The #EndSARS protest brought to the fore the devastating phenomenon and consequences of thuggery and hooliganism in Nigeria. Individuals, businesses and government paid huge prices for this menace and may not recover from the enormous consequences in a long while. Hoodlums hijacked the peaceful #EndSARS protest that has progressed impressively to the admiration of all and wrecked mayhem in no small measures. The various categories of youths are unhappy. The discontentedness of the uneducated and unskilled segment of youths who have since been transformed into thugs by the elites and politicians is dreadful. Nigerians saw such this much as they unleashed mayhem on both innocent citizens’ and government properties two weeks ago. How did Nigeria come about such awful thugs and hooligans? “They are not born thugs. They didn’t even go out to be thugs, but politicians turned them into disgruntled members of the society because after they were used for campaign, which is legitimate; politicians abandoned these people,” said ABIOLA DOSUNMU, THE ERELU EKITI OF LAGOS. Read excerpts of the interview, the Acting Editor, NETA NWOSU had with Her Royal Highness, on the dangerous dimension of hooliganism and devastating effects, Panel of Inquiry, government roles in youth development as well as a host of other issues.
The ENDSARS protest may have come, and seem to have gone. What lessons have we learnt, and how do we maximize these lessons to make Nigeria greater?
We pray that the lesson is not lost on all of us. It’s an eye-opener. Well, I don’t think it’s only an eye-opener; it’s an action against something that has been with us, that we are all aware of, and we all didn’t know where to begin, but the children came out. They were brave enough to come out, to tell us that this problem exists, and we can’t keep quiet. We must let our rulers know the problem, and that we are feeling the pinch, and something needs to be done to arrest this downward trend of the deprivation, of lack of economic capabilities for normal existence. Because if you wake up, your capacity for earning a living is way below what is required, then, you know something will give.
And I think that is what has happened. And, we hope that government of the day got the picture, and the extent of the suffering of the populace. It’s not just the youths that are suffering, even the adults, even the rich because you see the rate of deprivation, of dissipation of resources is alarming that even those who have are afraid because they are not able to augment when necessary because the opportunities are far-fetched and far-removed. So, really, both adults and the youths; we are all in the same boat. Our resources are dwindling, the opportunity to replenish is not there, and the young can’t even begin because there is no opportunity for jobs. And for those who are even not educated, the opportunity of earning a livelihood is even worse because they don’t have what it takes to earn.
And you don’t even have empowerment opportunities. I mean, there are some empowerment facilities, but when you go in there, they are empty because the information is not out there for people to know where to tap into all those opportunities. So, really, we need to revamp the system and have a change of direction, so that we can begin to add value to the lives of Nigerians. Well, I can tell you one thing. Although revenue is coming through VAT, through taxes of the private sector, through petroleum resources, and various areas. But efficient usage of revenue coming in is lacking. Therefore, to move forward, we need a whole lot of palliatives, such as vocational centers, even monies being made available for small and medium scale businesses, money for agriculture, money for various interventions that are being made available. Information is crucial.
We know that all these funding are available, but how many people are aware that these funds are available? How many people are empowered to be able to access these funds? How many people are knowledgeable about what to do to access these funds? So, really, we need a lot of sensitization, a lot of information, and a lot of training to be able to even assess whatever is available. Government needs to put in more funds in education because without education, not necessarily degree; but basic education, it’s very difficult.
Yes, you can use native intelligence to be able to achieve, but, things have become so technical now that even when you are trading in the market, you should be able to operate cashless businesses, and you need to be able to operate all the gadgets and instruments that are made available for a cashless business transaction. Therefore, you need basic education, basic information and a whole lot of sensitization. Apart from that, also, there must be the usual classic job creation effort from government because there are those who have certificate, who are graduates; you must be able to provide appropriate jobs for this group of people. So, really, it’s like for too long, a lot of things have been neglected
. But, with SARS and the protesters, I think government should be aware that there is a new realization of the power of the people that is now being unleashed by the youths. So, we can’t continue to take people for granted, we can’t continue to sit on our oars, and we can’t continue to think with our hearts behind the ignorance of the people. Those who are exposed, that are educated are going to lead those who are not. And once you have unity between these two categories of young people, they can unleash mayhem, which none of us pray for. So, really, government must be proactive, and really must do something very quickly to arrest this sort of new trend that #EndSARS has brought into the consciousness of the average Nigerian.
The Lagos State Government recently inaugurated a Panel of Inquiry to investigate the Lekki shootings and other issues raised in the course of the protest, and the Panel was given a six-month duration to work, but people are complaining that six months is too long. Don’t you think the six months is too long? I agree totally. I think we will lose focus of what this is all about if we have to wait six months, just for the inquiry, and then, what happens after six months?
Is that when we will now begin to look for solutions? Because I will assume that this inquiry is not just only to get to the bottom of what happened, but also the alleviation of the sufferings of the people, and also, way forward. And I think if we wait for six months, that’s too long. I don’t think any of these should be more than three months, so that immediate action could be taken to alleviate whatever the grievances are for the protest in the first place. We can still achieve this inquiry in three months instead of six months. It’s an emergency and it should be handled as such, we can afford to procrastinate or stretch it too far, otherwise six months is a long time for people to continue to suffer for the same reason that brought them out in the first place. I think immediate and urgent action should be taken by the committee set up. They can’t afford to take it in their stride, even if they need to sit for 24 hours to be able to do it very quickly. I think that it should be reviewed, and should be repackaged.
More so, people are filled with complaints that we have had instances in the past of such panels, such committees set up, and at the end of the day, the reports and the recommendations were not implemented?
I don’t think that will happen this time because they have seen the effect of what used to transpire in the past where you have committees, you have inquiries, and nothing happens. But now, they have seen that something negative could happen, and am sure that this time, whatever result comes out of this, action will be taken. It can’t continue to be business as usual because the kids are waiting. Young people are waiting for solutions, and that has to be something we give. So, I cannot imagine that it will be the same fate as usual. I believe this time, the young people are waiting for answers; they have spoken very loudly, and they are not going to be contented with the usual way of sweeping things under the carpet. We can’t even take a chance like that because nobody wants to see a repetition of what happened with #EndSARS protesters. Nobody is praying for that to happen again. But, if care is not taken, and solutions are not found to what brought the children out in the first place, then, you run the risk of a repetition. I think that’s the last thing we all want. So, am optimistic that this time, we will see the result of the inquiry and actions will be taken to solve whatever issues will arise or the causes of the protest.
The #EndSARS protest brought to the fore a dangerous dimension of hooliganism in Nigeria. How did the country get to this level? How do you think the country can address this issue of escalating menace of the hoodlums?
Well, you call them hoodlums. I wouldn’t call them hoodlums. I think they are our children. And I think we are the architect of what they have become. Some of us have been drawing attention to this. You see, first of all, you started calling them area boys, but these are the creations of the political group. When these boys first came out, we noticed; we were around, we were watching. They were brought out to champion the aspirations of politicians. They were used for political rallies. They were used to boost the outings of politicians, and they were given gratifications for coming to shout loudly about aspirations of politicians. And then, they got used to cheap money and big money while the campaign lasted.
But after the election, they were left high and dry without jobs. And some of them who even had menial jobs didn’t want to go back to those jobs because suddenly, they were exposed to large sums of money. So, we neglected that. If after they have been used as political campaigners, and protectors of politicians, if after that, when these people get into power, they now put adequate instruments in place, either to employ them or to give them vocational training in other ways, then, the rank and file would not be so bad. But when it started, we started calling them area boys. They were not miscreants then; they were area boys. They were champions of the politicians; they were used as voices of politicians for us to be able to hear what the politicians want to say. But after that, you have to empower them.
They were not empowered, and subsequently, we have been having elections since then, and the rank and file of these boys were getting bigger. But now, it came to a head because we have so many of them. But they were not economically empowered in any way. They were not given adequate education. So when now this awareness of the fact that you can actually go on the street and protest came to bear, you find that the security was not beefed up enough to cater for the number of these protesting youths. You have two categories; you have the ones that have been developed, and brought into the society through the politicians. And then, you have those who are educated, after University, after tertiary institution, they have no jobs, and they are frustrated.
You have those ones that got exposed to big money too quickly, and you do not have comfortable jobs to absolve them after the politicking period. So, all those must be put into consideration. And that’s why am saying I would not call them hoodlums because I believe that if you mop up these youths and have vocational training for them, and give them startup kits where they can earn a livelihood, the majority of them will be taken off the road or the street. And the ones who are educated, who have paper certificate, create jobs for them, also vocational training because I know that quite a number of those who have degrees are diversifying into initiatives that they can set up by themselves. So, they can go through vocational training other than what they have certificates in. And with the course they studied in their education, it will even enhance these entrepreneurial skills, and they will be employers of labour also. So, really, government just needs to have the mindset to vote money into these areas we are talking about, and create employment, empowerment and entrepreneurs to also create new jobs. I think if they have the right mindset, then, we can begin to work towards eradicating this malaise that we are going through at this point in time.
Your Royal Highness, some people are of the view that these political campaigners, after the campaigns, and after the elections go back to the streets and they snowball into political thugs, who now begin to inflict citizens with all forms of criminality?
That’s exactly what I have just said that this people create them, not that they were even in existence. The politicians created them to use them for their political campaigns and politicking and all that, and then, they have access to funds. These people were not thugs, not even jobless, but they were doing menial jobs, and they were happy doing those jobs. But when these politicians absolve them into their political campaigns and they have access to more money than they are used to, of course after the politicking, they find it difficult to go back to those menial jobs.
So, this is where our government must step up and create training for them, so that with this menial job, they could be trained to improve on what they consider menial jobs, it can be something that could be quite substantial. If somebody has just been selling oranges or cleaning roads, and all that, he can be trained to be not just cleaning roads, but to be somebody who can clean offices, who can be trained to do something more meaningful, and to be given a startup kit because if you are a Cleaner, and you are cleaning offices, and you are given a startup kit of hovers, of scrubbing machines, polishing machines, your earnings will definitely improve tremendously.
So, it will be comparable to what the politicians were giving him. So, that way, he is not disillusioned. But when you give them too much money to campaign for you for a period of four months, and then you expect them to go back to the basic earnings of 30 thousand naira a month now, of course, they do not want to do that again because you have exposed them to a larger sum of money. Therefore, you should provide extra form of training for these people to be able to earn more. As I said, they were not like this, the politicians created them, but then, the politicians must not abandon them. And now we realize that these people are there, that they can turn in weapons to disrupt the society.
The onus is on government and the beneficiaries of politicking to provide means of livelihood for these people through grants for businesses, through vocational training, through further adult education; there are so many ways they can increase the fortune of these people. And those ones who want to go into agriculture, government should be able to give them a land within their various states where they live, where they are used to; give them land, give them takeoff grants, so that whatever can grow with ease within their locality, they should be encouraged to go into those sort of farming.
If in their territory, it’s yam that is easily cultivated, they should be given land, they should be given takeoff funds to go into such. And then, they should also be given accommodation within the farmland, where they can use local materials to build even a one-bedroom house they can live in. You will find out that they would even be better off than those who are living in the city where you have 20 people living in one room. So, with one programme, you create jobs, you create empowerment, you create even food because that is part of food sustenance within the society because the cultivator of the particular food crop becomes disillusioned, and then, they start protesting.
When you employ them, or they volunteer to help you in your campaign to achieve your political ambition, they are exposed to more money than they are used to usually, and you can’t abandon them after that. You have to find a way to help them. And that’s the thing about our kind of politics; it is winner takes it all; it shouldn’t be. When you go out and campaign on party basis for a position, as soon as somebody comes in and forms government, then it becomes government of the people. And all these people who have been used to bring the campaign to fruition should be absolved. They should not be abandoned. It is when you abandon them, they become a nuisance. I don’t want us to look at them as thugs.
Look at people that have been created, so you need to take care of them after they have been used. It is when you dump them and they become a menace. They are not born thugs. They didn’t even go out to be thugs, but politicians turned them into disgruntled members of the society because after they were used for campaign, which is legitimate, politicians abandoned these people. After using them during campaigns to reach a wider audience. Politicians shouldn’t abandon these boys, they should try and bring them back into the employment pool, and our politics should not be winner takes it all.
Once we have all campaigned under various parties, and somebody now wins and forms a government, that government becomes the government of the people, regardless of the party. And all of them have used somebody or the other, so, they should really make sure that they reintegrate these people within the society, considering that they have been exposed beyond what they used to know. We have another group of area boys who have parents, were raised at a time by parents like their peers, but somehow saw themselves on the street, these set of boys have never been engaged by politicians, they are area boys who left their homes. Those ones you are talking about are not in the majority.
They have always been with us. These are the people we call dropouts, and we try to put in vocational training. I can tell you I know when we started having the area boy syndrome. From the onset of certain political group, they were the first to use these boys, and we were calling them area boys. They used them to terrorize opposition. We all knew when the area boy syndrome started. They have not always been with us.
When did they start?
Oh, I don’t know because I don’t want to be mentioning names, but we all know all of these started almost 20 years now. You know when something started 20 years ago, the rank and file keeps building up. That is when you start seeing the phenomena of the area boys. But you see, over time, the rank and file kept getting bigger and bigger, those are the real men. You see, they were exposed to big money at a time, and then, after that, some of them are able to go back to their menial job, but the majority of them didn’t go back. They keep running about and doing ‘yes sir’, doing area boys to these politicians; follow them around, and all that. And then, the politicians started enjoying the adulation, rather than actually realising that they were creating issues for themselves because you see, if you use them once you have gotten it, empower them.
Give them money to trade. Give them training in different areas. Some of them have natural talents; find out what their talent is, give them training in these natural talents. Those ones will go, but next time you bring another one, don’t leave them to their device. Can you see how many area boys there are now? Some of them are there because they are not empowered. They will have children, and the children will emulate what their parents are doing. I have had cause to speak to a lot of them overtime, and there are some who say they will prefer to leave the street if they are empowered.
Some of them will tell you they were just selling pure water, but when the politician gave them so much, once they are used to that, that is when thuggery starts. They will get to a stage where they are so deprived that they can’t even have access to politicians anymore because the politician is now in an exulted position. He is now a Senator, he is now a Local Government Chairman, he is now a Governor, and all that. These boys don’t have access to them, so what do they do to earn a living? They start waylaying people, stealing their things, using okada (motor bike) to snatch bags.
They were not born thugs; we created them. I wish we realized what would happen when we bring them out, empower them for three months or so, and then drop them when our job is done. Surely, common sense must tell us that they will become a pain to us. Even the bible tells us, ‘Train your children well so they don’t become a curse to you in your old age.’ It’s the same thing, you don’t necessarily have to be the biological mother or father. We have created what we have, and we should quickly find means by which we must get them off the road.
You were talking of those who leave their parents’ house. Of course, those sorts of people have been there from time immemorial, but they don’t become like this because sometimes when they go out, some of them fall into taking drugs, etc. The parents still go and find them and take them for treatment, and all that. So, those sort of children; you even know where they congregate. There are various organizations that go to pick them, take them for medication and rehabilitation, and all that. But these ones we are talking, they are in large numbers.
They are not drug addicts, they are not thugs, but they are people that have been created by members of the opportune classes of our society. We have created the problem, and we are the ones who must correct our mistakes. We must find a solution. Until we accept the reality and jump to finding a solution, they are going to be here for a long time. So, I think we should really appeal to all well-meaning Nigerians and to government to quickly find a way to arrest this problem. What are they crying for? You can see what has happened.
Those ones who are doing peaceful protest, invariably, most of them are still living with their parents, they still have some kind of palliative or the other from immediate family, but you have the others; you saw what happened, as soon they found where they can get things, can’t you see how they were rushing those food, those palliatives; it’s hunger, deprivation, they are not mad, they are not even thugs, but they are hungry, and they have no hope of where the next meal was coming from.
The media should continue to put this in the front burner, for it to be in the subconscious of everybody; the government and those who can alleviate the sufferings of the people; all of us, by constantly drumming it into our ears until we do something. And government should reduce the salaries of public office holders who are beneficiaries of high pays and high emoluments. Where the returns are excessive, we should volunteer to give up some that will form the basis for empowering the less privileged, in terms of funds for starting businesses, for entrepreneurial activities for scholarships for those who want education because at the end of the day, education is important.
You can see the difference. Those who have education did peaceful protest; those who didn’t have did what they know by being violent. So, we need to do more enlightenment and more education. There were allegations that the government engaged the hoodlums to attack the protesters. Look, you have fake news, you have real news, and all that. But, I will be surprised that the government of the day would be that helpless that it now gets hoodlums to attack peaceful protesters. I think the other people just realized that, look, if you protest, you can get palliatives and they did it the best way they know, rather than the peaceful protest, they did a violent protest.
If it’s government that hired them to do it, they now start going to destroy government institutions, burning, breaking through government palliative stores, and all that, then, they have created this people to spite their noses. I think those people just realized that attacking individuals is nothing, so they join the protest so that government can know that they are there. They did it the way they know. They have been so frustrated for so long that they don’t know how to do peaceful protest. You see these educated ones; they have seen it how it’s done in other parts of the world that you can do peaceful protest and government will notice you. In the past, we have never done it that way.
It’s only this aggressive way if you recollect, and that’s what those people are used to. It’s those ones who have been round the world, who are exposed who know that they can be peaceful. Now, I think they now know that when they protest, they should make sure that they package their brothers who are not as exposed as they are, and tutor them in the way of peaceful protest, so that it doesn’t get out of hand the way it did. I think even the peaceful protesters didn’t factor in this group of people, and if they did, am sure they would have found a way to appease their anger and curtail their excesses.