Youth, politics in the social media age

It was 1954 when 25-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. became pastor at Dexter Baptist Church. By 1955, a now 26-year-old king organized the Montgomery bus boycott in protest of the Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation in the southern United States.

At the age of 32 he had started the nonviolent Albany movement against all forms of racial segregation in Albany Georgia. By the age of 34 he had also started the Birmingham campaign against segregation and economic injustice, where he was imprisoned while writing the famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’.

At this age, King organized the epic March on Washington, where the now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered.

By age 35, his efforts had resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ending racial segregation, and by age 36 he had achieved the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ending the disenfranchisement of black people in the United States and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which improved the living conditions of poor people. King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He was only 39 years and 79 days old.

The difference between the youth of yesteryear and the youth of today is their understanding. King was able to accomplish so much because he understood the issues in his community and had the wit to advocate for strategic solutions to them.

The same cannot be said of the current generation of youth in the world (a demographic to which I belong). Our intellect has been so assaulted by social media that we have neither the time nor the interest to engage in critical thinking. We often obsess over such silly things as the number of our followers on social media or the number of likes our posts have received.

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We don’t bother to continue before executing our most fleeting ideas. We don’t think, we just do and that often leaves us lost in the wild. Things are happening around us so fast, too fast for us to mentally catch up with. Before we check the posts of our friends and millions of funny influencers characters on all social media platforms, 24 hours of our day is exhausted and it’s a constant vicious cycle that shows no signs of abating.

A case in point was the #EndSARS (an infamous Nigerian police unit, Special Anti-Robbery Squad) protests in 2020. Yes, police brutality is real, but we, the youth who are mostly on the other side of it, do If we don’t understand the origin of the problems, we will never be able to solve them. Youth rallied across the country for almost three weeks, bringing the nation’s economy to a standstill, and we still planned to continue the protests indefinitely without making any wise demands on the government.

#EndSARS, end bad government, end police brutality, these are not smart demands. They have neither identified the cause of the problem nor advocated a permanent fix for it. Our favorite stars joined the protests as a rite of passage. Nobody thought of making a proposal to the legislators, the mantra was “no leader”. I think throwing tantrums over a problem goes beyond solving it.

The youth came out on February 25, 2023 to vent their anger. They blame the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate and the governor of Lagos for #EndSARS and everything that happened. This was because they failed to recognize the subversion of the legitimate protests by political actors who saw their legitimate grouse as an opportunity for exploitation.

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If modern Nigerian youth were any wiser, they would have known that the Sanwo-Olu, who couldn’t even get a police officer to tell him the number of police officers he had brought to Magodo, let alone order them, was the agony of Magodo residents, none had power over the police and cannot be “EndSARS”.

They had joined with the governor to demand an end to the current police structure and the establishment of a state police force, which would have resulted in the people taking control of their police force. Unfortunately, they failed in this regard.

When soldiers were sent to the youths at the Lekki Toll Gate, they would have known that no civilian, whether Jagaban in private life or Sanwo-Olu in public office, could give such an order. They would have known which way to point their accusing fingers. Nigerian youth stricken by the social media train believe whatever is being propagated on social media by political scammers is the truth.

It is for this reason that I support the new government to introduce the Social Media Reform Act and to include critical thinking courses in our curriculum, from SS1 to SS3 and the first year of each higher institution. You will help stop my generation’s trend of dumbing down and embed the core principles of analytical thinking in the minds of the average Nigerian youth.

Marindoti Oludare is a US-based Nigerian medical doctor