– SBN Nwokolo is the Executive Director, Part-finder Nigeria Initiative, a youth and leadership advocacy Civil Rights Organisation.
Your organisation, Pathfinder Nigeria Initiative has been very vocal in the current #EndSARS protest, especially in Delta state, was it as a result of possible personal experiences with the defunct police unit?
Not necessarily as a result of any personal experiences. The brutality of security agents against innocent unarmed protesters at Lekki, vindicates everyone that was part of the peaceful #EndSARS protest across the nation. Don’t forget that in a democracy, injustice to one, is injustice to all. Recent developments across the nation, are seemingly a national consensus that SARS conducted themselves in a manner that made the special unit appear more evil than good. Across the nation, especially in the southern parts of the nation, people have continued to tell tales of the horrendous experiences they or their loved ones have had in the hands of SARS. The impunity, cruelty, criminality and sadism exhibited by some members of this special squad, that was ordinarily supposed to protect the people from crime, are unacceptable in a democracy. So my group was out there with other well meaningful Nigerians, to peacefully demand an end to police brutality and criminality against innocent members of the society.
But SARS was also known to be useful in the fight against kidnapping and other violent crimes in the Niger Delta ?
Absolutely. But their propensity for violence, cruelty, extortion and extrajudicial killings against many innocent civilians outweigh any form of good work they were doing. Through some of these illegality, they unwittingly tarnished their image and eroded the trust of the people. Even when somebody commits a crime, killing such a person without a law court declaring him guilty is a bigger crime. They brazenly abused their rules of engagement. For instance, in Delta state and other places, it is an open secret that some people randomly hired them to carry out personal vendetta against business partners or family members over land or other sundry transactions. And victims are sometimes, killed extrajudicially and nobody asks any questions as if SARS is not accountable to anybody. Some youths were arrested for merely being in possession of fanciful mobile phones or laptop. Some others because of their fashion sense or hair styles, all in the guise of fighting Internet fraud or Yahoo Boys. Such stereotypical profiling is unfortunate and ought not to happening in a democracy. It was that bad. While we will never encourage youths to go into crime, fighting crime by security agencies should be within the ambit of the law. That is why we are calling for holistic police reform. We are also asking for improved welfare for the police. Their barracks must be made habitable and their salaries and allowances improved enough to motivate them to work in a more patriotic and professional manner.
Are there other underlining messages the #EndSARS protesters are sending across?
The evolving perspectives on the streets since this crisis began, apparently underscore the bottled up anger, frustration and widespread disillusionment in the nation, especially among the youth population, that make up a greater percentage of the nation. This critical demography of the Nigerian population are continually in the receiving end of adverse effects of the economy. The youths bear the burden of unemployment, lack of basic infrastructure, epileptic power and educational systems. Lack of social security system. Let’s not even go far, ASUU is still on strike. Close to one year now, some 100 level students have not completed their first semester programmes in most public universities, and you expect such youths to be happy? In fact in the past 40 years, there is nobody that graduated from Nigerian public universities that didn’t experience strike or other glitches associated with poor governance.
So is that part of why the youths are taking to the streets?
In my view, the #EndSARS protest is just a veritable catalyst to address other grievances against the political leadership in the land. Bad governance, clannishness and general insensitivity by the current government have combined to open the chasm of avoidable divisiveness along ethnic and religious lines, more than ever before, in our nation. These have also fuelled the ember of secession agitations and war-mongering in the society, that have placed the nation on a seeming pathway to disintegration. The recent COVID -19 lockdown across the nation and the resultant hardship and vulnerability foisted on the larger section of the people, in a way, also contributed to the rising restiveness. There is a general consensus that the government has not lived up to expectations.
There is every indication that our nation is currently in a quagmire, going by the current state of internal vulnerabilities. The cracks which our multi ethnic and religious differences had left in our national life is now being widen by insensitivity and those who have stubbornly refused to accommodate alternative views. A practice that is inimical to democracy and national cohesion.
This dangerous trend calls for caution as there is apprehension from all quarters. In a democracy, leaders should not only be sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the people, but should also have passion for selfless service, peace, equity and national cohesion in the overall good of the people. Every tendencies of divisiveness, insensitivity and inequality should never be enabled by those entrusted with the management of the commonwealth of the people.
So what do you suggest as solution to these problem?
I think that any nation that wants to progress must pay attention to the development of its youth population. Investment in youths and human capital is investment in peace, progress and prosperity. There should be a deliberate and sincere approach to youth development and job creation. Records indicate that the Nigerian society is usually confronted with the ugly consequences of youth unemployment. A careful survey would certainly reveal that perpetrators of terrorism in the Northeast, militancy in the Niger Delta region, kidnapping and arm robbery across the nation, are mostly youths. Every leader has the obligation to assist in moulding and mentoring the youth population particularly in his or her immediate environment or areas of influence in the overall interest of the society. But some leaders are so alienated from the people. They see themselves as rulers rather than leaders. During political campaigns they travers the whole places in search of votes, but once they secure the mandate, they become inaccessible and their language of engagement changes from persuasion to insensitivity.
You talked about job creation but some have argued that many of the youths do not actually want to work as some of them are only interested in easy money that mostly leads to criminality. Some of them are not employable too as they possess no profitable skills.
That perception is not entirely correct. What many Nigerian youths lack is viable opportunities. Nigerian youths are particularly known to be industrious, resilient, creative, courageous and hardworking. All these are evident in the ingenuity of our people and the outstanding successes they have recorded both at home and in the diaspora. Government and people’s representatives in government need to also be creative in developing and tapping into the potentials of this important segment of the population. Engaging the youths in life changing and value adding activities such as capacity building through skill acquisition, would help in addressing unemployment and youth restiveness.
Note that many of the youths at the grassroots level are unfortunately idling away as a result of non possession of requisite qualification for government employment;
lack of basic skill in any field that would have made them either employable in the private sector or be self-reliant; many in the above categories who even have the desire to learn any trade that would make them useful to the society can’t afford the minimal fees required to acquire such trainings as a result of poverty; therefore government intervention becomes imperative as skill acquisition is a key tool for job creation and youth empowerment, especially in a developing economy such as ours.
Photo: Chief SBN Nwokolo, Executive Director, Part-finder Nigeria