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#EndSARS: The way out!

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A protester holds a flag stained with fake blood during a demonstration outside the Nigerian High Commission against police brutality in Lagos in London on October 21, 2020. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

The youths jolted the whole country last week when Nigerians woke up to find that they had taken to the streets to ventilate bottled up grievances against the police. They went on to list a number of transgressions they have drawn up against the authorities. As it turned out, the demand for the dismantling of SARS outfit was only an entry point. Killings in parts of the country a few days to their action constituted the trigger. For about two weeks, artery roads, dual carriage roads and expressways in major towns and cities have been filled with youths waving placards. From the angst oozing from their sweat-soaked faces, Nigerians did not need a star-gazer to alert them that a major conflict between the youths and the authorities was staring us in the face which must call for a very careful handling.

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The grievances are not altogether novel. They are complaints which have been in public domain for a long time, and even among the restrained citizens, they are issues that have been of bother even if whispered in closets. So, the signs were there for the political leaders to read and grapple with–that all was not well with the polity and the country as a whole and that it was a matter of time the attendant frustration would burst open. The mood was not salutary. A great many were on edge. Now, waves of youth agitation began to sweep through the land. The temptation was there for the government to want to take a hard line and teach those they may regard as irritants a lesson. That cannot in any way be helpful.

A moment like this requires a different kind of style; it requires maturity, statesmanship, wisdom, love, tact and soothing pronouncements, what may be considered a robust address in which the youths are commended for their patience, understanding and for poignantly drawing the attention of the government to the troubling issues of the land and in specific terms what the government planned to resolve them. Strikingly, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila may have set the right tone in his address to the House of Reps on Tuesday. What the youths are pressing for are police reforms as well as redressing the imbalance in the country without which naturally and indeed, predictably, there can be no stability, in any country for that matter. There would be short term measures; there would certainly be medium and long-term measures, all in an attempt to ease tension and for the government to have sufficient presence of mind to resolve perhaps the complex ones.

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As I was reflecting on the way out of the crisis, reports started coming in that the authorities had lost its patience and brought out troops to crack down on the protesters. Unconfirmed reports said there were casualties, with unspecified number of deaths. With the deaths, it is evident that we have not grown out of our old ways. We have not learnt the modern way of crowd control. Is there nothing we can learn from how it is done in other lands other than our proclivity to exhibit scant regard for the sanctity of lives? In other places, regardless of provocations by protesters, security operatives wearing shields would use water, baton, teargas, and in extreme cases rubber bullets. When they are pelted with eggs, tomatoes, all manner of missiles from the angry protesters, the security operatives strive to make arrests. Why must our own be a ready recourse to firing live bullets at defenceless young men and women?

The demonstrators were unarmed. It is in the nature of youths to display energy, bravado which is what they have at their command in the process of development and experiencing, which also entails dreaming dreams and longing and striving for the ideal. It is an age of idealism and adventure. It is the age they see the world upside down and they see it as their bounden duty to straighten it. They want to climb the roof top and jump down. It is the age daughters take on their mothers and say to them matter of factly, it is their time, not their mothers’. Young men take on their fathers and argue with them. From then there is a transition to the age of action and achievement by those between early 30s and close to early 50s depending on the awakening within individuals. And you could hear from the pronouncements of our protesting youths: “Old things have passed away; we are now in the new. We have awakened and want to take responsibility for our future.

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It is our lives; it is our future. Not our fathers’; they got us into the mess we are in the first place.” How could such pronouncements and outcry from the depth of their souls be lost on the authorities but only to see them as a challenge that must be put down? It is not unusual for protests to be infiltrated by alien, perhaps undesirable elements. The protesters are not known to have the capacity to prevent that, unfortunate as it is, which is why in other climes, police accompany demonstrators. Where police were not notified but got to know through intelligence gathering, they are close by, standing at strategic places and reasonable distances.

In this engagement, the government’s initial response was laudable, pledging urgent police reforms. It said it had listened to the demands and asked for time to work on them. The government did not waste time in disbanding the SARS. And the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, apologized to the nation. Police authorities themselves had started training a fresh set of police corps in the art of modern policing. Judicial panels of enquiry have been raised in some states to fish out mindless killer cops.

That aspect is what the government believes it can tackle immediately. As a follow-up, there should have been robust and reassuring pronouncements on other crucial issues the protesters raised such as state police over which there had been widespread clamour in the face of seemingly intractable insecurity in the land. We cannot in one fell swoop have a brand new corps of policemen, for example. What do we use in the meantime since criminality would not be put on hold pending when a brand new police unit would be ready? The Army’s plan to commence nation-wide Crocodile Tears was ill-timed and intimidating, capable of hardening youth resolve.

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The society itself would be unjust to get the authorities to send away all the policemen and women in service even where that is feasible. There must be officers and the rank and file who keep to their oath of office and have kept their integrity intact. What is their own story? Why have some of them been drained of the humanity that is their essence? In what way has the society itself or government brutalized them, their appalling living conditions; their barracks which are unfit for human habitation and what’s more, policemen buying their own uniforms, their socks and officers fuelling vehicles and buying stationeries from personal resources?

In recognition that a protest campaign of the type we are witnessing would soon slip off the fingers of the organizers to attract miscreants who are in their elements fomenting trouble, the government transparently going into collaborative working with the protesters was called for. Unfortunately, this campaign does not have identifiable leaders for understandable fear of their being lured into corruptive influences during negotiations. No matter what, it is the government that should not give up; it can reach out to the youth leaders through virtual conferencing if it does its homework well.

In the hustle and bustle of daily living and in time of crisis, hardly do we human beings give thought to where all of the pursuits lead us, whether or not the fulfillment of the purpose of our lives on earth is on course. Every now and then we do not look for spiritual underpinnings of our behaviour and the drift in the land. We must carry the awareness within us at all times that there is a purpose for our lives and the lives of others that the Scriptures describe as our neighbours.

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What love do we allow to radiate out of us seeing the suffering of our neighbours and in our dealings with them who are our fellow travelers on this earth plane? According to the revelations in new and comprehensive knowledge spreading in our world at this time, life on earth is a wonderful opportunity of schooling to mature spiritually and develop into a spiritual and noble personality capable of being admitted into our Home Above. It can’t but be imperative that we first awaken and recognize that opportunity and resolve to make the best of it. The earthly school is patterned after the school of life at the end of which there is a final examination. The final examination is for the spirit which is the real man sojourning on earth.

How we fare determines where our path leads us after earthly life. Like any examination we are familiar with it is each person that sits for the exams and it is each person that is assessed. There are no proxies. Every wrong and every guilt is inscribed on the soul of everyone, which has been unknown until these times is the proverbial Book of Life. No guilt or stain by virtue of the wrong-doing can be erased without atonement, most times grueling atonement depending on the nature of the seed sown! As it is said, the fruit is as the seed. The wrong or evil spins threads which are woven into tapestry of life forming our carpets of fate.

It is always chilling to learn of fellow human beings being felled by deliberate and sometimes boastful shooting. Our body is an indispensable tool that we cannot carelessly or wantonly do away with it. It is out of ignorance of grave consequences that a person can boast of wasting another man’s life. It does not lie with any authority to terminate another man’s life. We are on earth not only to be materially successful, leave prints in the sands of time, but to be humane, to show respect and consideration, to develop an inner sensing that there is more to us than the physical body, become responsible and perceive our Creator through the Laws of Nature, laws that permeate the entire Creation uniformly. We are to become mature enough to have only one goal—to be good at all times. ENDSARS protest should take us forward and not backwards as a people.

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We can no longer have endless earthly desires which we pursue without regard for our fellow men. Until we see the purpose of life as it truly is, we shall remain bunglers, unhappy, inwardly immature and empty, confused and insatiable and cruel. A leader is a helper and who should see the led as a family, one who, conscious of the consequences arising from credibility deficit keeps promises, and filled with love, binds wounds. To achieve this, sensing and familiarization with the Laws of Life is inescapable. Love is the path Grace treads and through which blessings flow. The led who know why they are on earth will support such a leader that the land may thrive. To halt the protest and avoid perhaps a new one the solution is in the cause.

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