By Rowland Odegbo
(MOI) It is fairly right to say that the EndSARS protest achieved a lot even though it groaned at some point when it was abused to purpose.
Apart from forcing the replacement of the accursed Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) with Special Weapons and Tactics Unit (SWAT), it also sub-served other purposes chief among which was exposure of the frosty relationship between the government and the youth.
Many had expressed surprise at the response and near total involvement of youths throughout Nigeria in the peaceful protest.
Beyond police brutality, the protest was more a response to the seeming unconcerned attitude of the government to the plight of the youths.
The no-thaw relationship between the government and the youths derives more from the continuous rise in youths’ unemployment and the realisation that no effort is being made to involve them in government business.
With shards of broken promises, evident in the manner the government leans toward gerontocracy, the passionate demonstration was unavoidably inflamed.
That most of those in government today came in as youths not with special skills or precocious ability, but because they were availed the chance, requires that fair treatment be given to those asking for it. Sadly, that is not the case. There appear some restrictions at the top which neither allows admission of “outsiders’’ in government, nor does it sympathise with the demands of the youths.
As a matter of fact, those in government appear determined to strain the limits of constitutional authority just to stay in office and in total exclusion of the youths.
Perhaps only a few state governors run youth-inclusive government in Nigeria. The Governors do not just encourage youth participation in government, but they also have significant number of them appointed into positions in their government. One of such governors is Chief Willie Obiano of Anambra State.
He may not enjoy this status alone as there are others who are equally involved, but he certainly did a thing or two that marks his government out as exceptionally youth friendly.
What he did may not be public knowledge or readily admitted by those who have taken a position, but he did them nonetheless. The Governor has large proportion of those who attend his executive council meetings drawn from the youths.
At a point in his administration, a commissioner in his cabinet was appointed at an age when he could not statutorily assume office. While he awaited confirmation for the appointed age, his ministry was overseen by another.
To date, three to four commissioners in Gov. Obiano’s cabinet are of youthful age. Many more are in his employ as special aides. His chief of staff, his chief of protocol etc are all youths.
There are many other youths working in the government who are deploying their youthful energy and vision to drive the unique Anambra spirit.
Anybody conversant with development in the state, especially the state radio stations will notice an uptick in broadcast excellence since Obiano.
The Anambra Broadcasting Station (ABS) is a typical example where youthful vigour matched with vision has driven an otherwise moribund station to commendable height.
The improvements can only be appreciated when the past is brought in perspective. Ditto for what obtains in government ministries, department and agencies where youthful vision is deployed with energy and élan.
Perhaps because most of the Governor’s aides are largely youths, service delivery in government has taken a turn for the better. Everything is done with promptness.
The time between payment and service delivery has so improved that what took months to accomplish now takes days to achieve.
By this, it does not mean that all is well or that everything is working as expected. But it tells a lot. The improvement might not have happened if youthful energy and vision were sacrificed at the altar of lethargy and shortsightedness.
It is not any different in the Anambra State House of Assembly, where two thirds of the members, including the Speaker is a youth.
It may profit nothing to dwell on the merits of this unique Assembly. But it is enough to say that popular bills do not take eternity to go through the necessary readings before they are passed.
They also do not squeak through – they simply get passed. It is the same scenario in the National Assembly, where those who fly APGA flag in the House of Representatives are all youths.
Before two of the six members were lost, one at the court and the other through carpet crossing, all six are youths.
To the credit of the administration, a lot of youth empowerment programmes are active in the state. So far a good number of the youths have been taken off the streets by enrolling them in one or two skills acquisition schemes.
The establishment of Anambra Small Business Agency (ASBA) in 2014 ensures that take-off capital with low interest rate is there to shore up the working capital.
To this end, most of the youths are gainfully engaged while some are employers of labour.
To further engage the youths, certain agencies like Operation Clean and Healthy Anambra (OCHA), Anambra Road Maintenance Agency (ARMA) Anambra Traffic Management Agency (ARTMA) Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) et al were brought into being.
Although youth engagement does not solve all the problems bedeviling the society, but it goes a long way in nipping some of them off.
Whatever the accomplishments of the End SARS protest, the energy, time and resources spent on it would have been channeled elsewhere for greater good. It is not too late in the day to work out possible solutions to the mass unemployment in the land.
A country without productive youth deliberately gives hostage to her own fortune. The End SARS protest may have come and gone, but the memory lingers.
It will not be presumptuous to say that the country runs a risk of violent protest if nothing tangible is done to address some of the issues raised by the protesters. There is still chance for improvement. (MOI)
Rowland Odegbo, a trained journalist in currently the Traditional Ruler of Nteje, known as Aborgu II n’Nteje.