The episode that has been #EndSARS has already been a big deal for civic engagement in Nigeria’s history since independence. The nature of the whole movement told young Nigerians a lot about themselves that was either previously unknown or just untapped. With the harrowing experience of the past week, however, and how awry things turned after, we must now ask some hard questions of ourselves and our society at large.
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It is no secret that poverty is Nigeria’s greatest Achilles’ heel but too many times in official and unofficial circles, it seems that fact has been underplayed. Simply put, people quote the poverty stats but do not realize just how harrowing the poor man’s life is on these streets. That is why we are usually perplexed that some are willing to commit unthinkable atrocities for the man who commits to giving them only their next meal. Each election, the more privileged and well-off among us are reminded of their existence. Until the events of the past two weeks, many just never had considered their involvement as tools in the hands of our unscrupulous political class.
Maybe it was naiveté or just the fact that the nature of #EndSARS protests was too spontaneous for people to care but we should have known that in a democracy, everyone gets a say somehow and anyhow. For a fact, the majority of our people are poor and for much of their existence, their interactions with politics have been purely transactional. You may turn up your nose at them but consider things from their perspective for a bit.
Most “thugs” are born poor in poor neighbourhoods and districts in our cities and for them, education is a luxury that their parents cannot afford to give them. Either that or the education they are likely to get is not even good enough to ensure their escape from poverty. Indeed, a destitute life is not something anyone of them would ordinarily choose and thuggery is but a survival skill in the streets where they have been exposed so much in the way of violence from an early age.
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Many join violent cult groups just to have a sense of belonging to something conducive to their immediate environment. They are fully aware of the fatal consequences thereof and have made their peace with it. In plain terms, they know death is coming for them anyway and they do not mind anymore as long as a few of their killers come along too. In many of the poorer districts of Lagos and many other cities in Nigeria’s south, it is not uncommon to witness real-life violent cult clashes and usually, people die.
When we hear about street fights and cult clashes, we turn up our noses in disgust or sometimes mutter “ehya” half-heartedly to ourselves and carry on. Somewhere in our minds, we write them off just like the politicians do. The difference is that politicians engage them on a sinister and familiar level, speaking a language they love to hear-money and violence. If we are going to change the way this country is governed, part of the dirty work will have to do with engaging these forgotten people in our societies. If democracy is a game of numbers, they will always be a factor for those that aim to win.
We must set about showing them what is possible outside of the life they have become accustomed to. We cannot afford to think we can leave them behind in our quest for a better deal for our country. Many of them are young as the rest of us and can still make something of themselves. In this episode, our political class has thrown the usual trump cards at us and have failed. The only weak link has been “thugs” who have been given to sabotaging their future for money simply because they do not think it exists. We need to do something that the average politician who uses them won’t- give them something to live for. Poverty affects us all whether you identify as poor or not. We are in this together.
Featured Image Source: Independent Newspapers NG
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