Protesters, hoodlums and their tribe(s)
There have been allegations over the ethnic origins of the protesters and hoodlums involved in the #EndSARS protests. The allegations became more rife after the forceful and bloody dislodgment of the bonafide protesters on October 20, 2020. The extensive destruction of properties — private and public — and the alleged selectiveness of location and ownership by the hoodlums who took over the legitimate protests fueled the speculations over the ethnic identities of the angry mobs across the country. It was particularly so in Lagos State which witnessed the greatest damages to private and public properties with links to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and a prominent leader of the ruling party.
But given the character of the initial protest and the spontaneity of the hoodlums’ deployment of jungle justice, it would be hard to establish any ethnic motivations in the pre and post-October 20 scenarios. There was a common bond among the protesters, a bond that transcended ethno-religious and geopolitical boundaries. Their comradeship inspired the Jumat service of Friday October 16 during which non-Moslems formed a human shield around the worshippers on the grounds of the Lekki Toll Plaza. The Christian worshippers had their turn in the morning of Sunday October 18.
They had everything in common as they shared food, drinks, rain coats and hand-held Nigerian flags then advised as a shield against likely military attack. The anti-protest establishment and their collaborators may indeed have been alarmed by the uncommon bond among the protesters. They were also unable to compromise or make a scape goat of any “ring leader,” for there was none. The protesters had a single voice but not a single leader as a matter of a well thought-out strategy.
Contrary to the allegations of ethnic bias and related conspiracy theories, the protesters were firmly of one main tribe. A tribe of Nigerian citizens disenchanted with the apparent drift and hopelessness in the land. The tribe was a representative sample of all ethnic groups, all states and regions of Nigeria. It was a tribe of unemployed graduates and professionals, discouraged entrepreneurs, retrenched and redundant staff in the private sector laid off as a result of the COVID-19 aftermath and its poor management by the government. A large section of that tribe comprised students of higher institutions of learning forced to sit at home by the prolonged COVID-19 holiday and the perennial strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Other members of that tribe were mostly angry youths who were appalled by government’s indifference to their plight in the face of rapidly diminishing opportunities and hopes for economic rejuvenation. They were angry over the elite conspiracy championed by government which dispenses jumbo salaries and allowances to law makers and other political office holders at the expense of the citizenry. They were unimpressed with the selective and ineffective war against corruption characterized by failed prosecutions and plea bargaining.
The more politically aware joined that omnibus tribe to protest the Federal Government’s deafness to calls for fundamental political reforms, lopsided appointments, the business-as-usual attitude to governance, lack of accountability and betrayal of the promise of change for which many of them voted in 2015. Change promised everything but has delivered little after five years.
Understandably, the security situation which culminated in the #EndSARS protest was a common rallying point. Across all geopolitical and ethno-religious divides, the protesters were very angry over police brutality, extortion and the murderous exploits of that police unit. Past agitations and promises of reform had failed to change SARS. The current Inspector General of Police merely added the prefix “Federal” to the notorious acronym to read FSARS without any fundamental change in the outlook or character of the organization and its operatives. The hurried formation of SWAT without any meaningful audit of the now scrapped FSARS did little to assuage the protesters’ anger. Despite the loud outcries against SARS, the political elite in all the arms of government seemed to have maintained a criminal silence over its operations. Expectedly, the issue of overstayed service chiefs who had failed to conquer Boko Haram got unto the protesters’ radar of security demands. The more so because the defeat of Boko Haram and better general security were major pillars of the change promised since 2015.
The protesters were also unanimous on the plight of the members of the police force and asked for better working conditions for them. The protesters may have been idealistic and persistent but certainly not hired or bought. In a nation where politics is bereft of ideology, they remained focused despite the threats to their lives and blackmail by desperate pro-government elements. They saw themselves as bonafide representatives of other Nigerians who could not march or carry placards but who, nonetheless, lent moral support through the social media and material support through donations in cash or kind from within and outside the country. They were not unaware of the inherent diversities among themselves but remained focused on their agitation for a better Nigeria for all. Ethnicity was not a factor.
But then entered the sub-tribes of the hoodlums. The first set — call them Very Important Hoodlums (VIHs) — were surreptitiously injected into the protest venues to distract and attack the bonafide protesters. They were deployed to the major centers at the Alausa-Ikeja axis and the Lekki Toll Plaza both in Lagos State. Their operation was more brazen in Abuja where they were ferried by sports utility vehicles with covered number plates often associated with top security operations and VIP movements. These emboldened hoodlums set fire to the protesters’ cars before escaping with the VIP vehicles in clear view of some watchers’ phone cameras. They had previously launched physical assaults on protesters who staved them off. Their dare devil mission is believed to have been replicated at other protest venues in other states.
The second sub-tribe of hoodlums emerged to avenge the unwarranted attacks on the protesters nationwide and particularly in Lagos after yet-to-be-identified soldiers opened fire at the Lekki Toll Plaza gathering killing an unspecified number of protesters. These hoodlums shared the ideals of the bonafide protestors but were angrier, more indignant, and visited jungle justice on the perceived “enemies of progress” and their symbols of pride and power. Like the bonafide protesters, they were not motivated by ethno-religious and geopolitical considerations. Just plain anger and indignation against those opposed to peaceful change. The damage to private and public properties is regrettable but the powers that be did not do enough to prevent the destruction in Lagos and other states.
Given the novel demographics of the main tribe of the bonafide protesters and the avengers of the barbaric attack on defenceless protesters, it would be tantamount to high level mischief and conspiracy to impute ethno-religious or geopolitical motives to the protests. The protesters and myriads of supporters within and outside the country were motivated by a common quest for a better Nigeria devoid of police brutality, corruption, insecurity, high unemployment and poor governance. The resort to the primordial configurations of tribe and religion to explain the protests is a further attempt by the political elite to bamboozle the citizenry and perpetuate their oppressive control.
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