There has possibly not been a worse time to be Nigerian in recent history. Since President Muhammadu Buhari came into power, first in 2015, and in earning a second term last year, the country has witnessed its most consistent economic downturn since the return to democracy. With its interventionist habits, the government has exacerbated the economic issues with increases in the rate of foreign exchange, tax, fuel, and electricity. In this time, young Nigerians have migrated en masse reading the writing on the wall that the country’s future is doomed. The protests triggered by frustration with a rogue police unit notorious for terrorizing young Nigerians served as a filter to express dissatisfaction with a failing government but also offered an opportunity for a government that has frittered away the goodwill it earned to regain the trust of its people.
Instead, what followed was more of the familiar themes: ignorance, paying lip service to agitations, empowering thugs to fight these battles and the deployment of weapons in a bid to neuter peaceful protesters. Yesterday, when Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the sugar baby Governor of Lagos State announced a statewide curfew to commence at 4 pm with the threat “Nobody, except essential service providers and first responders must be found on the streets,” the game was clear. The government who has shown a lack of creativity in responding to the protests was seeking to legitimize their use of the military: a force it has taken pleasure in weaponizing. After announcing the curfew, at short notice at a time when the protests have limited economic activity, the government deployed its agents to remove the surveillance cameras that surround the toll gate. The billboards which are owned by the son of the godfather who owns the toll gates were also conveniently turned off. Army trucks were then set loose to shoot at peaceful protesters who were staying put at the protest base – the Lekki toll gates. If any proof was needed on why the government’s response has been viewed cynically, this was it. In doing so, they underestimate the spirit behind the agitations. The protests were not borne of malice, they were inspired by a desire to see a country that takes so much from its citizens fix-up. It was for leaders who take pride in describing the country’s young population as “lazy youths” to understand that a generation they have denigrated is not motivated by selfish interests but are in need of something resembling a system that works that they can make sense of. They can turn off their cameras and lights but our smartphones will illuminate in darkness.
One takeaway from this episode is that we were correct not to trust our oppressors or pay attention to their lip service of panels promising reforms. There’s a trust deficit that exists between the governors and the governed, and for it to be fixed the burden lies on those in power to use their actions to prove that the cynicism is unjustified. It’s also representative of the responsibility we have to fight back harder. Bullies are at their weakest when their victims summon the courage in themselves to fight back. We must fight back for all our friends whose lives were lost in the quest for better. We must remember how we felt as we watched those live feeds on Instagram of peaceful protesters struggle to find a balance between taking out bullets and bleeding to death. We must remember how we felt as we saw gun-wielding soldiers take on protesters as they sang the anthem of a country that does not merit the love and sacrifice it requests of its citizens. We must remember how we felt as we saw the iconic image of the blood-stained Nigerian flag and took in its potency as a metaphor for state-sanctioned violence by a government asked to fulfill the change it had anchored its campaign on. As we reflect on our next line of action, those images should play in our minds reminding us why this fight is one we must win.