance issues as a way of locating their political niche on the ideological spectrum. To give an example, will they deepen the current emphasises on the IMF style free market policies imposed on Nigeria by soaring debt obligations or will they attempt to create within limits alternative pathways to people-centred development? They will need to think through the policymaking arena in order to address gripping problems, such as escalating unemployment, galloping inflation, educational decay and infrastructural hitches without repeating the familiar clich├ęs which have landed us in the current mess. It is only when the age factor is combined with intellectual and ideological direction that it acquires potency.

There are other issues to grapple with. Change, it should be remarked, is being sought within the old architecture of governance in which religion, ethnicity and other divisions loom large. These divisions will not automatically disappear just because the youths are bidding for power; even the #EndSARS protests were marked by divisions for example, between North and South with many youths in northern Nigeria opting out of the protest. It is important therefore to acknowledge the hurdles which successive groups in power have perennially manipulated to keep things static and to frustrate genuine change. Of course, that division and other ones are not insurmountable should the youths decide to throw their hats into the ring in the coming political dispensation.

Not to recognise them, however, can be fatally subversive of their goals. One important area of engagement is the capacity to raise funds in a political structure where the repetitively recycled politicians have built up enormous wealth and have used it to keep themselves in power for so long. Consider for example that in a situation where nomination forms for the Presidency are being sold for millions of naira, unemployed or barely employed youths do not stand a chance of entering let alone remain to contend in the political fray.

Happily, the #EndSARS protesters recognise this limitation and can unleash innovative fundraising strategies to overcome it. Anyone, challenging the current political structure which is rigged against new entrants, will have to learn to make their own coffee as far as raising resources are concerned. There is also as earlier broached the question of unity among political actors in a season where the established parties are gradually falling apart because of bickering, ego conflicts and hard-to-reconcile differences. If the youths as recently projected in the #EndSARS protests are going to matter politically, then they must learn the very first lesson in capturing and sustaining power in a multiethnic and multireligious country, namely, the need and urgency of managing diversity. Several protest movements for change have been silenced or rendered ineffective simply because they did not carry along vast swathes of citizens located outside their neighbourhood and areas of operation. Who knows? The youths some of whom are genuinely seeking lasting change may have one or two lessons to teach the older generation in the area of adroitly managing diversity and turning it to advantage.

To be sure, the elections are still a couple of years away and as the saying goes, 24 hours is a long time in politics. In spite of that however, it should be realised that in our political culture and elsewhere around the world, campaigns tend to begin the moment one cycle is ended validating the concept of the permanent campaign. So, if the #EndSARS movement is serious about capturing political power in order to better govern the country, they must begin that quest almost right away. They of course have the alternative of joining the existing political parties provided they will not be swallowed up by these parties which at the moment are more like congregation of disparate individuals than actual political parties. Whatever they decide, it will certainly be refreshing if more and more people with fresh ideas and the vigour of youths labour to have governance matters rearranged or constructively restructured.

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