By BONIFACE CHIZEA
Would there be another protests? God forbid I hear you exclaim. As we also exclaim in agreement! But, can we just wish the next protests away? No, we must be intentional about it. I suppose even the worst enemy of this country would not wish for it to experience anything near what we saw and felt during the last #ENDSARS protests. This protest, to repeat what is common knowledge was devastating as well as harrowing to say the least. The waste in terms of loss in human lives and property is an experience which we pray will never be seen in this country again. It is somehow reassuring that the need to ensure that we do not have this type of protest is felt even at the highest rugs of leadership in the country. The other time the senate President, Ahmed Lawan was reported to have cautioned during budget 2021 defense by the Ministry of Agriculture that adequate allocation must be made to the Ministry so that developments could be extended to the rural areas where a majority of the restless youths are located so that they could be gainfully engaged there. And recently it is on record that the President himself has vowed not to allow the Country experience a repeat of #ENDSARS protests. But what is rather worrisome is the fact that in many respects we have carried on as if the unpalatable lessons of the protests have not sunk in.
We have seen those who have been arrested as looters during the protests, leveraging on technology being herded as cattle as they were gathered in various locations in the country. Make no mistakes about this. We are pleased for the arrests as there is the need to demonstrate to all who might be so inclined that such uncivilized behaviors have their comeuppance to dissuade those who might be so inclined in the future. But what started the protests was the impact of police brutality as felt by compatriots across the length and breadth of this country over so many years. We could have shown better civility as the loot perpetrators were being prosecuted. In some instances, the hoodlums were held without being charged to court in excess of 48 hours which the law permitted before arraignment.
The other issue which needs careful handling is the current spate of arrest of alleged sponsors of the protests. In some instances it has been reported that accounts have been blocked; travel documents have been seized in some cases of some suspects and travelling outside the country has been denied. The government has a right to fully understand what happened and surely some of what could lead to this understanding is how funds were sourced to facilitate the protests. But in doing this, the need to avoid any measures that would once again connote impunity as no doubt a major cause of the protests was the extent of impunity in the land must be avoided. Those in authority were abrasive in the manner they displayed obscene and unearned wealth and in the manner by which decisions were taken. Some people carried on as if they were above the law of the land. We must guide against such posturing both as we undertakethis enquiry and as we continue with governance in the country going forward.
But it is important that as we go about trying to understand all aspects as they enabled the protests, that there is the need for the government to be sensitive to the fact that the protests were welcome by most citizens as it was considered long overdue. The protests were generally applauded as to the sophistication and its initial peaceful nature until it was unfortunately infiltrated and hijacked and mayhem was unleashed on the land. Therefore, government must not delude itself. It was a very popular protest until it derailed and therefore one is at loss to understand why celebrities who joined in the peaceful protests are being hounded. It must be accepted by all that peaceful protests must be countenanced in any democratic arrangement. And therefore except there is more to it than the fact that celebrities joined and tried to provide leadership; the lack of which accounted for the fact that the protests derailed as hoodlums had a field day to go on a looting binge which was scary as it left deep scars which will take long time to heal if at all, there might be no justifications for the harassment.
Sure nobody is in any doubt about what caused the protest. It is simply due to the fact of lack of opportunities for gainful employment by a generality of our people particularly the youths, which in itself is due to lack of commensurate growth and development of the economy. This situation has gotten so bad that Nigeria has been dubbed by the unflattering epithet as the “Poverty Capital of the world.” And the cause of this situation is the fact that the country has been unfortunate to have had leadership that has to a large extent been visionless. The leadership selection process which has been heavily monetized most certainly discounted merit. We are thankful that the election process is gradually being cleaned up so that the voice of the electorate will count so as to begin to prioritize accountability and most certainly that will help.
We must revisit the structure of this country. A situation whereby we say we are a Federation but operate a Unitary system is not progressive. The imperatives of revisiting the revenue allocation procedure so as to return competition to the component units for rapid growth must be accepted. Whatever we do without restructuring is like continuing to add to an edifice that has a faulty foundation. It is ill advised. There are a few palliative schemes on offer such as the National Young Farmers Scheme, designed by the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) to spur the interest of the youths in Agriculture. NALDA is being resuscitated after close to twenty years of abandonment and therefore kudos must be given to the government. Also the Federal Government recently unveiled the registration portal for the N75 Billion Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF), thereby paving the way for interested young Nigerians between the ages of 18-35 years to apply with successful applicants scheduled to undergo five days of compulsory online training which is free. There are many such schemes particularly those unveiled by the Central Bank to enable the Country grapple with the challenges unleashed by the pandemic which is begging to be taken advantage of. All such funds no doubt will impact the situation of general want positively. But it is time to contemplate the establishment of unemployment benefit scheme. We would have no option but to be sequential in undertaking this because of its obvious budgetary implications. It is possible to start with post NYSC graduates looking for jobs.Our budgeting henceforth must also be pro poor. This will entail that allocations to the social sectors of Health and Education are considerably beefed up. For instance UNESCO recommends that 26% of the Budget should be allocated to Education but we currently barely do around 5% illustrating the extent of gap required to be bridged.
It is easy for us to claim that we do not have the funds to commence the payment of unemployment benefits but the current situation for any progress to be made and to avoid future protests would require that some hard choices will have to be made. In the first place the fight against corruption must be intensified and fought with all the strength we can command. The leakage to the treasury and the diversion of business to neighboring countries arising from unbridled corruption is unbelievable and a determined attempt must be made to plug the drainage. This matter is so serious that it calls for efforts in the direction of an ethical reorientation campaign to be embarked uponfuriously by the National Orientation Agency. Two states in the Federation have recently contemplated the stopping of unsustainable pension schemes approved for past governors and deputy governors of their states. More of such cost saving measures are required including revisiting salary scales at some establishments in the country that are grossly misaligned with salary scales elsewhere; if for nothing else as a demonstration that we are appreciative of the prevalent reality. There is no doubt that if we can muster the political will that we should be able to commence sustainable action in this regard. Whatever we do now, we must not allow the regretful and painful experience of #ENDSARS protests go to waste.
Dr. Boniface Chizea is an economist and Managing Consultant, BIC Consultancy Services.