The #EndSARS protests across Nigeria and other parts of the world have thrown up major challenges in the nation’s leadership architecture, triggering a near revolution where youths came out boldly to demand an end to police brutality and extra judicial killings including a halt to bad governance.
The protests caught the entire country unawares. Security agencies were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the youths, who were unarmed, non-violent and well coordinated. The country’s leadership was, for the first time, apologetic for it’s failures.
The peaceful protests were later hijacked by hoodlums who marred the unprecedented protests, which ultimately gave security agencies cause to resort to dispersing the youths with firearms, especially in Lagos. Given the tense atmosphere, it took the best, bold and very courageous move for a leader to meet the youths face to face.
And this is what Governor Okowa did as the need to deploy more innovative tools and solutions in engaging with youths of the country became more imperative than ever.
As generally acknowledged, youths are the leaders of tomorrow and they currently need adequate positioning for leadership now, otherwise, they will stampede the present leaders away from office. To address these looming challenges, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State held a two-day Town Hall Meeting, which commenced in Warri and ended in Asaba.
The meetings were no holds barred sessions. The State Commissioner for Youths Development, Comrade Ifeanyi Egwunyenga in his welcome remarks, underscored the importance of youths in the social and economic development of any nation. He said the Town Hall meeting was convened in recognition of the critical roles the youths play in nation building.
According to him, “The more we increase the active participation and partnership with young people, the better we serve them.
“This butresses the need for a town hall meeting, designed to establish direct communication between the government and its constituents, particularly the young ones since the place of youths in the social and economic development of any nation is never in doubt. It is with this spirit, I welcome you all to this Town Hall Meeting dedicated to engage youths of Delta State.
“To have grasp of the youths agitations in its entirety, the State government is organizing this meeting with the aim to widen more civic space for youth engagement in the State, open discourse and articulate their legitimate concerns, to give the State government, the opportunity to look into the issues and address them. “I urge you all to have a free and open mind to discuss constructively and objectively but with great comportment and respect for others,” he stated.
The Governor in his characteristic manner, was desirous to hear from the youths; their genuine pains and source of anger to enable government engage them in finding lasting solutions to the challenges.
The town hall meeting included #EndSARS protesters, civil society groups, students and community youth leaders. Governor Okowa emphasized that his administration had initiated several skill acquisition and entrepreneurship programmes to empower this critical demography of the nation’s population.
He directed political office holders to put mechanisms in place to communicate with the youths, in order to learn more about the unique challenges they face. Human rights activist and coordinator of the #EndSARS movement in Warri, Comrade Israel Joe stated that the #EndSARS movement was beyond police extortion, victimization, harassment and brutality. He said it was also aimed at ending bad governance, end to lack of electricity, end to unemployment, end to economic deprivations and end to limited political chains.
He lamented the state of some Federal roads in the State, which are almost impassable, the bad state of the Warri stadium, the nonfunctional companies like Delta Steel Company, Warri Refinery, Nigeria Ports Authority in Warri, Sapele and Koko; the EPZ project, the neglect of youths and lack of enough training and skills acquisition with funds for startups.
Replying, the Governor stated plans by the State government and timelines for some of the projects, which included the construction of storm water drainage systems in Warri and environs, which Comrade Joe acknowledged: “I must commend Governor Okowa for the ongoing construction works around the Effurun roundabout and some roads in Udu area. However, it is pertinent to say that until His Excellency continues to match his words with actions, we would still view it as those political statements without commitments.
“The #EndSARS group will convene a meeting to review the town hall meetings and the next line of actions. We celebrate you all for the overwhelming support to the #EndSARS protest. We shall not stand down.” he declared.
Acting Public Relations Officer of the Isoko National Youth Assembly, Comrade Eniwake Orogun and former President, Student’s Union Government, University of Benin, spoke on behalf of Isoko youths.
He said that the chaos and unrest witnessed across the country was a result of broken and uninspiring leadership from top to bottom, which has berthed the issues of economic deprivation, infrastructural decay and political strangulation of the youths. He lamented that the only industry that thrives in the state among the youths was transportation with tricycle and motorcycle.
He urged the governor to address all the oppressive issues against them by government and security agents. Other speakers at the Warri and Asaba meetings said the #EndSARS protests expressed anger of the youths in not just ending police brutality but also ending bad governance, unemployment and the hopelessness of tomorrow.
They called on the government to bridge the gap between it and the youths by bringing more youths into governance and called for an amendment of the Nigeria Constitution to pave way for restructuring and resource control.
The youths added that the Warri Port, Delta Steel Company and other industries in the State should be resuscitated as a way of curbing rising unemployment. They also harped on the need for government to sponsor regular programmes on fundamental human rights and for the introduction of fundamental human rights in school curriculum.
The youths also called for the revamping of all farm settlements in the State to engage more youths in agriculture. On the issue of unemployment and job creation, the Governor called on the Federal Government to quickly resuscitate the Warri Port, saying it is key to curbing unemployment both in the State and the nation.
The governor said that with the congestion of the ports in Lagos, the Federal Government should revive Warri Port and other seaports in Delta State to boost the nation’s economy and create employment for youths.
He stated that the rate of unemployment was very high, but could not be immediately reversed, stressing that checking unemployment was not just about employing people into public service as not more than five per cent of the population would benefit from such a plan.
Okowa said that to tackle the unemployment trend, his administration adopted skills acquisition and entrepreneurship programmes to empower the young ones. “We will try to improve our processes of helping our youths to acquire skills and provide them with starter packs.
The more active ports we have, the better for the nation. Our economy isn’t working the way it ought to, because Lagos is congested. The Warri channel needed to be dredged and the Federal Government has awarded contract for phase one of the dredging but until phase two is awarded, we will not be able to achieve any success on that,” he said.
On infrastructural decadence, the governor said that the State government was building multi billion naira storm water drainages in Warri to address the perennial flooding in the city. “Water channel in Warri is built up, so we set up a committee of those who knew what Warri was in those days and I am glad that today we are now at the operationalisation stage of the report.
The Warri Stadium will be rehabilitated after we have successfully addressed the flooding challenges in the area.” While reacting to a complaint about the low-level of the Beneku Bridge, the Governor assured that the contract would be reviewed to increase the height of the bridge.
As a demonstration of credibility, the last State Executive Council meeting in the State, the bridge was given a further height of two metres at an additional cost of N1.2bn. On politics, the Governor acknowledged that it was the place of youths to wrestle power from the political class as most are unwilling to yield.
Okowa urged youths to show interest in governance and challenged them to show capacity that they could do what the elders failed to do.
“We have, as a government, encouraged more youths into governance, because we believe that youths are the leaders of tomorrow.
In our next local government elections, we will ensure that 80 to 90 per cent of youths, boys and girls alike, occupy councillorship positions,” he stated. Okowa expressed optimism that the Electoral Bill would be signed by President Muhammadu Buhari this time, and said that the refusal to sign it before the 2019 general elections was political.
He appealed to leaders to build consensus or conduct free and fair primary elections for aspirants to avoid imposition of candidates and to ensure that youths do not spend much to contest in the processes. “I agree that there is need to rework our electoral processes but we need to reengineer our minds, because we have lost it and it’s time we began to talk to ourselves.
The electoral amendment law wasn’t signed because of politics but I am sure it will be signed this time. So, as youths, you must get yourselves engaged so that we can get you closer to politics,” he stated.
Okowa told the youths that politics was about learning along the line and picking the good things seen in good politicians and throwing away the bad. “You must truly begin to organise yourselves in truth with a common goal and focus. Whoever you select must stand for the common good of others.
“We are building a new Nigeria with the youths and we must shun acts capable of reducing us when we leave office. We will continue to allow youths, to be part of the governance process, because in learning, you are building yourself for the future.
“If you are a youth and you want to be active in politics, you must respect your leaders and you must learn to pray a lot. I am encouraged to see many youths go into politics and I hope it is for the right reasons. I know we have some youths representing their people but are they showing examples to others?
The act of leadership requires deep thought, sincerity and quality, because there is a difference between an orator and the person who is able to lead,” he said. On agitation by the youths that Delta’s contribution to the daily oil production quantum of the country should be declared, the Governor said that the State government had made representation to the Department of Petroleum Resources for the information.
According to him, the State government has written to DPR but is yet to receive a response from them. He deplored the delay by DPR in providing the information, saying that such delay was part of the demands by #ENDSARS protesters in the State, because it is known that new discoveries of oil wells were made in the State recently.
“We have written to DPR to correct the abnormality; we have not heard from them, but we will intensify efforts towards ensuring that they review it, because it is not right to continue to rely on the same oil production quantum. “We have had lots of new discoveries and oil production in large quantities in several communities and these have not been factored in the State’s production quantum,” the Governor said.
In his closing remarks, Governor Okowa thanked the youths for peacefully coordinating themselves and assured that his administration would address most of the issues raised, noting that town hall meetings were an opportunity to hear from the people directly and provide solutions to issues bordering them. “Government is about the participation of the people and the governance process is not easy but I believe that we can do better and we can only do that when we begin to talk with ourselves.
A representative government ordinarily should be about the people’s interest but it appears we are not doing enough, because if every representative returns home to meet with the people and seek their inputs on the challenges facing them, then we would have been able to address these challenges.
“Going forward, House of Assembly members, Commissioners, Council Chairmen and Councillors should communicate more with their people so that we can nip in the bud, some of these differences, early enough,” he said.
The protests might have been over but lessens therein will continue to shape future political decisions on the part of government on one side and the people on the other.
•Egware writes from Asaba