Since the 20th of October 2020, when Nigerian Security Forces shot at and killed unarmed Nigerian #Endsars protesters, the use of the word hoodlum has dominated the media space. Hoodlums have been blamed for heightened violence against security forces across the nation, prison breaks, looting and destruction of both public and private properties. This goes beyond mere accusations. As a matter of fact, young people could be seen perpetrating all forms of criminal activities against the state. Therefore, it is safe to say that hoodlums are criminal elements who are ready to kill, maim and destroy without an iota of hesitation. They have wrecked establishments and both private citizens and the government are counting their loses. However, the big question which should be on the minds of everyone is, who is a hoodlum?
A hoodlum is a person who does not see any qualms about breaking the law. The Nigerian hoodlums are criminal elements that are weapons in the hands of their masters. They are trained and prepared for momentous times when their services are required. They are agents of the government and are employed to help the ruling class achieve certain goals. Before you question my last assertion, that hoodlums are government agents, permit me to explain in detail.
As we have seen in the past days, the hoodlums are usually young people who act in a disorganized yet coordinated manner. Disorganized because individual members can choose to attack a particular structure or individual without any likeliness of support from others. They appear to move in groups and when they choose a location or building, they settle and find points of interest to focus on individually. Sometimes, they loot, other times, they set afire.
What is the educational level of these hoodlums? They are barely educated with most of them barely completing secondary education. Having come from semi-urban slums and rural settlements, they attended schools that reflect their locations; crude, poorly funded, inadequate infrastructure and a dearth of teachers. Without an education, these persons do not have a chance at a good life outcome. They hold onto ideologies that society does not care and will not benefit them in any way. When they think this way, they may not be wrong and here’s why.
Education should be free at a basic level in Nigeria. At least, that’s what the National Education Policy provides. However, with a dwindling education budget, schools are almost always closed due to strikes and when they are open, students have few resources to learn with. The government and its Education Policy failed the hoodlums and sold them out. Let’s look at other sectors of our national life that have failed the hoodlums and called their very existence into being. For starters, let’s see healthcare, justice and youth development.
There is a national health policy which promises a certain quality of health to all Nigeria irrespective of where they reside. Some interesting provisions of this policy cover maternal and child health, health insurance and primary healthcare development system. You must be a direct employee of the government to be enrolled in the National Health Insurance Scheme. Pregnant women and children under the age of five (5) are promised free healthcare. This is not available nationwide. In fact, the cost of healthcare is relatively higher in the rural communities and slums where the hoodlums live. They may have to travel very long distances to reach a decent clinic. Private clinics will often not admit patients despite their deteriorating health statuses without a reasonable monetary deposit. This means that in the face of serious ailments, the hoodlums will lose loved ones or their own lives because they are unable to access healthcare when they need it the most. Hoodlums learn early in life that good hospitals are not for them. In the past few days, we have seen hospitals burnt down for refusing to admit wounded persons.
Justice is the singular sector that like the waters of baptism convert individuals to criminals and leaves an indelible mark on their souls. It is common knowledge that there are many innocents in incarceration in Nigeria while known criminals are walking about freely. Unfortunately, once convicted, a person will be unable to gain employment afterwards. Because of the inefficiencies of the criminal justice system in Nigeria, criminal trial time is about six (6) years. Sometimes, people wait for up to ten (10) years before they can get a conviction. The horrible state of Nigerian Correctional Institutions makes it easy for older inmates to educate the new intakes about crime. Hence, a six (6) weeks stay in a correctional institution is all it takes to turn even the most innocent inmate to a hardhearted crime enthusiast. Upon release, they are willing and ready to unleash mayhem on the society that treated them so poorly. We must also consider the profiling of young people as criminals by the Nigerian Police. Since it became normal to pick out young people who are dressed or appear in certain ways as criminals, it further complicated the hatred they have for the society, the police and every good thing that they cannot afford. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015) recommends a number of human rights principles in the procedure for arrest, bail, trials and even the presumption of innocence among others, Six (6) years after this Act was passed, implementation level is still poor and security agents are not showing any genuine interests in learning provisions of the Act and relevant laws that apply to them. Though the police are not the only criminal justice institution that has been found wanting in their duties to the Nigerian People, they have borne the brunt of the #EndSARS protest because they are the first point of call in the criminal justice system. They make the arrests and sometimes trump up charges against innocents who are unable to pay a bribe.
Youth Development has a federal Ministry and a Minister in the President’s Cabinet. What does the ministry do in concrete terms? How does the work of the ministry impact the lives of the youth in Nigeria? No one really knows. The government had spent billions of Naira setting up National Youth Development Centres in every senatorial zone in Nigeria. What became of those centres is better imagined. The purpose of the centres was to enable young people to acquire skills that would help them gain employment. Prospective hoodlums can learn skills and become self-employed or get jobs within their own communities. However, that has not been the case. There are no known national youth development projects that empower people. Hence, Youth who are unable to get trained in community-based educational institutions and cannot afford skill training will be left to merely get by on a subsistence level. They will also become tools to be engaged at the whims and caprices of the political class. They become hands for hire to the highest bidder. Priority for them is survival daily and nothing more.
Am I justifying the existence of hoodlums? Yes, I am. Hoodlums do not exist because they would rather not be educated and successful. They exist because society failed them. No one is born a hoodlum. They are made by the government because their existence benefits the government most. Hoodlums do not recognize their rights and rarely ever ask for them. Hoodlums have their past, present and futures stolen by the politicians and since they cannot demand their rights, a chain of intergenerational poverty and vulnerability is created. One which makes their descendants subservient and ready tools in the hands of the children of politicians. Hence, Politicians always get the best education money can buy for their children and ensure that the common man gets the worst possible provisions. Campaign promises and the quality of policies made by politicians show that they understand what will improve the state of things in the country. However, they won’t implement these in order to secure their own selfish interests.
Do hoodlums exist everywhere in Nigeria? Yes, they do and they are growing in numbers and audacity. The ensuing riots have shown it. Hoodlums may be most Nigerians and as the government loves to excuse their own wrongdoings while terming all others as hoodlums, it is safe to say that we are all underprivileged and as a matter of fact, hoodlums. If you demand your rights, you are a hoodlum. If you do not support the actions and inactions of the government, you also are a hoodlum. If they kill you, you are a hoodlum and if you fight back, you are a hoodlum. You too my friend are a hoodlum! Deal with it!