End SARS: Social Action and Epistemic Justice
“The President hears a hundred voices telling him that he is the greatest man in the world. He must listen carefully indeed to hear the one voice that tells him he is not.” – Harry Truman
Social action is a proven gateway for citizens to voice or protest against what they see as political and economic injustices in any society. Such determined resistance is usually described by authoritarian rulers and the elite club, who most times do not give in to such demands, as “actions against the state”.
The End SARS movement provides a glimpse into successive leadership failures in the absence of a virile opposition. The campaign in no time took on a life of its own – as an ideologue for national rebirth. The actions of the indomitable youth across the country lifted the veil on corruption and police brutality. It has established itself as a movement impossible to ignore in our quest for authentic leadership and good governance. The campaigners are able, fearless, resourceful, well-coordinated and ceaseless in their efforts to arouse a new nationalism. It is an article of faith for citizen-led reforms, a call to raise a new class of competent and empathetic leaders, and engagement to fix politics. The movement purposefully campaigned against widespread police brutality and championed reforms for good governance. The movement carried the weight of the failure of successive governments to deliver on their promises to the people. They are risk-takers who defy ethnicity, religion and other political persuasions to prove that change is possible. They are revolutionaries who defy a decade of an oppressive policing system.
Effective and accountable police service is the bedrock on which peace, law and order are maintained. Therefore, public confidence in the police service (force) is of critical importance while government must also ensure that citizens’ constitutional rights are respected. Despite statements and promises by government officials on the initial demands by the protesters, it has become clear that there is a lack of concrete timelines and deliverable benchmarks, just as there is the absence of a well-crafted plan on police reforms.
Curiously, the cocktail of judicial postmortems into alleged police brutality across the country remains to be seen as a means of truth-telling and reconciliation for national healing from the unfortunate Lekki 20/10 incident. The pressure is on our leaders right now to rethink the current governance architecture in terms of inclusivity and sustainability in line with global standards. Regrettably, our political leaders have become prisoners of their own game of survival with a manifest military overhang vilifying progress.
It is of utmost concern and a sad spectacle that governors are acting more like seat warmers for their local and Abuja godfathers, rather than as stewards of the people they are meant to serve and have become astonishingly reckless in their pronouncements. They have shown that they lack the aptitude or responsiveness to handling protest, dissent, and reforms. The governors and their collaborators are ignorant of the pitfalls that lie ahead with the End SARS panel of inquiry and the divisive nation-building narratives across the political divide. The messages resonating from those in power smacks of irresponsibility because no proactive steps have been taken by the governors and the federal government on the resolution of the core issue of brutality and killing of innocent citizens beyond the tokenism of panels. Therefore, a critical stakeholder meeting and roadmap for addressing the demands to assuage citizens and the international community will be a welcome development.
A content analysis of the social media space puts the users at 3.8 billion, representing 50% of the global population, with an additional 1 billion internet users anticipated to come online in the coming years. The notion of business, politics and governance has taken a new significance and versatility in the digital age (Visual Capitalist, 2020). Indeed, the youth represent this transition with their ever-growing network of users. It should be noted that social media attracts a younger audience and the publicity for the movement remains vibrant. Social media will continue to shape the future of democracy in Nigeria, particularly in politics and governance. The latest bids by the Executive and the National Assembly to regulate the social media space as a means to combat fake news is likely to fail woefully if it is merely a smokescreen to stifle dissent. Recent events suggest that there is no room for inept leaders and authoritarian regimes masquerading as democrats.
From the perspective of the international protection of human rights and municipal law, the End SARS Lekki shooting raises grave questions about the violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions (and their additional protocols) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) concerning genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression, but also about the principles and procedures governing the international investigation and prosecution of these crimes. The crime of aggression (also known as a crime against peace) is a crime of the state, committed by high-level state agents and their agencies. Nevertheless, it also deals with the liability of individuals of such crimes, and the status of the perpetrator is irrelevant.
The soft power capabilities of the new media and citizen-to-government diplomacy, as tools for existential gatekeeping, is salutary. Going forward, the government should prioritise this relationship in understanding the nexus between social movements (such as street protests) and participatory democracy in the emerging global governance ecosystem and how it ties into the politics of restructuring over-bloated national and state assemblies and the mischievous and underperforming bureaucracy that supervises the criminal neglect of the masses in the face of state corruption by politicians and their collaborators.
Furthermore, the government must focus their creative energy on raising dynamic, innovative and principle-centred youths, who can drive positive and far-reaching transformation and social interventions that support transitions in the areas of knowledge-based education, entrepreneurship and civic participation in governance beyond the minimum effort of N-Power and other public work schemes.
One of the norms of liberal democracy is that it is shaped by various forms of protest, movements and civil disobedience against entrenched power structures. Yet the state often believes that civil movements are unreasonable whilst demonising their leaders as terrorists and destabilising agents of opposition parties. The government should instead focus on building strategic communication with the teeming youth through their key decision-makers and influencers with a view to fostering collaborative teams that work together seamlessly to resolve the demands (such as police and constitutional reforms) of the people.
The government must galvanise the youth as accountability partners for increased impact for national productivity. A sustained strategic conversation that will inspire trust and feedback mechanisms on government deliverables and policy implementation milestones will be a sweet-smelling bouquet that would assuage the people’s agitations.
Lastly, the Buhari government must learn how to engage by considering the consequences of today’s political leadership misadventures on tomorrow’s nation-building efforts. Sixty years of oppressive leadership, unprecedented propaganda and disinformation led to the socio-economic conditions that gave rise to End SARS. The End SARS campaign is an unfinished business.