By George Ibifubara Jumbo
Since the inception of civil protest and youth activism leading to Nigeria’s independence, the youths involved in driving this process from past to present day Nigeria have been our real heroes in demanding for social change.
The history of Nigerian youth activism demanding for social change are in most instances like the stories of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. And in some instances these Nigerian youth activism can also be likened to hearing of procrastinated stories in the biblical land of Canaan in the bible that never translated to tangible outcomes.
These stories can also be likened to an unassuming youthful hero in a dysfunctional evil world boldly confronting insurmountable challenges and demanding social changes from an autocratic and dictatorial leadership. Unfortunately, past and present events clearly reveal that Nigerian youths are yet to attain the level of political participation or inclusion that would enable them significantly translate their desire quests into tangible gains for Nigerians in general.
Nigeria’s precolonial history clearly reveals that Herbert Macauley, Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, H.O. Davis, Ahmadu Bello, Samuel Akintola, Obafemi Awolowo and several notable independence agitators were in their early 20s and 30s when they were protesting and agitating for social changes and independence.
It’s important to note that these youths in their era were the driving proponents that instigated the nationalists movements which led to the eventual dismantling of colonialism and military rule. The first Nigerian political party known as Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) was formed by youth activism during the colonial era.
Through youth activism, genuinely protesting for social change and justice, several political forums were established to create awareness of the adverse consequences of foreign domination and the urgent need for constitutional reforms. Ultimately, the dogged and focused tenacity of these youths during the precolonial era eventually lead Nigeria into attaining independence from British colonial administration on 1st October 1960.
Thereafter and particularly during military junta rule, its was youths’ Activism, demanding for social change and equitable justice that served as the propelling catalyst that eventually paved way for civil democratic rule.
The Nigerian students’ Union, Campaign for Democracy, The Civil Liberties Organisation, The Nigerian Labour Unions, The Committee for The Defence of Human Rights and many other notable youth organisations were some of the youth organisations that fought gallantly against brutal military and dictatorial high handedness. These same youths took to our streets protesting and demanding for social change and end to military rule despite obvious reprisal brutal repression by our military dictators in power.
Interestingly, Nigerian Youth Activism demanding for enduring social change and justice have for decades been the proponent catalyst driving the process behind most of these protests and agitations.
In the recent past of Nigeria’s checkered history and especially soon after Nigeria’s return to democratic rule, our youths have been relegated to the unenviable positions of party campaign supporters, and political thugs responsible for instigating violence and dishonestly manipulating election results. Initially, the agitation for resource control of the rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria were at best an ordinary civil and communal campaign. However, with desperate greed commonly associated with Nigerian political intrigues, this harmless Niger Delta agitation for resource control has since transformed into a violent armed militant struggle that gave birth to several disparate youth militia organisations. Consequently, the rise of these militia organisations and how our political elites have subsequently managed the entire process to serve their selfish political interest, has precipitated the eventual emergence of unprecedented insecurity, violent kidnappings, ritual killings, communal and ethnic wars that has since pervaded the entire country.
Extensive research, especially as it relates to Nigerian Youth Activism as a catalyst to social change found out that the infiltration of devious political elites, political organisations with selfish ulterior motives, misplaced focus and indigent command of events have contributed in converting our young heroes into the worst perpetrators of violent crimes in Nigeria. Presently, Nigeria is still grappling with the painful reality of kidnappings, orchestrated by the one time youths agitating for resource control in the Niger Delta.
However, It’s worthy to note that passionate young people of any era and in different locations round the globe are usually the impressive catalyst for social change. Young American youths were instrumental to social change during the momentous era of the civil right movement in America.
These youths in their determined quest and dogged drive for social change and justice ensured that American school were completely desegregated, civil rights legislation promulgated and draconian Jim Crow laws abolished. Some of the youthful and notable civil rights icons who made their mark in this regard are Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and Representative John Lewis of blessed memories. According to Late Rep John Lewis, Youth Activism and protest can be likened to “good trouble- fearless agitation designed to provoke, challenge and move progress forward.”
Whilst Late Dr Martin Luther King Jr anchored his believe on youth activism in one of his memorable quote- “The Ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” The African American civil rights struggles instigated by their youths, like Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King Jr are no different from our oppressive and retrogressive situation back here in Nigeria.
The only exception is that the African American civil rights leaders stayed on course and were more than determined to sacrifice their lives to achieve their ultimate goals. Whilst Nigerian youths demanding for social change have constantly deviated from the ultimate goal to become multi billionaires.
Asari Dokubo and Dino Melaye were one time youth activists involved in agitating and protesting against the federal military and civilian governments of Nigeria. Today they have been silenced by extreme wealth handed to them by top government officials, whilst the poverty stricken masses on which they rode to become billionaires are still worse off.
The current campaign by Nigerian youths to End SARS can only serve as a tangible catalyst for real social change when there are genuine purpose and determined intent; a determined focus; a well coordinated and organised structure, consolidated political will power and most importantly for the youths to realise that ultimate power belongs to the people.
Once purposeful genuine intent and sincere discipline are allowed to supersede greed, selfish interest, tribalistic sentiments and avarice, then we can be rest assured that the Nigerian youth activism can eventually become the instrumental catalyst that would ensure the requisite social change Nigeria earnestly deserves.