Youths, politics in social media age
The year was 1954 when 25-year old Martin Luther King Jr became a pastor in the Dexter Baptist Church. By 1955, a now 26-year old King organised the Montgomery bus boycott in protest of the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in Southern United States.
As a 32-year-old, he had started the non-violent Albany movement against all forms of racial segregation in Albany Georgia. As a 34-year-old, he had also started the Birmingham campaign against racial segregation and economic injustice where he was jailed, during which he wrote the famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.
It was at this same age that King organised the epic March on Washington where the now renowned “I Have a Dream” speech was made.
At 35, his agitations had led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended racial segregation and turning 36, he had achieved the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which ended disenfranchisement of black people in the United States and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that improved the living condition for all poor people. King Jr was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He was a mere 39 years, 79 days old.
The difference between the youth of that time and the youth of today is their level of understanding. Martin Luther King was able to achieve so much because he understood the problems facing his community and had the intellect to advocate strategic solutions to them.
The same cannot be said of the current crop of youths in the world (a demography to which I belong). Our intellect has been so much impugned by the social media that we neither have time nor interest to lend ourselves to critical thinking. We are oft obsessed with such inanities as our number of followers on social media or the number of likes our posts have garnered.
We care not for consecution before the execution of our most flighty of ideas. We don’t think, we just do and that often leaves us lost in the wilderness. Things around us happen so fast, too fast for us to mentally catch up. Before checking the posts of our friends and millions of dimwitted characters with an influence (influencers) across all social media platforms, 24 hours of our day have been exhausted and it’s a constant vicious cycle that shows no sign of abating.
A case in point was the #EndSARS protest of 2020. Yes, police brutality is real, but if we the youth who are mostly on the receiving end of this do not understand the origin of the problems, we will never be able to solve it. The youth gathered across the country for almost three weeks, bringing the economy of the nation to a standstill and we still intended to continue that protest in perpetuity without making any SMART demands of the government.
#EndSARS, #EndBadGovernment, #EndPoliceBrutality, these are not SMART demands. They neither identified the cause of the problem, nor advocate a lasting solution to it. Our favourite celebrities joined us all in the protest as a rite of passage. Nobody thought to make a proposal to the legislators, the mantra was “No leader”. I guess throwing tantrum about a problem transcends solving it.
The youth came out on February 25, 2023 to vote their anger, they blamed the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress and the governor of Lagos State for #EndSARS and everything that occurred. This was due to the fact that they had failed to realise the infiltration of the righteous protest by political actors who saw their valid grouse as an opportunity to exploit.
One of those grifters is currently running to be the governor of Lagos under the Labour Party and some youths are thinking of voting for him. They want to hand over the fifth largest economy in Africa to a so-called “Architect of Lagos” who cannot show any proof of a two-bedroom flat that he, single-handed, designed. His only life achievement was that he attended a protest and his parents could pay his school fees in an expensive university.
If the modern-day Nigerian youth were wiser, they would have known that the Sanwo-Olu who could not even get a constable to tell him the number of police officers he brought to Magodo, let alone order them to stop tormenting the Magodo residents had no power over the police and cannot ‘END SARS’ ( talking of the notorious police Special Anti-Robbery Squad against which the protest was staged).
They would have partnered the governor to demand an end to our current police structure and the constitution of a state police which would have led to the people being in control of their police. Alas, they foundered in this respect.
When Tyre Nichols was killed by the SCORPION unit of the Memphis Police Department in January 2023, it didn’t take them 48 hours to disband that unit because theirs was a City Police Department, not a national police force. When soldiers were sent to massacre the youths at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos, they would have known that there is only one Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and that is President Muhammadu Buhari; they would have known that no civilian, be it Jagaban in private life or Sanwo-Olu in public office could give such a command. They would have known what direction to point their accusing fingers.
The Nigerian youth, infested by the social media bandwagon, has become the proverbial Zombie that the great Fela-Anikulapo sang about. No break, No Jam, No Quench, Na Jooro-Jaara-Jooro. Whatever is being bandied by political grifters on the social media is taken as the gospel truth.
This is why I advocate this incoming administration to institute a Social Media Reform Act and incorporate critical thinking classes in our educational curriculum, from SS1 to SS3 and the first year of every higher institution. They will help to halt the trend of dumbing down of my generation and help imbue the basic tenets of analytical thinking in the mind of the average Nigerian youth.
* Oludare, a US-based Nigerian medical doctor, is National Coordinator/Convener, Social Rehabilitation Gruppe