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Youths hold #EndSARS memorial in Lagos as Buhari signs start-up bill

By Terhemba Daka (Abuja) and Waliat Musa (Lagos) 
20 October 2022   |   4:21 am
As youths converge on the Lekki tollgate in Lagos State for a commemorative walk in remembrance of the 2020 #EndSARS protest today, President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, signed into law the Nigerian Startups Bill 2022

President Muhammadu Buhari flanked by his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari (right) and Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami after signing the Start-up Bill into law at the State House, Abuja… yesterday. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

• Pantami: New law to end harassment of youths bearing laptops
• FG sets up N10b investment fund for young innovators
• Implement reports of judicial panels of inquiry on #EndSARS, say youth activists

As youths converge on the Lekki tollgate in Lagos State for a commemorative walk in remembrance of the 2020 #EndSARS protest today, President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, signed into law the Nigerian Startups Bill 2022, aimed at putting an end to the nationwide harassment of youths carrying laptop computers, among others.

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, who made the disclosure while briefing newsmen in the State House, Abuja, indicated that with the new legislation, the Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Council will also be chaired by the President.

Police brutality and harassment of young Nigerians had, two years ago, sparked a nationwide outrage that snowballed into weeks of protest, which climaxed on October 20 into the infamous Lekki shooting. The #EndSARS protest was a public display of grievances, calling for an end to extrajudicial killings, extortion and abuse of power, especially by officers of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

With the new development, Pantami explained that rather than the Minister lobbying law enforcement agencies to stop the act of harassment, the chairman of council only needs to give a directive, which will be obeyed promptly by those who misconstrue laptop-bearing youths for Internet fraudsters.

Recall that many young Nigerians have raised the alarm alleging harassment by security personnel for bearing laptops and were branded Internet fraudsters. The development, among others, led to the #EndSARS protest.

He said: “The main institution to address the issue is the National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Council to be chaired by Mr. President. Number one mandate of the council is to listen to the challenges of our young innovators and direct relevant institutions to address the challenge. So, with that council, I believe the issue will be resolved.

“At a personal level as a minister, I have written many letters to EFCC, Police IG and the Minister of Police, they have been addressing the challenge, but not consistent. If they address it, because of our intervention, after a month or two, the issue will re-emerge, but if the President happens to be the chair of the council, he cannot lobby the way I lobby, he can only direct and that is why the council is critical to address that issue and any other challenge that may come up in the future. When the President directs, it must be implemented. And I believe the Council will do that.”

MEANWHILE, celebrities and organisers of the #EndSARS protest will hold a memorial in Lekki today to commemorate the killings, particularly youths, who were shot at, across the country on Tuesday, October 20, 2020.

The planned memorial was disclosed in a flier shared by entertainer, Folarin Falana, aka Falz the Bahd guy, on his Instagram page.

According to the flier, participants would walk and drive through the tollgate where the Nigerian army allegedly opened fire on armless protesters who were demanding an end to police brutality.

Part of the banner read: “#EndSARS Memorial 2.0 procession. In memory of those who were killed on October 20, 2022 and those we have lost to police brutality, we will walk and drive through the toll gate, blast horns, sing and chant in unison through the toll gate, while we wave our flags.”

Also, organisers and victims of protests have called for full implementation of the reports of judicial panels of inquiry set up by the state governments to probe the protests.

Ayoyinka Oni, who spoke on the theme ‘ENDSARS justice now: Justice delayed is justice denied,’ called for full compensation of victims of the protest, saying there should not be any backdoor payments.

Oni, who is leader of the TakeItBack group, said: “Our demands include free all incarcerated over #EndSARS by the state and compensate them for jailing them unjustly; adequate compensation for people wounded and families of people killed; full implementation of reports of judicial panels of inquiry; open trial of all security personnel involved in the massacre and also public apology for repression by government.”

The activists are planning to gather at Lekki tollgate, from 8:00a.m. to 11:00a.m., which was the epicenter of the #EndSARS protests. The location had youths airing their grievances day and night until they were dispersed by soldiers on the night of October 20.

The Lagos State Police Command was yet to react as at the time of filing this report. Recall that plans by youths to hold the first commemoration last year was stoutly resisted by the police as it dispersed protesters at the Lekki tollgate and Ojota Freedom Park.

Also, attempt by youths rallying support for Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, to stage a rally at the tollgate on Independence Day anniversary earlier this month faced some legal hurdles, as the court ruled that they can only pass through rather than congregate at the venue.

According to the flier, those who will be participating today have been warned that no political material will be tolerated at the venue of procession. While the event is slated to end by 11:00a.m., citizens are encouraged to visit the venue at any time of the day to pay their respect to the victims.

THE Minister further disclosed that the government has set up a N10 billion Investment Fund for young innovators along with provision for incentives and tax holidays to encourage local innovators.

He disclosed that it was in recognition of the efforts of the Nigerian government in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector that Microsoft has decided to train about five million Nigerians on what he described as “high demands skills” aimed to facilitate job creation.

Further shedding light on the Start-up Act, 2022, the Minister noted: “First, there is going to be a Presidential Council, which has been entitled as National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Council. Digital innovation and digital entrepreneurship are the two prerequisites to Digital Economy. Digital Economy has two pillars; pillar number one is Digital Innovation. Pillar number two is Digital Entrepreneurship.

“So, these are the two prerequisites to building an indigenous digital economy in providing enabling environment for our young start-ups and our young innovators.”

Pantami remarked that ICT has so far contributed 18.42 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) this year alone, while the entire contribution of Communication and Digital Economy was 40 per cent.

Noting the contribution of the digital sector to the economy, Pantami observed that Nigeria was blessed with young innovators who were making the nation proud.

He added: “With the government policies we have in place, before assenting to the bill today, a lot has been achieved when it comes to providing the enabling environment for our young innovators.

“This law is all about how to consolidate and to provide the legal and strategic framework for the growth of the sector. For example, today in Africa, we have around seven unicorns, five of them originated from Nigeria.

“Unicorn is an ICT company, a local ICT company that has a market value of a minimum of $1 billion and all these, five of them, attained this position of unicorn during the administration of President Buhari.

“So, it is because of this that we engaged them, we identified their challenges and we came up with this Nigeria Start-up Bill, with the intention of providing the legal framework so that the sector will continue to grow and be successful.”