I clearly remember following Nigeria’s 2019 elections closely, at the time, with a sense of hope.
There was a young 35-year-old running to become Nigeria’s youngest-ever president, and then there was the presidential debate that included three credible and progressive thinking candidates. I remember thinking, as I watched, why didn’t the three instead form an alliance and establish a party together that could more realistically challenge the main two.
This was the first Nigerian election that I had actually followed closely. And follow it I did, it seemed, with what turned out to be nothing more than youthful exuberance – pure naivety.
I do not think anything could have prepared me for the chasm between the front two and the rest.
As I read the final polling figures, the realisation set in that the likelihood of any transformational change in the governance of Nigeria was at least a couple of generations away. Hope left the building.
Fast forward to the week before last; peaceful protests, a trending hashtag, and an uncharacteristically responsive government. Questions began to be asked – could this be the watershed moment we have been waiting for?
According to the President: “Sadly, the promptness with which we have acted seemed to have been misconstrued as a sign of weakness and twisted by some for their selfish unpatriotic interests.”
So were the events of this week to be construed as a sign of strength?
To use the word bemused to describe my state, as I watched President Buhari deliver his address on Thursday 23rd October, really does not fully cover it. And yet there I sat, bemused; baffled, at the words proceeding from the lips of the leader of Africa’s largest economy, devoid of any empathy as he read a script.
Was now really the time to tell Nigerians and the world about the government’s ten-year poverty plan, or the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Survival Fund?
What we wanted to know is how on earth does a protest against police brutality lead to more brutality and the loss of lives? How do we go from telling the youth that “we have heard you” one week, to killing them the next?
I used to think and say that change would come when citizens rise up and demand it. This past week, young citizens did just that, and they lost their lives for it. The hope is that that loss, as well as the countless others that we know nothing about, will count for something this time.
The fear though, is that the magnitude of change that needs to occur is simply too much for one generation. Technology, however, equips this generation, like no other, to enable them to show the world the reality that they face on a day to day basis, and, even if the world at large does not particularly care, the African diaspora does.
This week young British Nigerian politicians Councillor Tele Lawal, and Councillor Princess Bright wrote to the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, calling into question the UK’s GBP 5.2 million investment since 2016 towards defence, security and justice priorities and efforts in Nigeria, and the need for more accountability and transparency over such investment, amid alleged human rights violations.
There is also a petition which currently stands at over 216,000 signatures, at the time of writing, imploring the UK government to explore the implementation of sanctions against the Nigerian government and police force.
There is a fine line that needs to be navigated when inviting external government, and there is also the question of whether or not financial sanctions will simply exacerbate the problem.
One thing is certain though; sanctions will gain the attention of the government.
The preference, however, is for the growth and development of the continent to the stage that such sanctions will come from within it, rather than beyond it.
This article first appeared in the West African Times.