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#EndSARS protests have ended but for jobless youths the work is just beginning

Wednesday, 28 October 2020 16:09 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators gather during a protest over alleged police brutality in Lagos, Nigeria October 17, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja/File Photo/File Photo

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Nigeria has failed to empower its youth with relevant skills for the modern world. Here's how we intend to fix it

Protests broke out across Nigeria in early October demanding the government disband a police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which rights groups have long accused of extortion, harassment, torture and murder.

The movement drew global attention and condemnations from celebrities and politicians on social media, using the hashtag #EndSARS, as thousands of Nigerians took to the streets daily.

On Oct. 20, the Nigerian military opened fire on peaceful protesters in Lagos, killing at least 12, according to Amnesty International. The protests have since died down.

Ibrahim Ajibade, 26, is a coordinator of the Alimosho Youth Initiative, a protest group in the Alimosho district of Lagos state, Nigeria's most populated urban area. He says the number one issue that young people face is unemployment.

This is his story as told to Nellie Peyton, Thomson Reuters Foundation West Africa correspondent:

I am one of the coordinators of a group of young Nigerians who participated in the #EndSARS protests this month. Although the protests have ended for now, our work is just beginning.

We want to harness the knowledge, skills, and energy of the youth in our community for development projects. We want to promote youth participation in governance. We want to hold our representatives accountable.

None of us knew each other before the protests. As residents of the district, we took to the streets together in early October to protest peacefully against police brutality and bad governance in Nigeria.

Although we come from all walks of life, we saw that we were united by the same struggles, the same injustices. We organised some meetings online to discuss how to make our voices heard.

Right now we are a group of about 700 but we are growing. None of us is over the age of 35. Among us are young professionals, lawyers, artists, small business owners, and more.

The key issue that necessitated the protests is police brutality. Security agents in Nigeria see young people as easy targets for oppression. The police unit that stands out in this regard is called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

However, the protests were exacerbated by socio-economic factors. The number one issue we face as young people in Nigeria is unemployment.

I have a degree in economics and I am studying toward a master's degree. I am currently out of a job.

All over the world tech companies are building things and making billions of dollars while here in Nigeria you see youth in government programmes and poverty-alleviation schemes being given shoe-shining kits as a form of business support.

The government policies must evolve with the times. We need an easier business registration process, tax breaks for people under 30, and a robust social security programme for unemployed youth. Empower youth with skills relevant to the modern world.

Today, the youth are not involved in any policy-making. The government is filled with people who are significantly older and out of touch with current realities.

In the last election I didn't even vote because I felt like the government doesn't do anything for me anyway. One failure we have always had as youth is political apathy.

The #EndSARS protests have awakened us all. We must now become more interested in governance. We want to take advantage of the protests to bring a change in that regard.

We are patriotic Nigerians. We are not out to cause trouble, loot or fight, but we are now fully aware of the strength that we have in our numbers, in our skills, in our energy. We're now fully aware that the government is accountable to us.

We members of the Alimosho Youth Initiative have various projects planned to consolidate the wins of the protests and open channels for communication with our local representatives.

We will be doing school visits to mentor delinquent pupils and also sensitize kids about political awareness, teaching them to organize mini elections in their schools with the aim of countering political apathy from the onset.

We plan to visit local markets and educate women traders on electoral processes, things like how and why they should register to vote. We will hold symposiums and town hall meetings.

We also want to go to motor parks and garages where people who do not have the privilege of education are commonly called "thugs" or "area boys". We want to go to them and we want to carry them along in this movement.

We want to make them know that they also have a voice. They also have an opinion. We want to unite all youth across all social classes, ethnicities and religions.

#EndSARS has showed us that real strength lies in our unity. We hope that the successes of our Alimosho Youth Initiative will inspire similar movements nationwide.