Popular Education

Solidarity and Action: Nurturing Youth-Led Democratic Movements at Nigeria Social Action Camp 2023

Welcome address by Dr. Isaac ‘Asume’ Osuoka, Coordinator of Social Action International, at the Nigeria Social Action Camp 2023, Multipurpose Youth Training Centre, Egbokodo, Warri, Delta State, December 5 – 8, 2023

Comrades, Solidarity Partners, Friends.

With profound respect and a deep sense of responsibility, I  welcome you to the Nigeria Social Action Camp 2023 on behalf of the Governing Board of Social Action Nigeria. We gather under the banner of our theme, “Solidarity for Popular Participation and Restorative Democratic Action in Nigeria,” a clarion call echoing across our nation in these challenging times.

We envisioned the Nigeria Social Action Camp as a beacon for alternative popular education and a catalyst for social change. Our Camp has, over the years, evolved into a vital nexus for addressing Nigeria’s socio-political challenges. It is a meeting point for youths, progressive forces, and agents of change, fostering dialogue and solidarity and blueprinting strategies for transformative action.

Social Action convened the first  Nigeria Anti-Imperialism Camp – as it was known then and remains in character – in 2008 at the Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre in Aluu, Rivers State. Fifteen years later, the context of our struggle has evolved, yet the essence remains unchanged. In 2008, we discussed the crises facing our nation – the diminishing role of universities in critical social thought as anti-hegemonic voices have been stifled, and the need for spaces for alternative political education; we discussed the weakening of broad pro-democracy coalitions (and the depoliticising of the forces that fought against military dictatorship); we examined the challenges posed by neoliberal policies and the need for social transformation in Nigeria. Our focus was on the crises of mass poverty and the appropriation of the state for private accumulation. Today, in 2023, these challenges have not only persisted but have also intensified. We know from history that when the contradictions between the state and the people become as magnified as they are in Nigeria now, change is knocking on the door. All of us, together and individually, have a responsibility to force the door open by whatever means necessary.

Group photograph of selected participants at the Nigeria Social Action (Harmattan) Camp 2023

Our nation’s situation has worsened with increased political marginalisation (of the people by election riggers who flaunt and brag openly about their prowess), environmental degradation, and a deepening democratic crisis. The fraudulent general elections of 2007, which we condemned at the 2008 Camp for failing to reflect the will of Nigeria’s electorate, were a precursor to the challenges we face today.

Today, Nigeria stands at a crossroads, grappling with many challenges beyond electoral discrepancies. The 2023 elections exposed deep ethno-religious divides, casting doubt on the integrity of critical institutions and spotlighting a surge in violence, crime, and displacement. These crises, coupled with an economic downturn, have intensified the hardships faced by our people, leading to a growing disillusionment with a ruling class that seems increasingly detached from the realities on the ground. The disconnect between the government and citizens has only grown, fertilising the conditions for violence and unrest. However, the mindless violence in different parts of the country only serves the interests of the thieves in power. Through popular education, our historic responsibility is to channel frustrations and grievances into something more positive. We need to counter the violence with alternative, positive actions. Let young people see what we do in different groups and be inspired. We need to show that change is possible.  

That is why we are excited about the promising civic awakening, particularly among our youth. This awakening is a beacon of hope, a potential catalyst for a robust popular movement poised to challenge the oppressive and corrupt mechanisms that threaten Nigeria’s democracy. We are reminded of the EndSARS uprising, a precursor of things to come. At the same time, EndSARS reprises revolutionary moments from the 1990s when mass mobilisation of Nigerian youth under the banner of pro-democracy resulted in the overthrow of the Ibrahim Babangida military government.

We recognise that EndSARS as a moment is not yet a movement. The enduring pockets of youth resistance must be supported with ideological coherence to insulate our platforms from political co-option. This is where the Nigeria Social Action Camp 2023 steps in, serving as a critical platform for deliberation, strategy, and action. This year, we focus on re-energising the engagement of youths and civil society to spearhead large-scale resistance movements.

One of the most significant outcomes of the Nigeria Social Action Camps is the formation of the Civil Rights Councils, groups composed of individuals who participated in these camps and other Social Action-organised political education programs, including the weekly study centres in various cities. The Civil Rights Council now have active member-led units in different towns and cities in Nigeria that work at the grassroots for human rights and social justice. These Councils have defended the poor and marginalised against human rights abuses by the police and influential individuals; they have organised protests, rallies, and awareness campaigns on critical issues like pollution by oil corporations, gender inequality, forced evictions and demolitions of homes of the poor and powerless. Today, many members of the Civil Rights Council are present in Camp, embodying the spirit of continuing education and mobilisation. Your presence in Camp is a testament to your dedication to shaping a more inclusive society and a commitment to the principles of equality and justice, ensuring that every voice matters and every individual’s rights are upheld and protected. I salute your courage!

Let us work together, with solidarity and determination, to shape a Nigeria where democracy, justice, and the people’s voice reign supreme.

As we delve into the programme of this year’s camp, each session and discussion is a response to these enduring and new challenges. From reflecting on “Democratic Reforms and Youth Mobilisation” to exploring “Human Rights and Human Rights Advocacy,” we are addressing the multifaceted nature of our struggle. The insights from sessions such as “The Judiciary and 2023 Elections in Nigeria” and “Political Corruption and Rising Public Debt Profile” are directly linked to the issues we identified since 2008. However, the idea is not just to receive lectures from experts. We are all experts. The Camp is a space for all of us to share our perspectives and forge a common understanding of how we must strengthen our partnerships and solidarity as we work in different locations and on various themes.

As we engage in this year’s activities, remember that our unity and collective voice are our greatest strengths.

Once again, I welcome all comrades to the Nigeria Social Action Camp 2023. Together, let us rise to the challenge of shaping a democratic future for Nigeria with the youth at the forefront.