#EndSARS Protests, indication of the people’s angst
Prior to the nationwide #EndSARS protests that enveloped Nigeria few weeks back, not a few Nigerians doubted the potency and efficacy of protest as a tool to effect positive changes. The magnitude as well as the impact of the protests surprised several Nigerians.
Youths led by iconic musicians and thespians trooped to the streets to protest against police brutality and other governmental misdeeds that bedevilling the society over the years. The police organization rates itself above the law. The youths carried placards, which bore inscriptions denouncing police brutality and demanding for justice. Some of the inscriptions called for the disbandment of the entire Nigeria police organization, for replacement with a better outfit.
Sadly, hoodlums infiltrated the organized protest groups and hijacked it for criminal acts. From the creeks of Calabar to the promontory of Enugu, and from the rocky terrain of Jos to the lagoon of Lagos, Nigerian cities quaked with the #EndSARS protests.
Policemen’s inhuman treatment of citizens and their perpetration of extra-judicial killings laced with hatred against the police operational style sparked off the protests, which later snowballed to violence and bloody owing to shootings of unarmed protesters by security agents on directive from above.
Looking back to the brutal and unprovoked killing of several Nigerians in some cases for refusing to bribe police officers is fresh in several minds. The extra-judicial killings of Apo-six, rounded-up suspected Boko Haram supporters in Bauchi (Yankari terminus) in 2009 and in Maiduguri and that of Dele Udo, a celebrated sprinter who was a pride to Nigeria in athletics after his home visit from the United States where he was based are fresh in several minds.
There are several other cases of extra-judicial killings by the police and several other unruly behaviors towards the citizens that are responsible for the organized protests to draw government attention to those acts of barbarism by the police. And it is characteristic of the police to always blame their extra-judicial murders of people on either claimed accidental discharge, suspect’s attempt to escape from custody or shoot-out with suspects.
In some cases, police officers are seen in broad daylight escorting suspects brought out from custodies for murder in designated locations outskirts of town under fictitious claims without relevant legal documents or process. In other cases, the murder is committed deep in the night in police stations to avoid the preying eyes of the public. The disbanded SARS was notorious in that business.
In addition to their perpetration of homicidal deeds, they are into extortion of money from suspects, complainants, commercial vehicle drivers plying the roads, private vehicles, commercial motor-cyclists, and always subject those accused of crimes to unbridled torture under the guise of extracting information and confessional statements that are against global best practice.
The disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that was charged with combating armed robbery and kidnapping had gained notoriety for its gross violations of human rights and perpetration of extra-judicial killings along with extortion that can best be described as official robbery in disguise.
So, the scrapping of SARS is not only justifiable but long overdue against the background of the litany of misdeeds it had committed. With the disbandment, let those officers that served on the platform of SARS be posted to Sambisa forest as requested by Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum to show their prowess against those beasts that have denied the people their peace for years. But, beyond the dissolution of SARS, the entire Nigeria Police needs urgent and sincere overhauling and reformation or total disbandment as suggested. First, the people intending to join the reformed Nigeria Police should be made to fulfill stringent requirements so as to ensure that only physically fit and mentally stable people are recruited into the organization and not through the back window as is the present case where hooligans and renowned criminals bribe their ways into the Nigeria Police. In addition to that, the welfare condition of the police should be astronomically improved in anticipation for optimum results. A well-paid policeman may resist the temptation to compromise on work ethics and his conscience for pecuniary rewards while performing his duties.
Nigeria as a federation does not need to decentralize its police for optimum results as agitated by some analysts for selfish interest. Now, the calls for the establishment of state police seem to be vociferous and strident but from my opinion, it is uncalled for. With sincerity of purpose and commitment to the ideals of good policing, Nigeria can still manage a central police system with modifications.
What is most desirable at this point in time is for the Federal Government to embark on sincere reform of the Nigeria Police as well as the establishment of a Presidential National Security Committee (PNSC) as a backup to the security structure rather than embarking on tokenistic cosmetic reforms to douse the present rising tension in the polity which is not wise.
The blood of those young Nigerians including those of the police officers spilled during the October mass protests should not be in vain. More so, the youth protests are symptomatic of their angst against the ruling thieving political elites that are greedy, heartless and pauperizing the people the more. For instance, what is there for a whole national law maker who earns undeserved amount of money as monthly salary and bogus allowances, heartlessly donating used vehicles (tokunbo) to his fellow constituents in expectation of praises and reelection? By donating used vehicles, can such a politician claim to have contributed to the welfare of the people that hardly eat daily but endeavored to have voted him to that position he now misuses against them? Honestly, we are still at the drawing board unless we change our attitude for good governance, bloody revolution is inevitable.
If Nigeria is to exit from the quagmire it found itself, our so called political leaders, players and even their hanger-on should urgently subscribe to addressing our existential problems, tackle the country’s infrastructural decay and corrupt practices, poor security network, diversify the economy, and create job opportunities for the millions of unemployed youths or be prepared for a future bloody revolution that is silently brewing.
Northern Governors had alleged that the protests were targeting the removal of the president from power from their collective perception which may have no security backing to prove. But to the protesters, that was a baseless imagination laced with regional sentiments to scuttle an effort for good governance. If one may ask, why were some of those Northern Governors hoarding what were donated to cushion the hardship of the Covid-19 lock down? What is it the president that directed them to horde the palliatives? That was purely a political talk.
First, what were the basis relied upon for such an imagination? The president was not to be blamed because he was quick in accepting the five earlier demands of the protesters for address which was meant to douse the tension created. Secondly, the minister in-charge of the distribution of the palliatives debunked all allegations against the distribution of Covid-19 palliatives to the states. What again? The state governors were expected to give their own methodology of distribution which never came. Of all the state governors, it was that of Bauchi that confidently ordered the opening of the palliative warehouses for inspection by the protesters to establish his fact. That was done and they discovered all receipted items were truly distributed as said by the governor. That of Adamawa state was nick named by his opponents as Pallia-thief for refusing to distribute what were donated to cushion the effects of the lockdown. Did Ahmadu Fintiri after hording the palliative items expect himself to escape the wrath of the protesters? He was kidding!
With the October protests, Nigeria cannot be said to be totally out of the cauldron of violence. It can still explode into bloody violence should the political leaders choose to remain deceiving the frustrated and shortchanged citizens with bogus claims and offering peanuts in return.
Lest I forget, Plateau State, although not new to crisis management, is one of those unfortunate states affected by the October protests by frustrated youths that took to looting, vandalization and stealing under the guise of the protest. Their action is condemnable and at variance with the objective of the protest.
The governor revealed that the state lost property estimated at over N75billion following vandalisation, looting and destruction associated with the hunt for palliatives by the youths. That was sad.
The governor in company of members of Plateau State Caucus in the National Assembly and Minister of Women Affairs, were said to be filled with shock as they inspected destroyed and looted properties in Jos, Bukuru and Riyom where the protests occurred. That was the other side of frustration.
With that development, apart from the call to fish out perpetrators of the dastardly acts by the visiting lawmakers and the minister, did they proffer any solution against future occurrence of such dastardly act or it was just a mere expression of feeling to pacify the governor? Was there any commitment on their part to address the displayed frustration of the idling youth by those representatives of the people in the national assembly and the minister or it was purely a talk shop lacking any reliable substance other than pretence of concern?
They said: “The act was beyond the #EndSARS agitation and search for palliatives”.
That was their expressed opinion. But if it was beyond the #EndSARS agitation, what was then the remote cause of the vandalization, destruction and looting that was not laced with ethno-religious color? Or was it caused by bad governance, political opposition or bleak future for the youths or poor representation that has relegated the state to the second fiddle in the polity? They failed to state the remote cause of the act they saw and the governor never requested for a clue to study. May be, a High-powered committee may soon be appointed as usual to brainstorm and come up with a position paper on the remote cause (s) of the protest.
Governor Lalong should investigate the contribution of the local governments to the people during the lock down. What were given out by the respective local governments to the people and the, methodology of distribution. He may be shocked with his finding because in a particular local government, it was alleged that a mere N3,000.00 was the only contribution doled out to selected households along political party affiliation and the said council chairman expected peace.
God save Nigeria! From the look of things, Nigeria is heading to a bloody revolution unless if burning issues are addressed with dispatch and sincerity. God give us leaders that we can call leaders and be proud of their stewardship. Ameen!
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues