For a few days now, Nigeria, the largest African country has seen waves of protest break out all over the country. The world might be wondering, “why are the youths so angry?” For a lot of the questions and worries, there is one significant reality that must be known. There’s a generation that failed. There’s another generation that has been betrayed.
Central to the conversation is the reckless profiling of Nigerian Youths by Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) operatives. They talk about our dreads, locs, irreverent music, flashy clothes and their resentment is obvious.
Many of the older generation Nigerians don’t understand the damage of profiling. They don’t seem to realize that violent crimes against Nigerians are motivated by these damaging profiles. Our identity and individuality are summed up in a few hateful descriptions.
So why the focus on the older generation? In times when there are conversations surrounding the attacks on Nigerians in South Africa, where I live, a lot of our speakers focus on how Nigerians need to be “humble in a foreign land”, how we need to stop being proud and showing off our “good life”. You see, the problem with this kind of thinking is that it prioritizes a criminal’s sensibility over the lives of innocent people. If you were addressing thugs, one would attempt to understand such viewpoints. But even when they come to a gathering of intellectuals in their postgraduate programs, many of who are respectably working for their living, there’s no difference.
They tell us how people complain that Nigerians are loud, proud, and most of us are criminals. I wonder while they give these reports if they assume that we are the appropriate audience for such lies which they are helping to propagate. Bringing that closer to home. The average Nigerian youth is not a 9-5er. Unemployment continues to rise. Many are not taking this idly. They have turned to unconventional jobs for which they only receive brutality and killings. A policeman or SARS operative would randomly frisk people because they have laptops or good phones. Some have been extrajudicially killed and others jailed unlawfully, and to their families, kidnapped.
Most of the older generations are used to the fact that they got jobs after University, having clean shaved faces and laundered skirts for their interviews. Meanwhile, the majority of us work in our underwear, go without shaving for weeks, smell like half-eaten food, and dreadlocks are cheap to maintain. Most people on the internet, don’t care how you look before paying you to work. When we speak out against the inhumanity of SARS, we must understand that we are speaking to a generation that was pampered and spoilt rotten with government opportunities. They are used to being subservient and doing what they are told. They do not see the reason for all the “fuss”. I mean, this same President had a task force that shaved their heads, used canes on them in broad daylight, and basically treated them like animals. Under the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) umbrella, people were treated like animals for being, looking, or sounding different.
Yet, to see the glimmer in their eyes when they reminisce on those glory days. You would then understand that the fight for a generation like ours, will either have to go on without that generation. We must either ignore them entirely or be willing to take them through trauma therapy and several months of reformation. This is the kind of time we don’t have on our hands.
Next year, I will be 30. Jesus died at 33. I don’t think I would be considered a youth for too long anymore. If I am silent and subservient like my parents’ generation, then we will enthrone another generation of brutes that are worse than these ones and we will advise our children to not be rebellious. We will tell them that they should watch their language, cut their hair, dress in suits, and hope that they don’t get killed by a stray bullet. You see, this is how the older generation became what it is today. A generation still enslaved. Independent but still dependent. Latching on to the sagging breast of their “heroes past”, hoping for some trickle of milk, if they “comply”.
You see, compliance is what profiling requires. It is what it demands. It wants you to be defined by the image provided by brutes and criminals. If a murderer says you are a yahoo boy and so he killed you, they will take the murderer’s words. If a trained assassin takes your life and calls you a thug, he just has to point to your crazy jeans, dreadlocks, and tattoos, and they would shake hands and go home. Nigeria is too big for these simplistic and ideas about who we are or what we stand for. The Nigerian youth is a crowd in its millions, diverse and different.
We are faced with some of the most damning circumstances that a country can provide. We deserve to be defended, not profiled. At least, if an older generation won’t leave us a legacy, they shouldn’t come to us with all these rhetorics about how “not to get killed”. The only way to avoid getting killed is to stop being a Nigerian and that, a generation has stood in the way of a peaceful disintegration. You kill those who agitate for new regions, you kill those who work at home, you kill those who go out for greener pastures, you kill those who are knocking on your doors for employment. And then you turn around to remind us to comport ourselves. No, we won’t.
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