On the 25th of October 2020, the people of Chile had the opportunity to turn the tide of more than 40 years of political and economic anguish, with a vote to re-write their constitution in the way they see fit. Chile estimated population of about 19 million voted in a referendum that came up with a consensus decision of more than 78 percent in favor of changing their constitution. But, yet what is now a victory for Chile was pioneered by young people in fact teens and students who were brave enough to confront the status quo. The stories of their fight for social equality in an economic disproportionate country of widening social class shares some similitude with what is currently brewing in Nigeria.
My hindsight sought to contextualize the immense role Chilean students played in this victory and lessons that could be adopted to galvanize the post ENDSARS movement for improved governance and social equity in Nigeria
HOW IT STARTED
Chile is a relatively developed country in western South America among the Latino countries according to the 1990 -1999 World Development Report by the World Bank it was to be a perfect example for other Latin American countries in political stability and economic development. What happened? Nothing really, other than the outlook reported by the World Bank did not reflect the disproportionate access to essential public goods faced by the average Chilean. With exorbitant school tuition fees, more Chileans had to borrow to have access to formal education. Its neo-liberal economic model created a dense prospect for wealth creation because its highly monopolized market economy stifled income growth for the average citizen, while amassing more wealth for the ruling elite.
All this culminated to high level election apathy from the youth who were un-interested in Chile’s conventional politics and incessant political party intrigues, but something changed. Well, firstly its high school students in 2001 and 2006 took the fry pan by its handle, government announced a new hike in public bus transport to the frustration of the students who then mobilized and agitated for public bus fare waiver and even waivers for university entrance examination fees in what will be popularly referred to as the “penguin revolution” named after students black and white uniforms occupying schools in an organized approach. After months of mass demonstrations the government conceded, by giving discounts on public transport tickets and university entrance fee waivers for most students. This success inspired students in the university five years later to organize mass demonstrations again, this time against rising tuition fees and student debts in tertiary institutions blaming profit driven educational policies controlled by the country’s few elite. Fast forward to 2019, and mass protests pivoted by students, from the high school to the universities occupied major cities in Chile over the hike in metro transport fares, and this gets even more participation with more adults joining in the demonstrations because the hikes was obviously a problem that affected people every day lives. As soon as more adults joined in the demonstrations, these young organizers began to hold rallies in the protests citing other deep-rooted issues like the huge gap in social inequality and the uneven distribution of wealth in Chile social class systems they shared holistic solutions like the need to reconfigure the political and economic systems forged by the military in the 1970’s not just purported reforms sung by the government.
In trying to grasp the timeline of events in Chile, from the 2001 high school student protests to the 2019 mass demonstrations triggered by the subway transport hike, you observe a generational shift from passive citizens to active civic actors inspired by high school teens and university students through their activism and engagements. Chile’s new generation challenged static and ambiguous politico-economic structures and the conventional politicians that managed them. As the ENDSARS protests dissipates from the streets and the government try to hide the harrowing issues like the Lekki shootings, police extra-judicial killings during the curfews et al. The momentum must remain with the youth. The issues must continue to be ruminated and discussed on the new media, pubs, town hall meetings, parks, schools, places of worship and everywhere possible. Abraham Lincoln once said in his famous “Lost Speech” on May 19, 1856, “Be not deceived. Revolutions do not go backward”. Revolutions are not silenced they only morph into other possibilities. Paradigm shifts are amplified through tides of generational movements stirred by student participation. Students in secondary and tertiary institutions must organize among themselves creating groups or forums to engage the issues in their campuses. Because, their understanding of the issues and their leadership will play a crucial role in the birth of a new Nigeria.
Chile youth led demonstrations were highly effective because it relied on identifying issues that were socially relatable to everyone — inequality in income gaps and inaccessibility to public institutions in education, transport, health facilities were experienced by most Chileans. Even though Chile had a relatively strong GDP rated in the top 30 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it had one of the most frustrating educational and health care delivery service. The rising tuition fees in the educational sector, and the quality of care in clinics and hospitals were erratic, and this was the general perception from the average Chilean. This issues created the spark for monthly demonstrations that forced government concessions. But like it is often said revolution indeed do not go backward, this concessions created an opportunity to address even more deep-sited issues like the scandalous privatized pension scheme that stoked more public participation in the October 2019 demonstrations. The recent ENDSARS protests wasn’t just about police brutality or ending the police (Special Anti-Robbery Squad Unit). It was also a protest against deep-rooted issues like: the widespread insecurity of lives and properties, unresponsive and expensive big government, social inequality et al. However, demonstrating against police impunity was so palpable an issue to connect young people regardless of gender, ethnicity or religion everyone wanted to lend a voice against this pervasive societal scourge. To continue to engage the strategy should be premised on our cross-cutting issues and organizing around them.
Another striking element of the youth led Chilean protests was the personal resolutions to sacrifice for change, I write this with fright because history has constantly reminded us that the cause for change is not a bed of roses, it is sometimes bitter and dark. But, hearing and reading about some of the front liners in the Chilean protest was a challenge. In the 2006 protest, majority of the high school students gave up school terms to remain in the frontline demanding entrance exam waivers, they were scared of having gaps in their academic calendar but were resolute to see the cause to the end. From their reflections their stories are akin to ours. But no battle is won when we fold our arms to do nothing Saul Alinksy quotes in his book ‘Rules of Radicals’ “People cannot be free unless they are willing to sacrifice some of their interests to guarantee the freedom of others” some will sacrifice their lives, some will sacrifice vacations, careers, time, labor, but to have a nation the next generations will be proud of even if we are no longer around, it will be worth it.
Finally, Chile’s youth led movements understood the underlying issues, then organized and lobbied for a political reconfiguration to solve what they regarded as the disproportionate distribution of wealth, an economic model that gave so little to the average Chilean. The problems in Nigeria are not complex they are just encrypted and the key to decrypting them is to understand the issues, and in the heart of them is the begging need for “Restructuring”. Nigeria who celebrated her 60 years anniversary this year is long overdue for this. Its extant politico-economic system and governing structures and principles have left much to be desired to the average Nigerian that even constitutional amendments and government reforms cannot fix. From the incessant terror attacks in the fringe states in the North, to the over bloated Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) or unaccountable local and state governments not to mention the over centralized police force and more, the cracks are visible for even the blind. In any real attempt to solve this issue, we must think like the young Chileans by emphasizing on the need for a more applicable political system and economic structure that is based on social justice, equity and merit. Because in truth, the “1999 Nigerian Constitution” was not drafted by “the people of Nigeria”, it was a military parting gift arranged by twenty five persons (1999 Constitutional Committee).
As Chile celebrates the victory to start again, theirs was a long road with many tangible and intangible gains, yet their young generation was at the center of this process their resolution and collective destinies disrupted the conventional strategies employed by conservative state actors. Now, their story is a source of motivation to the young Nigerian generation and a blueprint for disrupting the status quo.