Director-General of the forum of Governors under the platform of the All Peoples Congress (APC), the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), Salihu Mohammed Lukman has suggested ways in which government can navigate out of the current challenges posed by the #EndSARS protests.
He made the suggestions in a personal statement issued on Sunday.
According to him, radical politics defined by commitment to principles of social change was a feature of opposition Nigerian politics in the past.
He said, “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”.
He said the current protest around #EndSARS is proof that Nigerian youth are troubled, and they are at the receiving end of all the trouble the country is facing.
He said; “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”.
He noted that the youth have woken up to the challenge of political engagement to address problems affecting them and have taken over the 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 affects 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 its 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 streets, 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”, he said.
He noted that across some states, there are reports of young people calling for an end to insecurity, somehow suggesting opposition to the disbandment of SARS, adding that 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.
He stated; “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 intends 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 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 commended 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”.