December 4, 2022
News Politics Uncategorized

Youth, Politics and the Future of Nigeria, By Ololade Bamidele – Premium Times

  • October 28, 2021
  • 34 min read
Youth, Politics and the Future of Nigeria, By Ololade Bamidele – Premium Times

From the case studies examined, what have been achieved and what is on track to be achieved, very soon Nigerian youths will be the leaders of today, not tomorrow, in conformity with global best practices and trends.
A ‘Tomorrow’ that Was Used Up Yesterday?
There is a hackneyed, even if eternally true, aphorism that proclaims the youths as the “leaders of tomorrow”. This ordinarily ought to brook no contradiction, in the contemplation of reality as governed by the natural laws of succession, in which one generation plays out its role and yields the stage for another, as a way of advancing the course of the human experience. Well, maybe not as much in Nigeria. Here, there appears the notion of a divine right to leadership, which transcends the categories of time, and persists among a coterie, a ‘chosen’ breed, even in the face of changing norms and times.
Questions around leadership, the provenance of those able to aspire to, attain and exercise it, have captured some of the most vexing and disturbing concerns in Nigeria today, as it did in recent decades. Yet, could there really be a divine right to leadership, which has fossilised, and remains the same through time, despite the changing nature of society, its needs and demographic constitution? Or maybe there is a different force-field driving this notion of leadership, which has a class character or relates to some sort of elite consensus? How much of this could be said to have defined and restricted the participation, and then representation, of youths in governance in Nigeria, while also inspiring various acts of resistance to this status quo?
Perhaps a fair insight into what impels youth angst in relation to politics and political participation in present-day Nigeria can be summed up in an anecdote that was once popular in the country’s social media space. Without the following being the exact words, it went – in paraphrase – somewhat like this: “They say the youths are the leaders of tomorrow, yet when I was born, General Muhammadu Buhari was the president of Nigeria. Now, 35 years after, he is still the president; and so have many in his generation been – they were in leadership yesterday, are there today, and are also likely to remain there in the future; as such, how much of a tomorrow, as leaders, do the Nigerian youths really have?” Could this be a tomorrow that was used up yesterday?
While the steady progression of time is, no doubt, about to ease out a generation that has clung tightly to political power since the dawn of Independence from British colonial rule in 1960, and occasioned various manifestation of distortions, culminating in a civil war and break out cycles of authoritarian rule, there is now greater evidence that the playbook of political power and participation can no longer remain the same.
If anything, it is clear that the youths of Nigeria are intent on no longer being bystanders in the fare of governance and how their country is being run, particularly within the purview of the sustained failing of an older citizenry or power elite that has been described as a “Wasted Generation” (Soyinka: 1986). Contrary to the earlier aphorism, the youths no longer want to be leaders of tomorrow, but those of today.
The recent expressions of youth discontent through public dissent, as exemplified in the #EndSARS protests of 2020, also loosely connected to a previous, yet highly structured rally towards political advantage, evident in the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign, offer striking instances of the more recent political determination of the youths to take their engagement with Nigeria more seriously.
Who Are the Youths?
Before setting out on this enquiry, it would the necessary to offer some clarifications on the primary concept of the study. This pertains to the notion of ‘youth’; and hence, what could be described as constitutive of the band of demography regarded as the youth, and more specifically, the Nigerian Youth?
Across the slew of usage, it is obvious that the concept of ‘youth’ is defined within the frame of differing sociological perspectives, which could also depend on cultural contexts. For instance, in some African cultures, “…one would remain a youth until one is married and/or has a paid job to meet personal and extended family responsibilities, or is able to move out of the family house…” (YIAGA Africa, 2019b).
However, in terms of more formal institutional definitions, for the purposes of regional and national policy-making and planning, a more age-based definition have been considered, for the statistical delineation of demography, even if these are at times overlapping. For the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), youths are those within the ages of 15 and 35, as likewise recognised in the African Youth Charter; while the United Nations considers the youth as people in the age band of 15 to 24, although the UN equally gives allowance for national contexts to guide the definition of those within this category. In Nigeria, the National Youth Policy of 2009 defines the youth as those between the ages of 18 and 35 years.
Further to this, the notion of youth could also be inclusively or exclusively defined, particularly across national lines, with the inclusive outlook accounting for all residents within the delineated demography, whilst the exclusive definition considers only the citizens of a country. In this regard, it has been observed (YIAGA Africa, 2019b) that Kenya and South Africa offer inclusive definitions of youth, whereas the youth mapping done by Nigeria and Sierra Leone relates essentially to citizens.
In the noted regards, the South African youth policy sees the youth as “young people falling within the age group of 14 to 3 years…”, and for Kenya, they are “persons resident in Kenya in the age bracket of 15 to 30 years.” On the more restrained side, the Nigerian youths are “…Young males and females aged 18-35 years, who are citizens of the Republic of Nigeria…”, while for Sierra Leone, the youths are “…Sierra Leonean males and females between the ages of 15 and 35.”
However, for the purpose of this lecture, the notion of youths will appeal to the outline offered by the National Youth Policy of 2009 as young people within the ages of 18 and 35.
A Demography On the March
Youths have constituted the most significant subcategory of growth in the Nigerian demography, since the early decades of the twentieth century. They have consistently accounted for over 40 per cent of the entire population (Statista), which points to one of the largest youth bulges in the world, in relation to other segments of the general population.

In Nigeria, these swelling numbers ought to be a source of huge demographic dividend, from the productivity capable of being unleashed by a greater youth population engaged in economic activities, growing the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and enhancing human development as a whole. Yet, conversely, the rise of unfortunate anti-social behaviours and adverse manifestations from the increasing activities of youths has shown that this demographic bulge could not necessarily be an essential asset to society (Omoju and Abraham, 2014).
The population of youths in Nigeria has been growing in leaps in the past decades on the back of high fertility rates, poor family planning choices, and lowering death rates. The country has one of the highest average birth rates in the world, ranking tenth in this regard between 2010 and 2015.
Nigeria is the seventh most populous country on earth, and with an estimated population of over 200 million people that is still growing at a rate close to 3 per cent per annum, the country’s population is primed to double and reach over 400 million by 2050, which is barely 30 years away.
Rather disconcertingly, with the national economy having been also growing, more or less, at about 3 per cent, prior to the advent of the global coronavirus pandemic that has accentuated the fast unravelling of the Nigerian economy, whatever gain could have been made on the fiscal front, was easily undermined by the unbridled surge of the population.
Now, with the country’s economic outlook still making faltering steps out of a negative growth territory, towards projections oscillating around a 1 per cent (IMF, 2020; World Bank, 2021) growth for the next one to two years, this speaks in grimmer accents about national prospects, particularly within the purview of the onward march of the population.
How can this be resolved? It leads back to the central notion that “politics is fate”, as the nature of politics determines the trajectory of human development – how society is governed, and how public resources are allocated in efficient manners that guarantee progress, and meet the needs of demographics such as youths, while equally promoting inclusion in access…
The earlier population outlay is equally noted to have grown disproportionately between the urban and rural centres in the past 50 years, with the urban population attaining an average annual growth rate of 6.5 per cent, resulting from expanding infrastructural development, and the increasing liveability of Nigerian cities (Duruiheoma, 2005).
Despite its potentials, the youth demography in Nigeria, as in many parts of Africa, presents a most potent cause for worry, when considered in terms of an environment in which the population – essentially a swelling young one – is experiencing an upsurge that outstrips the rate of economic growth, as outlined above.
This view is complicated by the obvious deficiencies in which Nigeria tends to manage these dual growths, as the economy remains in deep woods with the bottoming out of the price of oil – the country’s main foreign revenue earner, which impacts massively on the size of the reserves that sustain Nigeria’s import-dependent economy. And, as the much-touted strides towards diversification from a mono-product economy, projected as spurring enormous growth for increased social provisioning, remains largely in the realm of rhetoric.
Equally, national investments in the wellbeing of the public, especially that of the expanding youth bulge, whether on the level of healthcare, education or nutrition, alongside other social safety nets, have been grossly inadequate. Education is essentially linked to the development of capacities for employment and the attainment of meaningful and decent livelihoods. Yet, the paucities in robust national training opportunities that have tallied up in the cumulative underemployment, or even non-employability of the youths, can only bode ill for the society.
This is more disturbing as we live in an era defined by great change and the disruption of everything that has been normative, hence the lack of requisite education for the attainment of future-ready capabilities sets the stage for some of the great conflicts of the future, which will emanate from huge scarcities and the unmet needs of the youths. These will be conflicts derived from deficits in productivity, having the lack of material provisioning for human sustainability as the unfortunate fallout.
How can this be resolved? It leads back to the central notion that “politics is fate”, as the nature of politics determines the trajectory of human development – how society is governed, and how public resources are allocated in efficient manners that guarantee progress, and meet the needs of demographics such as youths, while equally promoting inclusion in access – of the female, alongside different social groups like the elderly, the disabled, and others.

Youths and Political Participation In Nigeria
It accedes to barely any contestation that youths have played important and significant roles in the social and political organisations of society across the various nationalities and groups in Nigeria, from the historic to more recent times. These roles have straddled the pre-colonial to colonial and post-colonial periods, with continuities and variations to different extents.
The various indigenous systems of governance in place through traditional institutions, while differently constructed from the more modern constitutionally recognised governmental structures, were principally utilised in the administration of people in earlier times (Akinrinde and Omitola; 2020).
These created and allowed for salient roles for the youths who, in such a representative sample as the Hausa society, performed these according to the determination of systems of authority at the ward, district and emirate levels (for instance, under the Mai Gida). Similar roles were carried out through different age grade associations and the general assemblies in Igbo communities, and through the Egbe Odo or youth wings in the Yoruba system (ibid; 2020).
In the succeeding colonial period, much of the nationalism informing the campaigns and struggles of a range of actors and institutions against imperialism, and towards decolonisation, found expression in the activities of youths. These, in turn, led to the rally of youths, which dovetailed into political mobilisation and organisation, the formation of movements, and thereafter the quest for political power in the newly independent country.
Some of the youth movements formed leveraged on the political insights availed to African youths who had gone to seek the Golden Fleece in a place like England, who then came together to establish an omnibus West African Students Union (WASU) in August 1925. This Union, which catered for students from countries across the subregion, and sensitised them about the ills of imperialism, while serving as a pressure group for the protection of their interests, had in its membership such notable Nigerians as Herbert Macaulay and Julius Ojo-Cole, alongside the Ghanian, J.B. Danquah.

WASU subsequently succumbed to the forces of attrition and dispersal, yielding to the formation of other groups such as the Gold Coast Youth Conference in Ghana and the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) in Lagos.
As possibly the most prominent youth group of its time responding to anti-colonial nationalism, the NYM was founded in 1934, and had as leading lights the likes of Samuel Akinsanya, Eyo Ita, Adeyemo Alakija, and Kofo Abayomi, who was once its president. Also, Ernest Ikoli, who became its vice president; and H.O. Davies, its secretary. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Samuel Ladoke Akintola, were also members of the NYM at overlapping points.
While it had as crucial to its objective the fostering of political advancement and enhancement of the social and economic wellbeing of Nigerians, it was equally reputed as being a multi-ethnic group that had a highly national outlook.
As it transmuted into a political party that contested the 1938 elections into the Lagos Town Council, upsetting the dominance of Herbert Macaulay’s National Democratic Party in that election, the NYM served as forerunner for the emergence of other youth movements into political parties in the country. These included the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in 1944; the Action Group (AG) in 1950; the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) in 1950; and the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in 1949.
As such, most of the pre-Independence political parties engaging the likes of Anthony Enahoro, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, and Ahmadu Bello, were all previously youth movements involved in the anti-colonial struggle. And those mentioned, alongside many others, were youths who played pivotal roles in the emergence of what became independent Nigeria. As an instance, Anthony Enahoro was only 30 when he moved a motion for the independence of Nigeria in 1953.
Also, Aminu Kano was 30 when he founded NEPU, like Isaac Adaka Boro, who was in his late 20s when he formed the Niger Delta Volunteer Force to fight for the right of his people in the 1966.
Since the advent of Independence, youths within the political and governance space have had fairly complex, if not contradictory, roles that were both progressive and less than fortunate. They occupied both a messianic and destructive continuum.
The youths took over government from the colonial powers, and not only did they drive huge national advancement, in terms of human and infrastructural development, it was equally a youth, aged 29, Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, who led the first military coup on January 15, 1966. This became construed across a section of the country as some form of ethnic cleansing of Northern leaders, thereby setting loose the tide of recriminations that motivated the counter-coup of July 1966. This accentuated the slippery slide of Nigerian politics into the ethnic cauldron.
Moreover, the commercialisation of politics, which is now regarded as a business with anticipated returns and no longer primarily about public service, has put the political selection process at the discretion of merchants of power, the godfathers, who wield near absolute control over political party machineries and processes.
It was also youths who initially led the transition from civilian to military rule, in the coup immediately following the actions of Nzeogwu and his cohorts in January 1966. Power had then temporarily come into the hands of General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, till the July of that year.
Emergent upon the counter-coup of July 1966, it was a Nigerian youth, Major General Yakubu Gowon, in his early 30s, who became the Head of State, and led the country through a three-year civil war with the forces of the Republic of Biafra. Equally, governments headed by the youthful Generals, Murtala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo, had emphasised the uniqueness and greatness of Nigeria on the international scene.
In this period, many youths were more so in the frontlines of radical politics in the country, through the students’ union movement across many of Nigeria’s tertiary education institutions. Whereas the era of activism of Nigerian students had commenced in 1956, with the founding of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS), which also came after the unraveling of the West Africa Students Union (WASU), the unprecedented activist role of NUNS in the Ali-Must-Go protests of 1978, its subsequent banishment, and the setting up of the successor National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), positioned the country’s youths in the vanguard of progressive social action.
Yet, it was during the Second Republic, starting in 1979, that the frontline public roles of youths began to diminish, as the era of sit-tight leaders, who ironically arose to power in the First Republic as youths, began. Thereafter, youths were consigned to “youth wings” of political parties (Amzat and Abdullahi, 2016).
From then, the roles of Nigerian youths transformed into those of tools in the hands of the political elite, who have been using them as thugs and enforcers during violent electoral campaigns, and as agents of destabilisation through political violence, etc., ever since. Similarly, due to the angst that has surrounded the existence of many youths due to numerous failings of the state, they have also been associated with restiveness in areas such as the Niger Delta, and the South-East, whilst further distorted into the constructs of ‘area boys’, ‘agberos’, the ‘Yan Daba’ in other zones of the country. It has been pointed out that, essentially, it was the deployment of youths as vectors of violence that led to the termination of the First and Second Republics (Amzat and Abdullahi, 2016).
Despite the foregoing, some of the noblest roles played by Nigerian youths were those in the trenches as pushback against authoritarian military rule and the siege to freedom and human rights, during the years of the locust. From the activities of youth activists in the students’ union movement, civil society and professional groups, the media, etc., the Nigerian youths positioned themselves as a durable bulwark against oppression, in spite of the numerous consequences they bore for this.
#EndSARS and the youth#EndSARS and the youth
Factors Limiting the Political Participation of Youths
While youths have been observed as being the dominant demography in the Nigerian electoral process, constituting over 50 per cent of registered voters in the country (YIAGA Africa, 2018), and being highly instrumental to political change, nevertheless various factors have restricted their political participation in the past decades.
Besides being a sizeable voting bloc, they are still largely precluded from participating directly in the decision-making processes that comes with political representation. They are the voters who the system in place does not allow to be voted for, due to various restrictions they have encountered, from legal and political structures. In addition, they are excluded as significant beneficiaries of political decision-making, as their concerns are never the primary considerations of the political elite, after being voted into power.
The marginalisation and limited political participation of the Nigerian youth is evident in the facts that since the return of democracy to the country in 1999, referred to as the beginning of the Fourth Republic, the cabinets at the federal level have not been “youth-friendly”. Most of the members of the Federal Executive Councils have been older politicians, who had served in government in one form or another since the 1970s. The average age in the cabinets has been 50, with other members being in their 60s, and some in their 70s. Also, it has been noted that from 1999 to 2016, no Minister for Youth has been a youth (Amzat and Abdullahi, 2016).
In spite of having a National Youth Policy that lays out a very bold vision for harnessing the potentials of youths, and signposts how strategy could be built for empowering the demography to make far-reaching contributions to national development, yet no concrete role has been designed for youths to attain political power.
A number of the key factors hindering the political participation of youths have included poverty, resulting from the failure of the state to attend to the welfare of the people, which is the primary purpose of government. As such, the lack of adequate social provisioning for education, health and decent housing has put the youth at the disadvantage of being fundamentally distracted by existential issues.
However, when programmes and schemes are put together to tackle poverty, the persistence of corruption detracts these programmes from working optimally in achieving their desired objectives.
Linked to poverty is the unfortunate situation of youth unemployment, seeing many lacking access to the opportunities for providing meaningfully for themselves, and those who depend on them. As much as many youths are not trained enough to have skills that make them employable, others are yet routinely offloaded from tertiary institutions into non-existent labour markets, which were destroyed by the poor economic policies of government. This has served as basis for many in the political elite to consider youths as only being suitable for roles as political enforcers, purveyors of violence and other nefarious purposes.
Moreover, the commercialisation of politics, which is now regarded as a business with anticipated returns and no longer primarily about public service, has put the political selection process at the discretion of merchants of power, the godfathers, who wield near absolute control over political party machineries and processes. This has been an enduring form of restriction, requiring aspirants to tow the line of approval of these godfathers, as the main route to endorsement and political participation.
There are also the eligibility restrictions preventing youths from participation in the country’s political processes. In Nigeria, this had basically been viewed by a section of the youths in the form of the limitations for seeking political office on the basis of the age criterion. Before the amendment of the Nigerian constitution in 2018, the age requirement for those vying for the office of the President was 40 years; that of governor was 40 years; senator, 40 years; membership of the federal House of Representatives, 30 years; and the state Houses of Assembly, 30 years.
The contention here was that if the youths constituted the largest voting bloc in the country, and that according to the Constitution, the voting age is put at 18 years, signifying enough mental capacity and maturity for that particular decision-making, why then should the eligibility age for contesting political office be much different, appealing to a different criteria and signposting discrimination?
Essentially, as already reiterated, the youths can be a creative force championing innovation in politics and governance in society, but when they are alienated from politics and the decision-making process, they can equally be made to lend their skills and energies to illicit acts, such as electoral brigandage and violence.
At this point, I will contemplate two case studies that point to how the position of youths are impacting the political process, and what this portends for the future of Nigeria and its politics.
Crucial to the NTYTR movement’s argument is that youths have not only played a very significant role in the democratic development of Nigeria, but that if the Constitution recognises the age of eligibility to vote as 18 years, and then the age requirement to be voted for into elective office is 40 years, what the legal grundnorm has enabled is a partial franchise of the youths.
Not Too Young To Run and Re-negotiating Political Participation
An important case study signaling efforts being made for the reemergence of virile political participation by the youths of Nigeria, pertains to the Not Too Young To Run (NTYTR) movement and the amendment to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 that it inspired and attained. This has actually been prefigured in the prior section, but it would be elucidated upon presently.
The Not Too Young To Run movement is a coalition of over 100 youth and civil society groups seeking to mainstream youths into the process of electoral politics in Nigeria. Described as “Nigeria’s largest and most successful youth movement in recent times” for its highly painstaking, methodical and organised rally of political stakeholders and institutions of governance towards the attainment of its purpose, the movement considered an important entry point to renewed youth participation in electoral politics, as the cutting down of the age requirements for seeking elective offices in Nigeria, to promote greater inclusion.
Preceding 2016 when it commenced its advocacy, the age requirements for candidates to the office of the President was 40 years; for governorship, 40 years; membership of the Senate, 40 years; the federal House of Representatives, 30 years; and the state Houses of Assembly, 30 years also. For the movement, the acceptable age of candidacy allowing for better inclusion of the country’s youths in the political process and structures of decision-making, needed to be: for President, 30 years; State governor, 30 years; Senate, 30 years; the federal and state Houses of Assembly, 25 years.
Crucial to the NTYTR movement’s argument is that youths have not only played a very significant role in the democratic development of Nigeria, but that if the Constitution recognises the age of eligibility to vote as 18 years, and then the age requirement to be voted for into elective office is 40 years, what the legal grundnorm has enabled is a partial franchise of the youths. And this could only be discriminatory and unjust.
According to the NTYTR, greater youth participation in the electoral process is indicative of the development of the country’s democracy; and it is no longer just about serving as the basis for the electoral victory of others, but being able to participate in and win elections for themselves, and thereby having representation in structures of decision-making.
For the movement, it was about implementation of the fundamental right of political participation of Nigeria’s youths, who constitute more than 60 per cent of the population and 53 per cent of registered voter.
As it argued in it’s “MEMORANDUM On 
A Bill seeking to Reduce the Age Qualification for Contesting Elective offices in Nigeria”, which the NTYTR presented before the National Assembly:
Nigeria has one of the most youthful populations in the world with over 60% of its 170 million population as youth. According to the Inter-parliamentary Union Report on Youth Participation in National Parliament, 2016, countries with the highest youth population do not have the highest levels of youth representation; an anomaly that can be corrected through the enactment of laws that permit citizens to run for office at a younger age (2018: 1-2).
More so,
Structures of governance must be accessible to youth if they are to contribute to the development of their communities. This access is an enforcement of a right and not a privilege. It is also justifiable on the grounds that democracy thrives on the ability of citizens to enforce their rights to participate in decision-making through the expression of political aspirations and securing party candidature to run for office through democratic means (2).
In justifying the raison d’être for the bill it sponsored towards its legislative engagement process at the National Assembly, NTYTR stated that:
The constitutional amendment bill if passed will address the legal challenge posed to young people seeking to run in elections thereby guaranteeing inclusion in our political process. The amendment will not only create a level-playing field for young people, it will enhance the competitiveness of electoral politics in Nigeria due to the innovative, creative, dynamism and resourcefulness that youths bring to the electoral process. Further more, the Bill will deepen intergenerational dialogue, as more youths will gain access to the political process for more adult-youth engagement and partnership (6).
The journey towards the renegotiation of the space for the wider participation of youths in the Nigerian political process, started with the sponsorship of a constitutional amendment bill in May 2016, to remove the age restriction, by YIAGA Africa, a civil society platform run by the redoubtable duo of Samson Itodo and Cynthia Mbamalu, which was subsequently expanded into a mass youth movement, the NTYTR.
After a series of lobbies across actors and stakeholders in the national and state parliaments, and a march on the NTYTR National Day of Action, the National Assembly passed the age reduction bill in July 2017. Following this, 24 out of the 36 state houses of Assembly (a requirement for constitutional amendment in Nigeria) passed the bill on February 15, 2018. By March 1 of that same year, the constitutional amendments of 34 state houses of Assembly had been transmitted to the National Assembly, for onward transmission to the President for the last final stage of the constitutional amendment. On May 31, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the bill into law. Thereafter, the movement gave rise to another campaign, the Ready to Run, which is to inspire Nigerian youths to seek elective offices, going forward.
Yet, despite having won a very crucial victory for youth inclusion through a review of one of the legal requirements for seeking office, it is clearly still morning on creation day, and not yet Uhuru for the attainment of a climate of that fully enables the participation of youth in Nigerian politics, as there are still a number of stumbling blocks ahead.
The next stage is for the struggle towards the reformation of the political party process to promote internal democracy; to make the selection processes of candidates more transparent; to reduce the impact of money on politics, and to promote independent candidature, as an option for those willing to circumvent the strictures of political parties. There have also been suggestions for youth affirmative action, that political parties should reserve 50 per cent of their tickets young people, and that electoral reform should be expedited towards reducing the costs of securing party nominations and limiting campaign expenditures, which are main ways in which youths are still excluded from the political process, despite having removed the age limitation.
#EndSARS As Metaphor of Struggle for the Future
#EndSARS was an activism that took off as a series of mass protests across the country, in response to a composite of the experiences of Nigeria’s young people, who had suffered brutality in the hands of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigerian police.
What the #EndSARS protests have shown is the capacity of the Nigerian youths to now organise for change in society in more resilient ways. It shows that the youths will no longer stay complacent in the face of governmental abuse and dysfunction, as they are aware that change is what has to be struggled for, as it never comes around by mere wish-making or simple rhetoric.
This was a unit of the Nigeria Police Force tasked with launching undercover operations against violent crimes, including kidnapping, armed robbery, etc., but whose operatives arbitrarily resorted to using their force of coercion to profile those, mainly young people, they considered as looking unorthodox – whether in terms of the clothes, hair styles or tattoos they wore; or even the luxurious car models they drove; or the expensive phones, they used, etc.
The people held by this unit for unfounded scrutiny, usually ended up either being extorted by the Police, which ought to protect them, or in worst cases, they got physically harmed, raped or even killed. The rights group, Amnesty International had been documenting the several hundreds of cases of violation by this Police unit since 2016.
This protest against Police brutality started in 2017 as a Twitter campaign, which attracted the hashtag, #EndSARS, calling for the disbandment of the unit, due to its atrocious notoriety, and it gained enormous traction from early October 2020, spilling into protests across major cities and on social media. In addition, there were solidarity rallies for the efforts of the youths in the protests across major capitals of the world.
As the protests spread across the country, the anticipated crackdown on protesters by the security forces started, leading to arrests of many of the activists, who were locked up in Police cells in a number of states of the federation. While the protests still persisted despite these, it began to deeply affect economic activities in many urban centres, inviting the brokerage of negotiations with the #EndSARS movement by concerned citizens and civil society actors.
Issuing from this, a Charter of Demands, known as the 5-for-5, was drawn up by the movement, which if government acceded to, the protests would be terminated. The 5-points raised in the Demands were: (1.) Release of arrested protesters; (2.)  Justice for victims of police brutality; (3.) Prosecution of police ‘bad eggs’; (4.) Retraining of ex-SARS members; (5.) Police salary increase.
While the government, through its negotiation team, the Presidential Panel on Police Reform, quickly consented to the demands of the youth, as a way of bringing the protests to an end, it however seemed that the youths had gone through a re-think, anchored on two primary reasons: First, the history of government dishonesty in earlier negotiations, whereby after protests are called off, the authorities either back-tracked on the agreements or never did anything to implement the understandings reached. For instance, that was the fourth time that the government was making pretenses at banning the Police unit, as this never happened in the real sense.
Secondly, having realised the potentials of the mass action embarked upon, the youths who were generally and deeply disenchanted with government, and more so the Buhari administration at this point, due to its numerous failings in creating pathways out of widespread, unemployment, hunger, immiseration, and the absence of social provisioning, embraced the #EndSARS protests further as a platform for pressing for the real address of their concerns.
Even, a section of the involved youths were already calling for a transformation of the protests into a political movement that would seek power on behalf of the youths, as others were calling for President Buhari to resign from office, for being unable to execute the mandate given him by the people. Hence, the first Charter of Demand crafted was then upped into a wider demand for good governance and public accountability.
However, the seemingly long-drawn protest now facing an indeterminate end was brought to a tragic dénouement with the well-documented shootings at the Lekki Tollgate on the evening of Tuesday, October 20, when the Nigerian Army was unleashed on the protesters, leading to a bloodbath, the casualties or lack of, of which is still creating contestations between the government and many in the public and civil society.
What the #EndSARS protests have shown is the capacity of the Nigerian youths to now organise for change in society in more resilient ways. It shows that the youths will no longer stay complacent in the face of governmental abuse and dysfunction, as they are aware that change is what has to be struggled for, as it never comes around by mere wish-making or simple rhetoric.
The youths of the country are very clear in their understanding of the fact that politics is fate, as shown in the fairly disparate advocacies of the two cases adopted. Yet, the two show different possibilities.
On its part, the Not Too Young To Run campaign, which appears seemingly non-threatening to the system in a fundamental sense, and therefore more amenable to uptake, is appropriately hinged to a political purpose in elections and representation.
The other approach, represented by the #EndSARS protests, is more open-ended in what it is capable of achieving, even if indicative of possibilities, as long as it is not structured in a way that aligns to a political purpose that makes its objectives more attainable, beyond the expression of discontent.
The NTYTR campaign has shown the possibilities of the emergence of a new category of youth leaders and political representatives, from the act of the removal of age restriction for contesting office from our laws.
From the documentation done by YIAGA Africa (2019), following the 2019 general elections, after the age limitation amendment had been carried through in 2018, it shows that youth candidacy in those elections rose to 34.2 per cent, as against 21 per cent in 2015. Also, 13.5 per cent of the candidates vied for the Senate, and 27.4 per cent for the House of Representatives. In addition, whereas only 6.8 per cent of the members-elect in the House of Representatives were youths, 22 out of the 68 of them were beneficiaries of the NTYTR Act in the state houses of assembly.
For the lessons of the #EndSARS protests, many Nigerian youths are now keenly aware of the powers they have as a pressure group, and they appear poised to use this continuously in demanding for change – even despite the gory fallout of October 20. They have the numbers, the skills, including the technological savvy to coordinate sophisticated campaigns. The fund-raising capability exhibited during the protests shows the possibility that they can channel into politics to overcome traditional limitations. While the ‘leaderless’ nature of #EndSARS protests might have been problematic for some, it equally points at some political sophistication. However, as mentioned, its gains will still be limited when not aligned to a structured political purpose.
From the case studies examined, what have been achieved and what is on track to be achieved, very soon Nigerian youths will be the leaders of today, not tomorrow, in conformity with global best practices and trends.
Afolayan M.S., “Youth Participation In Nigeria: Legality, Trends, Dilemmas and Opportunities”. In Journal of Law, Policy and Globalization, Vol. 80 (2018).
Akinrinde O.O. and Omitola B., “The Nigerian Political Culture and Youths’’ P articipation in Grassroots Politics:: A Theoretical Discourse”. Downloaded from ResearchGate.
Akinyemi A.I. and Isiugo-Abanihe U., “Demographic dynamics and development in Nigeria: Issues and Perspectives”. In African Population Studies, Vol. 27, 2 Supp (Mar 2014)
Amzat J. and Abdullahi A.A., “Youth and Political Change in Nigeria: Historical Note and Critical Discourse”. In AFFRIKA: Journal of Politics, Economics and Society, Vol. 6,  2, (December 2016)
Central Intelligence Agency, “The World FactbooK: Nigeria”, accessed at:
Ibezim E.A.C, “The Philosophy of Youth Inclusion in Nigerian Politics: Trend, Challenges and Prospect”. In Journal of Religion and Human Relations, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2019).
NotTooYoungToRun Movement, “MEMORANDUM On A Bill seeking to Reduce the Age Qualification for Contesting Elective offices in Nigeria” (2017).
NotTooYoungToRun Movement, The Passage, (2018).
Omoju E.O. and Abraham T.W, “Youth bulge and demographidulc dividend in Nigeria”. In African Population Studies, Vol. 27, 2 Sup (March 2014)
Soyinka, Wole, “A Wasted Generation”, (1986).
Wikipedia, “Demographics of Nigeria”. Accessed at:
YIAGA Africa, “How Youth Fared In the 2019 Elections”. Accessed at: (2019a).
YIAGA Africa, “Factsheet on Youths and the 2019 Elections In Nigeria”. Accessed at: (2019b)
Ololade Bamidele is Secretary of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.
This is the text of the lecture presented to the University of Texas at Austin on Tuesday, February 9, 2021.
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