#EndSARS — The ones we didn’t see.

Hi there!

Ever read an article that just sort of jarred you? Made you restless with thought? Left you asking more questions than it answered? This was me about a month ago after working through this Stears article titled “More than 30 million young Nigerians are idle and need something to do” (I promise they are not sponsoring this piece.)

Perhaps it was the number of zero’s that followed after the ‘3’ to make a whole “30 million” — How in the world do we get by with that number of youth, sitting idle?

In any case, here I am, with endless stretches of time to spare on my 1–week Christmas leave. And I couldn’t help myself, with one too many thoughts swirling around in my head, I needed some way to parse through them. I figured it was time I got around to writing a short reaction piece.

So here goes!

#1: Land of the Young

  • Let’s say you were to walk out your house and ask the first 4 random people you ran into — “Dear Stranger, how old are you?”. If your current GPS location ends with ‘XX, Nigeria’ then chances are very high that 3 of the 4 strangers you meet will be under the age of 35 years. Why? Because 3 out of every 4 Nigerians is under the age of 35. Gasp!
  • Nigeria is teeming with young folk! More specifically though, if we were to size up the entire population of ‘young folk’ (aged 15–35) in Nigeria, we’d be looking at → 95 million young’uns. Get this, the entire DR Congo is just shy of that number. Gather all of Nigeria’s youth in a room and ka-boom you have yourself an entire country!
  • But guess what? if I had been writing this on Dec 12, 2012, instead of Dec 12, 2021, that number would have been 64 million. That means each year since Dec 12, 2012, 3 million new Nigerian youthfuls came of age. May I petition we adopt a new national moniker? Swap out our title as an ‘oil-producing nation’ to an ‘oil & youth-producing nation?’

#2: Young and idle.

  • You may need to sit down to digest this one. So get this, Of those 95 million, only 30 million are actually a part of Nigeria’s labor force. (that leaves a whole 65 million youth who are missing in action from the labor force)
  • “Part of the labor force” is only intelligent linguafor those youth that are actually ‘willing and able to work’. Though 30 million pass as ‘willing and able to work’ the reality is that far fewer than 30 million are actually employed, like have an actual j-a-b.
  • You a fan of horror movies? Cause the next few lines are about to get grim. Let’s pick apart that 30 million further to see how Nigerian youths in the labor force are truly faring.
  • — — — → The total number of Nigerian youth that have a full time job? 11 million.
  • — — — → The total number of Nigerian youth working a part-time gig that may not pay enough to cover all their basic needs? 6 million.
  • — — — → So what happens to the remaining youth in the labor force? the whole 12 million lot of them? Doing next to nothing! — nuh’n.

Now you understand my mini-heart attack? When I read it, I had to fight off the urge to board a plane straight to Aso Rock to distribute copies of the article to every legislator in sight.

#3: Lucky Location

  • It just so happens that as a Nigerian youth your chances of making it into the 11million employed club depends A WHOLE LOT on what part of the country you reside in. This means being 24 year old in a place like Abuja (North Central) may mean suit and ties from Monday-Friday and movies with friends on Saturday, while being 24 years in Kano state (North West) may well mean pushing a wheelbarrow of fresh onions and tomatoes for shoppers in busy Kurmi market for your daily wages. (Also, notice how no single region has more than 30% of its youth employed?)
  • The very concept of ‘Nigerian youth’ as an undistinguished mass of young people is thus misleading, as life and work experiences are far from homogenous.

#4: EndSARS: Youth vs. Youth

  • That brings me to the #EndSARS movement of last year. The iconic Nigerian youth-led movement that peaked in early October 2020, in protest against the long track record of extrajudicial killings by the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). A movement that has become synonymous with unforgettable scenes of fraternity, resilience and astonishing creativity that’s rare in Nigerian civic life.
  • Despite all this, a sobering day for the movement came when an unruly group of vandals started destroying public property; smashing traffic lights, defacing ATMs and burning Bank branches. Ignoring clear calls for ‘peaceful’ protesting. Word on the street, however, soon surfaced claiming that these attacks were orchestrated by local touts (aka young people) paid off by politicians.
  • As most things surrounding the counter-response by the Gov’t to the protests, exact facts on who these agents were and who they were working for are still elusive.
  • But in light of the stark differences in livelihoods we’ve come to learn exists among Nigerian youth as a whole, perhaps we can glean some of the motivations that may have incited some of the young men (perhaps even women?) who sabotaged the movement with reckless violence. Did differences in their socioeconomic realities make them more eager to march to a different anthem from that of the peaceful protesters?
  • Perhaps more to the point, by virtue of its reliance on Social Media as a major rallying tool, did the #EndSARS movement unintendedly gloss over these important class distinctions among Nigerian youth? Were the protesters that congregated on the streets of Lagos, Port Harcourt & Abuja really just those from the more privileged 11m with jobs that afforded them a Smartphone and data to follow all the trending chatter around #EndSARS on Twitter, Instagram & WhatsApp?
  • Could the ‘#EndSARS movement have done more to include the mass of youth that exists largely ‘offline’?

None of these questions came close to mind last year, in the heat of the events surrounding #EndSARS but thumbing through this Stears article, I couldn’t keep from reflecting back to ask some of these questions out loud.

Should future injustices demand that Nigerian youth hit the streets again, we know now that finding creative and strategic ways to rally support from our more ‘socially invisible’ peers should be critical to our agenda.

Alrighty! That’s it for today folks!

Cheers to having you on the journey to uncovering more thought-provoking conversations,

Signing out,

Nchy.

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