In Nigeria’s youthful protests, calls for accountable leadership endure despite harsh crackdowns
In the wake of on-going protests against police brutality and push for reform within the government, and heavy-handed responses from security forces across the country, Nigeria has come into the global spotlight. Thousands of Nigerians – led by mostly young people – continue to urge for more accountability from the government, lawmakers and police leadership. During the week of October 19th, reports emerged of security forces in Nigeria responding with force. The escalation shocked many in Nigeria and beyond.
As we reached out to various members of our community living and working in Nigeria, many shared a belief that current events in the country represent a tipping point. Below, we share the voices of four of these alumni.
An Awakening for Young Nigerians
“I was initially hesitant to join the protest,” says Moshood ’14, who joined protests in Lekki, where reports emerged that security forces had fired at protestors. “Like a lot of Nigerians; I had little hope that these protests would lead to any real change. Slowly, however, I got inspired to join. I was moved by the camaraderie amongst protesters from all backgrounds. Everyone spoke with one voice encouraging accountability for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and an end to the abuse of power by the police. Even more impressive was the way protesters took on responsibility for each other – with organisers making arrangements to provide meals, medical support, and legal aid.
I have also heard several people mention that being leaderless was a strategy; in truth, I saw no real leadership strategy in place – people were standing up and taking responsibility where they saw gaps. We witnessed political personalities turned away from the protest to ensure the integrity of the protests and our demands. To see the same protest ground at Lekki grounds, which I helped clean, become a place of violence for young people who had done nothing but show patriotism is disheartening.”
“We are not asking for much,” adds Adeyemi ’13. “All we are protesting for, is for our leaders to value our lives and hold the police to account. We live in a country where many things do not work, but we have remained committed to helping build Nigeria. We are simply asking that we are given a chance to do this without the threat of being killed. It’s a shame, then, that the government’s response has been to deepen our insecurity. We continue to engage, nonetheless, because we hope that this time our protests can help bring a significant change to Nigeria.”
Peaceful protests started with a focus on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, but have since evolved to a broader push for accountability and justice
Visions of An Ideal Nigeria
Several weeks ago Netflix released Journey of an African Colony, a docu-series about the untold stories and unsung leaders who helped establish an independent Nigeria. In the documentary, many of those interviewed shared the optimism and pride they had for Nigeria’s future. For many of Ashesi’s alumni in Nigeria, reflecting on the country sixty years after, expectations have been unmet. However, the optimism for many of them and their peers remains unbroken despite their experiences with many broken systems.
“I lost my mother two years ago because our healthcare systems couldn’t support her,” says Comfort ’17. “Like many others who cannot afford to travel out of the country for healthcare, the options for medical support can be grim. Our education systems are flawed, security is poor, and it often seems that our leadership is disconnected from it all. In the midst of all this, however, Nigerians continue to remain committed citizens; refusing to believe that this country cannot become better. An ideal Nigeria is one where you can become somebody without relying on “connections” to anybody – in the government, in industry, or elsewhere.
An ideal Nigeria is one where hustling young Nigerians can succeed without being concerned about security and where the government respects each person’s fundamental human rights. We want an ideal Nigeria where basic social amenities are at least provided at a standard level; where we can gain access to decent roads, excellent education, and adequate healthcare. Nigeria has resources that can last us for generations, yet we are barely scraping. A commitment to good and just leadership can change all of this. That is what this generation is asking for. That is what all those who have lost their lives over the last several days, wanted an opportunity for. And that is what those of us still here will continue to press for.”
As Nigerians around the world continue to protest for reforms across the country’s governance systems, many see a window of opportunity that must be kept open. For Biola ’15, the protests represent an example of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.
“It is difficult to see how all this will end in this near-term,” he explains. “But we must believe that we deserve accountability from our leaders. This should be a protest we engage in across our lifetime; wherever we see a lack of care for citizens and Nigeria as a whole. We have become so used to the difficulties of living in Nigeria, that we sometimes do not realise that it shouldn’t be so. Many of my peers are actively working to leave the country. We should not accept this any more.
I want to live in a country where I don’t need to struggle so unduly to make ends meet. I should be able to have a decent income for myself and my family. We need basic things to work. These are requests that should not be beyond a country like Nigeria.”