By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Radical politics defined by commitment to principles of social change was a feature of opposition Nigerian politics. Associated mainly with Action Group (AG), Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU), to some extent National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC) and their alliance partners under United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) in the First Republic and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP), Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) and their partners Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA) in the Second Republic, radical politics was the defining identity of politicians and activists committed to issues of social change in Nigeria.
With the emergence of All Progressive Congress (APC) in 2013 based on declared progressive commitment, to what extant can we make claim to radical politics? How closer or farther is APC and our leaders to radical politics based on demonstrated commitment to social change? Part of the attributes confirming our commitment to radical politics is the welfarist policy credentials of National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) now upgraded to Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management. Combined with ambitious infrastructural initiatives in the country, the programme is oriented to ensure sustained and inclusive economic growth, reduced poverty rates and closing the wide inequality gap between the rich and the poor based on four pillars, namely, N-Power, Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), Home Grown School Feeding and Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP). These are initiatives that should confirmed APC’s progressive credentials. Often, claims for or against the progressive credentials of the party are made without any reference to these realities.
Being a progressive party should be expected to make the party and our leaders easily accessible to citizens based on which negotiating and engaging APC’s progressive initiatives of governments shouldn’t be a problem. Without doubt, the current ongoing youth protest across the country, calling for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police otherwise popularly known as #EndSARS protest, highlight some levels of citizens frustration, especially by our young people in relation to engaging initiatives of government aimed at resolving our societal problems.
The protest and its popularity among our young people are indication of the urgency for our politics to become more responsive and oriented to attract wider citizens participation. Intuitively, the ongoing protest is a clarion call on our political leaders in APC to respond to growing demands both within the party and by Nigerians to ensure that the progressive credentials of APC is oriented based on commitment to promote radical politics. What is the requirement for radical politics? How can commitment to radical politics resolve the problems of our young people?
Jonathan Pugh in a 2009 publication, What is Radical Politics Today clarified that “radical politics not only gets to the roots of a problem, if it is effective, it also turns over or ‘roots out’ and redefine how society function. This does not mean radical politics is confined to particular causes or issues. We look to radical politics to provide an alternative world view of the world, when that world is in trouble.” The current protest around #EndSARS is a proof that Nigerian youth are troubled, and they are at the receiving end of all the trouble our country is facing. In many respects, the protests highlighted deficit in terms of government initiatives meeting the expectations of Nigerian young people. Such deficit could emanate from poor communication strategy. In order to address the problem, there is the need for government to immediately review implementation of government welfare initiatives and ensure provision of specific packages targeting young people, in addition to meeting the specific demands of the #EndSARS protests.
Our youth have woken up to the challenge of political engagement to address problems affecting them and have taken over our streets and the airwaves. At best, government and all of us actively involved in politics are doing catch up. For more than a week, across all our media, both locally and internationally, news about Nigeria is all around the protest by our young people. The protest is very popular, and the leadership appear very determined to continue with the protest. Being the party in government, are we going to painstakingly work for democratic resolution? Or are we going to opt for authoritarian measures to end the protests?
The options are daring and challenging. Interestingly, the organisation of the protest doesn’t make these options any easier. With amorphous leadership, the protest is taking all the advantages of modern technology to earn the trust and confidence of all sections of Nigerian youths. The trust has enabled them to mobilise funding, and they are deploying it to provide welfare services to the protesters. At another level, it will also appear that our young people have found themselves stranded such that by the amorphous nature of their leadership, they are unable to effectively negotiate their demands with government. Some of the conventional protest leaders have been chased away by the protesters. In the absence of recognised leaders, how can government engage or negotiate with the protesters?
How can government win the trust and confidence of our young people and get them to vacate the streets? The message from our young people is that there are challenges that require political responses. Police brutality, insecurity, unemployment, etc. are contending political issues. Citizens’ participation in responding to these challenges is a critical requirement to win the trust of Nigerians regarding initiative of government.
The truth is, the crisis facing us as a nation as much as it affect everyone, it is more destructive to our young people. For instance, access to educational opportunities is abysmal, the small openings lead to very dark tunnels that may only provide glimpses of hopeless reality. Public education is in worst state such that both teachers and students have to look outside the classrooms for the new society, if any at all. Any wonder, therefore, our youth are on the street, campaigning for an end to a problem they consider very deadly? Graduate unemployment is today the new normal.
Without any doubt, every patriotic Nigerian should at the minimum be able to accept these fundamental challenges, which is the root cause of today’s protest by Nigerian youth. We should therefore strongly appeal to our leaders to kindly respond to the protest by fundamentally taking the necessary steps to accelerate the process of reforming the implementation of especially government welfare initiatives. Already, government has effectively responded to the specific demands of the #EndSARS protest. The reality is that meeting the demands of the #EndSARS protest alone cannot end the protest.
What is clear is that the ongoing protest is beyond the problems of SARS, although it is the trigger. This is why the announcement for the disbandment of SARS by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, did not win the heart of the protesters. Instead, new demands calling for release of arrested protesters, compensation for victims, setting up independent investigation, etc. emerges. This basically calls for reform of the Nigeria Police. In response, government through both the Nigeria Police Force, National Economic Council (NEC) and all state governments have acceded to all the demands, but the protest is still going on. This has produced further claims that the protesters are demanding for the reform of Nigeria, whatever that means.
At the heart of the protest is the fact that our young people are alienated in every respect across all sectors. The challenge is, how can our politics respond in a way that confirms to our young people that government’s commitment to the process of resolving the crisis facing our society and nation, mainly the issue of access to opportunities by our young people is very strong. This requires good engagement strategy and confidence building. Recognition of the need for good engagement strategy must have accounted for the direct interface between Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Governor of Lagos State and the protesters in Lagos on Monday, October 12, 2020. Similar interface also took place between Governors, Alh. Abdulrahaman Abdulrazaq and Mr. Gboyega Oyetola on the one hand and protesters in Ilorin and Osogbo on the other respectively in Kwara and Osun States on Thursday, October 15, 2020 and Saturday, October 17, 2020.
In the case of Lagos, after the meeting with protesters, Mr. Sanwo-Olu presented the demands of the protesters to President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 based on which many of the expected actions required to meet the demands of the protesters were reported to have been endorsed. In the case of Kwara State, Governor Abdulrazaq was reported to have marched with protesters to the police headquarters in Ilorin where the demand of the protesters was presented. And following the NEC decisions of Thursday, October 15, 2020 to the effect that judicial panel of enquiry be setup to investigate cases of police brutality, state governments have given effect to the decision. Notwithstanding all these, the protests are continuing, and it will appear may not end very soon. Sadly, in Osun State, protesters were reported to have turned violent with Governor Oyetola reportedly attacked by protesters after he addressed them. Some lives were unfortunately lost.
At another level, there are other demands that highlighted disagreement to the demands of the young protesters calling for disbandment of SARS. For instance, Borno State House of Assembly was reported on Thursday, October 15, 2020 to honour a SARS’ Commandant, CPS Ibrahim Mohammed. Around the same period, Northern Governors Forum was reported to call for the retention of SARS. Across some states, there are reports of young people calling for an end to insecurity, somehow suggesting opposition to the disbandment of SARS. What all these demonstrate is that the challenges are complex and diverse, and the leadership required to resolve them must be responsive to all the demands.
Our party, APC, and our leaders should be able to provide the needed leadership, which cannot be easily determined with reference to for or against the protest by young people. It must be based on honest recognition of the problem and therefore ensuring that our party and our leaders are genuinely committed for open engagement with our young people to solve the problem. Accordingly, consideration should be given to create some employment opportunities at Federal and state levels for young people. In addition to employment opportunity, some credit facilities to support business initiatives of young people should be introduced. Whether through Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (SMEDAN), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) or special arrangement, a coordinating structure involving the representatives of young people should be established to administer implementation of the credit scheme.
Specific to the protest by our young people, to end the protest will require that at the highest level, perhaps the President, government should make special announcement making all the offers, which cover how government intend to meet the demands of the protesters. The announcement should come with special appeal to young people and invite them to nominate representatives for engagement towards implementation. The process of getting the nomination of the young people should be carefully and transparently handled. The government announcement therefore should appeal to the young people to allow a period of at least one week to ensure that appropriate mechanism is put in place towards implementation of government initiatives to resolve the problems. Within the period, the protesting young people should suspend the protest.
As a party, we should take steps to harvest all the goodwill that we have. This is in fact the point when APC should be able to demonstrate its political sophistication. If there is any point when our national reality present APC and our leaders with the opportunity to demonstrate commitment to bring about change in the country, the protest by our young people present an opportunity. It is such a defining opportunity that must be handled with caution as it can potentially consolidate or completely erode APC’s electoral advantages especially with 2023 in the horizon.
As a party therefore, APC must resist the lazy approach to present the protest as being influenced by political opponents. Even if political opponents are to take advantage, it will be on account of our failings as a party. So far, government should be commented for affirming the inalienable rights of Nigerians to freely protest as provided in the 1999 Nigerian constitution as amended. In the same way, Nigerian youths should similarly be commended for successfully exercising their rights as guaranteed by our laws. In any case, given that the organisation of the protest departed from known conventions based on which setting up negotiating platforms to engage the leaders of the protests would have been made effective, it is difficult to meet the demands of the protesters. This is why, demands are sneaky, and the protest has assumed a feature of interminability.
It is such a difficult reality. Yet, government and our party must do everything possible to resolve the problems and end the protest. Just as we appeal to our political leaders, we need to also appeal to our young people, especially the underground leaders to see beyond the protest by taking the necessary steps to win landmark political concessions, which should include access to opportunities for leadership responsibilities by young people. Part of what this generation of young leaders must avoid is the unfortunate repeat of the mistake of our 1990s generation of activists when with all the political opportunities after a difficult prodemocracy struggle, in 1998/1999 we failed to take advantage of political transition and participate in politics.
Not even appeals to our leaders by no less a person than revered Nelson Mandela when on two accessions as President of Republic of South Africa he sent former President Thabo Mbeki, the as Vice President of South Africa with the appeal to Nigerian prodemocracy activists to engage the transition process as part of the diplomatic mission to facilitate military disengagement from Nigerian politics. Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, Mr. Femi Falana, Mrs. Ayo Obe among many others are alive to confirm or refute the efforts by Mandela to convince Nigerian activists to take advantage of the 1998/1999 transition to be part of the emerging political leadership of this Fourth Republic. The rest as is often said is now history. After the difficult struggle to end military rule in the country, at a defining moment when we should mainstream ourselves as part of the political leadership of the country, we came up with theories of ‘democracy without democrats’ and disparaging our political class as ‘Abacha politicians’.
If our protesting youth failed to convert the current protest to opportunity for access to political leadership responsibility, the resourcefulness of our youth as exhibited during this protest will be wasted. In fact, if there is anything capable of guaranteeing that the legal framework of “Not Too Young To Run” will lead to more political participation of young people, it is the current protest. But that is only possible if the negotiation around the current protest by our young people is broadened to issues of political participation. How can our leaders and APC achieve this? It is important that we are able to convince our leaders to recognise that opening the space for young people to actively participate in politics is necessary and compellingly in the overall interest of our democratic development as a nation.
As a party of change, APC is blessed with many energetic young people. Part of what must be done for APC to be able to reposition itself and attract the new strong energy of our young people is to ensure that the current process of rebuilding the APC is tailored to recruit our young people. In particular, a special strategic commitrtee to recruit identified leaders of interest groups, including the leaders of the protest movement by young people should be considered ahead of the membership registration exercise that is about to commence. Part of the medium to long term plans should be to try and develop new approaches to political leadership recruitment, which at the moment is unplanned.
The days ahead will be decisive in determining whether our leaders can take steps to affirm the credentials of APC as a party committed to social change. The ability of our leaders to develop sophisticated structures and strategy, which can earn the trust and confidence of our protesting young people is facing a big challenge. All committed members of the party should rally round our leaders to support them to put in place the needed framework to resolve all the problems facing our young people and accordingly bring to an end the #EndSARS protest. This should strengthen the process of orienting the politics of our party towards social change, which will confirm our progressive credentials.
-Lukma is with the Progressive Governors Forum Abuja. However, this position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum