A Manual for Youthful Activism, Nigerian Style
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the country’s young people are fed up with disappointment.
By Fareeda Alithnayn Abdulkareem
Nigeria suffers from some scary statistics. A whopping 80 million — more than 40 percent of the country’s population — live in poverty. Corruption is rife: Since 2017, allegations of thefts within government agencies have hit the headlines on a regular basis. Most notably, $43.5 million in cash was discovered in an apartment in Ikoyi, one of Lagos’ most expensive neighborhoods, and officials have even been accused of forcing animals to swallow money. Meanwhile, there’s ineffective infrastructure, daily power outages, poor roads, prevalent patriarchy and homophobia. Half of Nigeria’s population is also age 30 or younger, and they find themselves in many ways inheriting a disaster of a country.
Future generations of Africa’s most populous and largest economy don’t deserve this, which is why Nigeria’s youth are increasingly marrying the power of their favorite tool — social media — with on-the-ground movements to demand change and a greater say in the country’s political direction.
Take the political hashtag #nottooyoungtorun. The movement advocates for the reduction of the age limit in running for political office, arguing that those old enough to vote should also be allowed to run for office. The voting age currently is 18, but citizens need to be 30 to run for governor, and 35 to run for president. But though the initiative has trended continuously on social media in Nigeria for months, it has also found resonance on the ground. The movement’s leaders have met members of Nigeria’s National Assembly. And earlier this year, most of Nigeria’s state assemblies passed laws amending the country’s 1999 constitution to accept the movement’s demands. “It was designed to work online and offline,” says Maryam Laushi, a member of the strategy team.
Meanwhile, in January, the Modern Democratic Party, founded by Bukunyi Olateru-Olagbegi, 27, received its certificate of registration as an official political party. His goal? To “correct the present for the sake of the future.” Younger political aspirants with other parties have made bids too. In early 2017, Jude Feranmi, the National Youth Leader for another party, KOWA, made a short video campaigning to run for local government representation for his native state, and it went viral.
But Nigeria’s youth know there’s no one silver bullet that will fix the country and that perseverance is critical. The #occupyNigeria movement that forced the country to briefly shut down in 2012 over the removal of fuel subsidies has reemerged more recently, protesting the government’s proposal to increase internet subscription tariffs — a move that could have forced millions to go offline. This became a powerful rallying tool for young protesters, and the government shelved its plan.
Instead of only tweeting complaints in solidarity, they’re [Nigeria’s youth] joining practical movements, and even leading them in some cases.
Nigeria’s youth aren’t working in isolation — and their ambitions aren’t only political. On February 17, at the historic Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos, the Ghana-based She Leads Africa, a community that helps African women fulfill professional dreams, held what is known as the SLAY festival for the second year. The event was focused on putting African women “at the center of innovation, creativity and technology.” The lineup included panels, masterclasses and sales booths across food, finance, media, culture, health and others. The initiative began because African women on the internet wanted platforms that “allowed women to be able to be professionals in their own way” and make spaces “where women can come and learn from other women,” says Hilda Awomolo, the organization’s head of content.
Mere access to the internet to bring youth together wouldn’t help if it wasn’t followed by offline action. Instead of only tweeting complaints in solidarity, young Nigerians are joining practical movements and, in some cases, even leading them.
Nothing captured that spirit better than the #endSARS movement. The movement began in 2016 but gained traction last year as a protest against the Nigerian government’s controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was established to combat armed robbery and other violent crimes. Squad members faced accusations of brutality against citizens. Sega Awosanya, the frontman of the #endSARS movement, had never participated before in a protest initiative; now he insists that Nigerian youths stop short of nothing but full-fledged institutional reform where it concerns Nigeria’s approach to human rights, infrastructure development and accountability of politicians.
Other spin-off hashtags already have emerged — like #reformpoliceNG, calling for reforms in Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies, or #frauds, which focuses on revelations of public officers stealing funds. There’s #foreignpolicyNG, which “X-rays the issues with our foreign missions and embassies,” says Awosanya.
Nigeria’s youthful population, among the biggest in the world, is channeling its frustration into these movements for change. It’s important that the country’s government — and the world — listen. If these movements persist and grow online and offline, they could reshape Nigeria’s future.
- Fareeda Alithnayn Abdulkareem, OZY Author Contact Fareeda Alithnayn Abdulkareem