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#EndSARS Protest: Yahaya Bello Counsels Youths


Dear Nigerian Youth,

The last 10 days of nationwide protests against human rights abuses suffered by Nigerian citizens at the hands of law enforcement, especially the police, have been a learning moment for all Nigerians regardless of age, class or social status.

For the protesting youths who are organising and coordinating at the speed of thought, there is a welcome awakening of their latent power and unity as citizens. The Office of the Citizen is finally woke, and the spectacle is lit.

For older Nigerians, the parents and grandparents of the protesters, there is admiration for those they raised to tiptoe fearfully around Nigeria’s many existential threats who have now risen to confront those challenges head-on with soundness of mind, boldness and patriotism.

For politicians and those in government, there are mixed reactions ranging from support to distress, even denial of what this is and the sheer magnitude of it. Personally, I realised immediately that this is a watershed moment for the future of Nigeria. That is why I lent it my immediate support, being arguably the first sitting Governor to do so publicly.

In addition to everything else, the protesters reminded me of myself about 6 years ago when I dared, just before my 37th birthday, to run for the Office of the Governor of Kogi State. At the time, like many of you today, I had absolutely no prior experience in partisan politics. But that single act of courage (or foolishness as some people called it at the time) became my date with destiny. With a lot of help from God, what started as a strong desire to change the old paradigms in my state is now going into a second term in office as the Governor of Kogi State.

The point here is first to reassure our youth that truly, we are not too young to run, either for an objective or for an office. Apart from constitutional age limit requirements, there is no youth out protesting in this season who cannot seek for any elective positions that become due between now, 2023 and beyond.

Secondly, by sharing my story I hope to highlight the importance of structure to any bid to institute and sustain lasting change in a democracy. As a forerunner, my main takeaway in confronting and overcoming mighty hurdles which any youth aspiring to high political leadership will face is that you need a strong, preferably dominant, structure behind you.

While an overflow of powerful emotions about the sorry state of the nation, or your state, can galvanise you into action like I was, you will need an organisation, that is, a platform prescribed by law, to actualise your vision. Without mincing words, to have any chance of acquiring leadership lawfully in a democratic society, you need to found and grow a political party, or join an existing one.

It is therefore imperative that our youth be well guided in steering the direction of these protests after the ‘successes’ of the last 10 days or so. Calling the protests ‘organic’ or ‘leaderless’ sounds cool alright, but I know you did not start them merely be ‘cool’. As they spread to more and more locations across Nigeria, also bear in mind that you will soon need more than exuberance, or even outrage, to sustain them.

You are at the point where you will need to have the courage of your convictions and be able to stand alone if necessary. That is the starting point of all leadership and a recurring decimal in the art of leading people. I have had cause to show those traits time and again during the course of my leadership.

For instance, during the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic, our policy of no lockdowns, target-specific testing, use of rapid test kits and reliance on so-called untested drugs made us to stand alone. Strangely enough, some of those drugs have been in use since the 1940s and nobody has ever deemed them dangerous for the populace until Covid-19 came. Our stand earned us plenty of attacks then. Today, however, practically all of our protocols have become mainstream measures in use by even regulators themselves. Our feeling of vindication when we are now praised for our ‘foresight’ is nothing compared to our gratitude that God helped us to keep our people and their livelihoods safe.

In like manner, the real leaders and spokespersons of these protests must also begin to ‘show face’ now to enable government at all levels know who to interface with. We cannot even appoint people into the various bodies being set up to address your demands without being afraid that opportunists who have no credibility with you are high-jacking it. May I therefore request that the protesters give us people to engage with, especially on the timeliest schedules for calling it a day which accommodates all reasonable demands.

It goes without saying that despite different levels of dissatisfaction with the status quo in our country among the citizenry, it is unwise to think that a change of leadership other than by clear-cut democratic means will be tolerated by citizens. Those interested in Mr. President’s seat must wait for 2023 and when it is finally up for grabs, they must present themselves to the Nigerian electorate, duly nominated as flagbearers for any party of their choice. It is as simple as that. Ditto for any other duly elected seat or office.

As we go into a new week, I have seen several advertisements calling for more protests in Kogi State. As usual, I am all for peaceful protests, but I do caution that all gatherings must maintain empathy for others who may not wish to march with you at this time. In particular, given our unique position as the gateway to the North and South of the country, I must demand respect for the right of road users. People cannot be emerging from months of lockdown, be in the process of trying to rebuild their lives only to be thrown back into extended lockdowns again by barricades set up by protesters on public thoroughfares.

We are making these cautionary statements at this time as a responsible government which is keyed into, and even quite ahead of, the national response to your demands.

We will not relent in putting in early warning systems for detecting, and sustainable safeguards for checkmating, abuses against the human rights of citizens, especially the youths, by law enforcement agencies. At the same time, we are committed to making the work easier for our police by providing them with training in modern policing, professional therapy/counselling and supply of kits at no cost.

Making Nigeria great is a task which belongs to all of us.

‘Those who seek to improve our country through peaceful protest and protected speech, I want you to know that your voice is important. Do not be discouraged by those who use your lawful actions as a cover for their heinous violence. We will continue to safeguard your constitutional rights and to work with you in the difficult mission of building a better nation and a brighter future.’ -Loretta Lynch, 83rd Attorney General of the United States.

Thank you and God bless.

Governor of Kogi State

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