The #EndSARS protests in Nigeria had the direct result of some government action on police reform, and the setting up of panels to investigate cases of police brutality and offer justice for victims and their families. Of course, we still need to track these actions and ensure that they translate to sustainable results. But as I mentioned in Part 1, the #EndSARS protests also had many roots related to bad governance and corruption. To address these issues, we need to use the political mechanism, so all signs point to the 2023 general elections. The five lessons from the protests (discussed in part 2) will form the context for this third and final part, where I suggest what our next steps should be.
Background to the Nigerian Political System
(NB: Scroll down to skip ahead to the next steps)
There are over 90 registered parties in Nigeria, but only two – the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – have dominated politics since the return to democracy in 1999. This is symptomatic of the first-past-the-post voting system we use in Nigerian presidential elections, where all that is needed to win is a simple majority (plurality) of votes. To illustrate how high this dominance is, in the 2019 presidential elections the APC and PDP collectively gained 26,454,825 votes (96.8%), while the People’s Coalition Party (PCP) came a distant third with only 107,286 votes (0.4%).
What is more, these two dominant parties are quite difficult to distinguish from each other. One reason for this is that there are no distinct ideologies to separate them, as you have in other countries like the US (Republican vs Democrat) or the UK (Labour vs Conservative). Another thing that makes it difficult to distinguish these parties from each other is the mass defections in Nigerian politics. It is common to see people defect from one party to the other in large numbers prior to elections. Indeed, sometimes after a few years these same people are back to their original party, or have defected to yet another party. This indicates how many parties in Nigeria have no distinct ideologies, and are simply used as mechanisms to propel people into power.
Another characteristic of the Nigerian political system is godfatherism. Many parties have little to no internal democracy. Godfathers have considerable influence in not just selecting which candidate will be given the ticket to run in a particular party, but also in ensuring that the candidate gets elected. Examples are Bola Tinubu in Lagos State and Adams Oshiomhole in Edo State (although the recent Edo State governorship election, where the people fiercely rejected Oshiomhole’s hand-picked candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, may have ended godfatherism in the state).
Additionally (and perhaps most importantly), our elections do not work as they should. Elections are marred by vote buying, ballot box snatching, multiple voting, voter intimidation, election violence, and other forms of malpractices. There have been efforts at electoral reform and improving the electoral process, but we are not there yet. Our elections are not completely free and fair, and everyone knows this.
All these features have contributed to a high level of voter apathy, with only about 35% of Nigerians coming out to vote in the 2019 general elections – the lowest in Nigeria and across Africa.
Women and Youth in Governance
The National Gender Policy, which was adopted in 2006, expresses a commitment to having a minimum threshold of women in public and elective offices by pursuing 35% affirmative action in favour of women. The popularly known ‘Not Too Young To Run’ Bill, which was signed into law in 2018, reduced the age of running for elective positions in the House of Assembly and House of Representatives from 30 to 25 years old, Senate and Governorship from 35 to 30 years old, and Presidency from 40 to 30 years old.
But these laws and policies have not resulted in much change (although it might be too early to assess the impact of the Not Too Young To Run Bill). The number of women in elective offices is just 4.17%, and the number of youth in elective offices is less than 1%. What we have in Nigeria is close to a tyranny of the minority, where youth (over 70% of the population), and women (almost 50%) have been marginalised almost completely. The #EndSARS protests have reawakened our consciousness, so now is the time to fight against this marginalisation.
What Can We Do?
Based on my analysis of the five lessons from the protests, I suggest five next steps we can take.
1. Get involved in the political process.
The long-term causes of the #EndSARS protests – bad governance and corruption in Nigeria – can only be addressed if we get involved in the political process. This can happen in at least three ways: joining a political party, working or volunteering for a civil society organisation (CSO), and voting during elections.
Joining a political party
Since the #EndSARS protests, there have been talks of forming a new youth party (even though there are already at least three youth parties already registered, but no one seems to know about them). Do we need a new youth party? I don’t know. What is the likelihood that a youth party, or indeed any other party, will overhaul the APC and the PDP in 2023? I also don’t know. But I do know that we need to get involved, and we will never know the extent of change we can make unless we try. Even if no third party wins in 2023, they can start to lay the foundation in the hopes getting there in the near future.
To be sure, I am not necessarily endorsing a youth party, or saying that you should not join any of the dominant parties (APC and PDP) if you want to. The point I am trying to emphasise is that choice is an essential part of a healthy democracy. We have a choice beyond these two parties, and we should utilise it. So I think what I am trying to say is that you should do an independent review of the parties, find out which one is best suited to your ideologies, and join it – whether it is APC, PDP, or another party.
The truth is that for too long, we have shied away from politics with the common saying that ‘politics is a dirty game’. But if we keep saying that, then it will remain a dirty game. As Edmund Burke aptly recognised, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. If all the good people stay away from politics because it is too dirty, then we are really in trouble. Change will not come unless we get involved.
And joining a political party does not mean that you have to run for office. There are numerous other things you can do if you join a political party, including volunteering to conduct research to develop party policies and strategies, and voting during national conventions.
Working or volunteering for a CSO
Civil society organisations (CSOs) typically exercise indirect influence on the electoral process through methods such as research, advocacy, and sensitisation campaigns. A good example is YIAGA Africa which, together with other youth organisations, caused the Not Too Young to Run Bill to be passed. Examples of CSOs that carry out work on elections are: Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Kimpact Development Initiative (KDI), Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), and The Electoral Hub. If you are interested, you can check out the websites of these organisations and look out for job vacancies or volunteering opportunities.
Voting during elections
If with everything I have said, you are still not convinced to join a political party or a CSO, then the very least you can do is get your permanent voter’s card (PVC) and vote in the next election. The gist is that we cannot afford to stay on the sidelines – we must get involved!
2. Find out what parties and organisations are doing to ensure women and youth inclusion.
The #EndSARS protests have revealed the potential of women and youth, who showed the example of good governance with the high level of transparency and accountability in the receipt and distribution of funds (something our Presidents and Governors have consistently failed to do, as exemplified by the hoarding of COVID-19 palliatives). This shows how important it is to include women and youth in governance.
So if you join a political party or CSO, find out what they are doing to ensure women and youth inclusion. If it is one of the newer parties, you might be able to have a stronger influence in shaping the strategy of the party. When you attend their question and answer sessions, ask them these questions. We need to make sure that these issues are being addressed squarely.
A point I want to clarify here is that it is not enough to have young and female candidates – they must also be people with capabilities. Imagine how embarrassing it will be if after everything, young people get into power and destroy the country even further. So let’s not stop at saying women and youth should be included in governance. We should also be saying that: (a) women and youth with capabilities should be included in governance (and we know that there are many who possess these capabilities); and (b) elected officials (including men, women, and youth) should be held accountable to us once they are elected.
3. Go on sensitisation campaigns.
The #EndSARS protests showed that we are more powerful when we are united. Again, inclusion and representation are critical here. We need to go on sensitisation campaigns, especially in marginalised communities. Those would-be thugs, we need to get them on our side, because the ‘woke’ generation cannot make this change alone. The #EndSARS protests started online and even when they graduated to physical protests, critical information was shared online. But what about people who are not on social media, or those who do not have regular access to the internet? We must include them. Almost half of Nigerians live in rural areas, which makes sensitisation campaigns in these areas important. We need to get as much of the 70% of Nigerian youth as we can, including those from different ethnic groups, different socio-economic backgrounds, and different literacy levels.
To illustrate how sensitisation campaigns can help to prevent conflict, watch this heart-warming video where youth abandon their intention to loot a property after a soldier reasons with them.
4. Mobilise people around you to get involved.
We have established that laws only work when there is widespread compliance. This shows that our power is in our numbers. It was definitely not the entire 70% of Nigerian youth that came out to protest, yet we still made our voices heard both home and abroad. Imagine how much more we can achieve if we mobilise even more youth to join us. As you are joining parties and CSOs, registering to vote, and going on sensitisation campaigns in marginalised communities, also mobilise people around you to get involved. You can influence your people like your peers, school mates, co-workers, and family members to get involved.
5. Utilise social media to raise awareness.
It is widely accepted that social media is an immensely powerful tool, and this was further demonstrated during the #EndSARS protests. We can also utilise social media to raise awareness about these issues and encourage others to get involved. Essentially, we need to make noise online in order to reach as many people as possible.
Again, we also need to fight against the Social Media Bill, through which the government is trying to stifle our freedom of expression. We cannot let them take this powerful tool away from us. SERAP has threatened to sue the National Assembly if the Social Media Bill is passed. We can also contribute by continuing to express our discontent over the Bill, and hopefully the negative public opinion will be enough to get it dropped.
Ultimately, you might think that these steps will not yield results because Nigeria is a broken system and we’re just wasting our time. I get that, and trust me, I’ve been there. But it is exactly that kind of sentiment that will stop us from making progress. I would like to reiterate Burke’s statement that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. If there is only one thing you take away from this series, it should be that we all need to get involved. Join a political party. Join a CSO. Raise awareness in any way you can. Make noise on social media. And even if you cannot influence anyone else, at the very least, please get your PVC (if you don’t already have one) and vote!
More in this series:
- #EndSARS Part 1: Seven Stages of the Protests in Nigeria
- #EndSARS Part 2: Five Lessons From the Protests in Nigeria
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