“Obedience is dangerous: it has facilitated every form of institutional oppression and violence. Every advance in justice, peace and democracy has been made possible by disobedience. Ethical progress is unlikely when we do only what we are told.”
We now live in an age of revolutions. All around the world, new demands are being made on the existing status quo. A global pandemic has upended the calm mien of civilisation. The global citizenry want to move on to new ways of living, and doing things. Many people want change. Even for those who are comfortable with the system, COVID-19 forces all things to pass away.
Unusual things are happening. In the United States of America, citizens are worried because centuries-old seamless electoral process is now shaking like dry leaves in the autumn breeze. It was reported that as the country’s early voting commenced this week, Americans stood for hours waiting to cast their ballots. In some states, it was a wait of up to eight hours. A CNN exclusive report disclosed that the New York police is bracing for pre and post-election violence. This is, indeed, novel for this most eulogised democracy.
In Nigeria, it is the #EndSARS movement. It started on Twitter calling for banning of SARS, a unit of the Nigeria Police Force, which was notorious for oppression, brutality and extrajudicial excesses. It then metamorphosed into a real-time and online protest – with hashtag #EndSARS – to demand the Nigerian government’s scrapping of SARS.
Within a few days, the #EndSARS hashtag had up to 28 million tweets. Via these channels, Nigerians shared stories, images and videos of how members of this special police squad engaged in various acts of injustice and breach of human rights, ranging from extortion, intimidation and high-handedness, to torture, rape and extrajudicial killings.
Because of the nationwide protests, the Federal Government responded swiftly. First, the police authorities announced last Sunday that SARS had been dissolved in response to “the yearnings of the Nigerian people.” But this announcement did not take the protesters off the streets; they pointed out that the government had “scrapped” SARS three times before, but they did not disband. So the protests changed gear, and more prominent people joined the movement. By Tuesday, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, then announced that a new unit was now established to replace SARS. It was called SWAT: Special Weapons and Tactics.
The way I see it, #EndSARS is a chimney to vent all the pent-up frustrations of the average Nigerian. It is not just about SARS; it is about the colossal failure of this present government to address the unspoken everyday demands of the resilient and ever-hopeful citizen – especially the young Nigerian. The people had hoped that the Nigeria Labour Congress would be the vanguard when they promised to protest against the sudden increase in fuel pump price and electricity tariff.
When the NLC failed, the foaming fury found a scapegoat in SARS. O how I wish the young Nigerians groped their way to Brown Economy!
Most of the developmental challenges faced by today’s world are as a result of the fact that we have yet to make a clean break from the brown economy in order to move on to Green Economy and sustainable development. Without a doubt, nations in the developing world bear the brunt of this present reality. Toxic wastes and dirty technologies are dumped on us; extreme weather events are worse on our land; and there is no money to adapt to their negative impacts.
Ironically, the information needed to ignite such green revolutions is nowhere to be found here. And when the climate protests happen in the developed world, we rarely hear about them. Our media is already filled up with vacuous politics, while leaving the green meat to rot in uncelebrated spaces. This is not supposed to be so. This is why I wish that #EndSARS could be converted to #EndBrown, the way it would have been if we were a little bit climate-aware.
Brown economy or brown growth describes economic development that relies heavily on fossil fuels and does not consider the negative side effects that economic production and consumption have on the environment; while Green growth or green economy implies moving to a far cleaner energy system that uses energy more efficiently and to much better natural resource management especially on agricultural lands and in forests.
In Nigeria, our dependence on oil economy without any robust plan for green growth, makes us a brown economy. Because of this, our budgets are “dirty”, and so are our politicians: they spend to keep the brown economy alive. For instance, they would be more interested in buying fuel-guzzling luxury cars than installing solar-driven cottage industries in the rural areas.
In saner climes, young people would rise up against an irrationally expensive democracy that is driven by its pro-brown policies and body language. We owe our right to vote, our freedom from servitude and subjection, our prosperity and security to people reviled in their time as lawbreakers and reprobates. Breaking the law on behalf of others is a long and honourable tradition. That is how some people set out to protest, sometimes breaking the laws, in order to attract attention. It was #EndSARS, but it could be #EndBrown.
When the United Kingdom government wanted to expand Heathrow Airport, many young British green activists took to the street. A few dozens of unaffiliated activists started what they called Heathrow Pause. They flew toy drones within the restricted zone around Heathrow airport. The drones would fly nowhere near the flight paths, and never above head height, ensuring they presented no risk. But any drone activity forces the airport to suspend all flights. The activists knew they faced arrests and possibly prison sentences.
On another protest plan, 13 climate change activists were arrested after they chained themselves together on the northern runway at Heathrow airport, causing delays and cancellations for passengers. These ones were from a group that called itself Plane Stupid. They cut through a perimeter and entered the northern runway; they wore armlocks and lay on the runway, where police brought heavy machinery to cut them free. Some of them dressed as polar bear.
Because of these protests, Heathrow cancelled 22 flights in one morning, while saying it was doing everything to minimise disruption to their flights.
At the end of the day, it was victory for the environmentalists. Early this year, the UK Court of Appeal blocked plans for the addition of a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest international hubs in the world. In its judgment, the three-justice panel concluded that the plans failed to satisfy the government’s stated commitments on combating climate change.
“The Paris Agreement ought to have been taken into account by the Secretary of State… That, in our view, is legally fatal to the Airport National Policy Statement in its present form,” Lord Justice Lindblom wrote, referring to the landmark climate deal in which nearly 200 countries vowed in 2015 to reduce their greenhouse emissions, in order to save the Earth from the onslaught of global warming and climate change.
It is such protests by young green activists that wake up the elder statesmen and guardians of the nation to the reality of climate emergency. We need this kind of peaceful protests in Nigeria. Just like the UK, we are a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement. But the question is, is our government synchronising its policies with the evolving realities of the climate emergency, and the green commitments Nigeria has made to the global community?