That ‘Gory Tuesday’ (#20-10-2020)
Last Tuesday, the Nigerian state enacted another infamy in its annals for which reason it is still in the thick of global news, and the jury is still all out. Protesting youth was shot at by elements seen in military camouflage.
The protest is a consequence of its internal contradictions, put differently, due to its governance crisis. The shadow of the pending United States elections and the spike in Coronavirus infections could not undermine the Nigerian debacle. There were centres of protest across the states of the federation, namely, Abuja, Aba, Akure, Benin City, Ekpoma, Enugu, Jos, Ibadan, Lagos, Oshogbo, and Port Harcourt among other towns and cities in the country. The Nigerian diaspora communities, from Europe, North America to Africa, joined the protest remarkably.
It was obvious to every discerning mind that the #EndSARS slogan was a mere metaphor for the systemic perversions in the country and that the youth, the owners of tomorrow, were demanding systemic change from the governing class that has failed to turn a new leaf, or mend ways and provide jobs, social amenities and above all make the country livable. The protest was peaceful and festive in nature. The Lekki Toll Gate on the Victoria Island enclave of Lagos as well as the Millennium Fountain in Abuja became epicentres of the protest. Musicians, comedians, and sundry celebrities turn the protest into a conversion and pleasure. The Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka provides a vignette of the Lagos scene. According to him: “It was above all, orderly. In places, one felt vibrations that seemed to echo concert grounds like Woodstock, other times, the massed processions of France’s Yellow vests or waves of Lech Walesa’s solidarity movement. Even closer, more recently and pertinent, the patient, stoical gatherings in Mali that lasted weeks and, in whose resolution, our nation played a critical role.”
In ways known to the intelligence circle as infiltration, agents provocateurs, some of whom were conveyed in Special Utility Vehicles (SUVs) were seen attacking peaceful protesters in Abuja. Similar incidents happened in Alausa, Lagos and these were later to climax in what this medium dubbed ‘Bloody Tuesday’ at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos.
The shootings in Lekki resulting in some casualties as confirmed by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who was in some hospitals. First, the Lagos State government imposed a curfew at about 4 p.m. when public servants were yet to vacate their offices, and adjusted the timing later as an afterthought, about the same period, the Closed Circuit Television cameras at the toll gate were removed from their anchorages, and by about 6.45 p.m., hell was let loose in a gush of shooting. This outrageous incident became the spark for both local and worldwide outrage against the Buhari Administration under whose watch that barbaric act was perpetrated. There has been an all-round condemnation of the Lekki shootings. But the United Nations and the United States have variously urged caution on the parts of the Nigerian authorities. Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General called “on the Nigerian authorities to investigate these incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable.” Mike Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State, on his part, desires “an immediate investigation into any use of excessive force by members of the security forces. Those involved should be held to account in accordance with Nigerian law.”
It is important to place in perspective the objective factor that converged with the subjective factor to produce the nation-wide wide protest against misgovernance in Nigeria. Precisely on October 9, Nigerians were awoken to a protest with the #EndSARS hashtag. The crux of the matter is that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad set up in 1984 and revived in 1992 was on a mission creep. It had reversed its mandate of curbing robbery which was itself aggravated by the harrowing conditions visited on the population by the World Bank/IMF mediated Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP). It went on the path of extra-judicial killings of suspects and a binge of extortion. Every youth either riding a good car or clutching a sophisticated telephone was demonised with ‘Yahoo tag’, a metaphor for criminality. Across the country, it seemed they competed to outdo themselves in the gross violations of human rights. Linda Nkechi, Saliu Alli Haruna, Kazeem Tiyamiyu, Femi Bello, Tina Ezekwe, and Jimoh Isiaq among others were victims of the spate of extra-judicial killings in the country.
In the midst of human rights violations, the economic outlook of the country has become grim and gloomy. Inflation has reached double digits underlined by an astronomical rise in the prices of basic food items. This is the reality unmatched by the plummeting purchasing power of the working class. To make matters worse, insecurity has rendered the peasantry redundant as they cannot access their farms due to the activities of insurgents and bandits. To be sure, unemployment is currently put by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) at 27.1 per cent in the last two quarters, translating into about 21.7 million people out of the job. The picture is depressing with a combined sum of 55.7 for unemployment and underemployment. Government response to basic governance responsibility has been less than edifying. The Academic Staff of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike for the government’s negligence to implement the agreement it has entered into with the staff of the nation’s tertiary institutions leaving our youth temporarily out of campuses while their children are in world-class universities overseas. The same governing class hardly allows elections to hold on an even keel, in ways that the electorate are empowered. Need we look further for the root cause of the current rage in the country?
In his Right to Rebel, Patrick Wilmot, notes that “Revolutionary action seeks to transform the structure of the society so that it will provide free access to the consciousness seeking the objects for its basic desires; to move society closer to its goals of providing for man the means of fulfilling the desires he cannot fulfill by himself, apart from society.” The Youth do not see themselves and their desires reflected in the social structure of the Nigerian society, and more grueling is that the latter does not even provide them with the means to satisfy their desires. So, they have become alienated from society even though it is apparent that the polity run differently can satisfy their desires. Despite this stark reality, the government’s response has left much to be desired. The first line of response was to dissolve the SARS unit of the policy and ridiculously replaced it with what is strangely called Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) squad in ways that change nothing or alter the reality of abuse and extra-judicial killings. Does a government whose responsibility is to protect lives and property ought to be told that Nigerian lives matter? Sadly, the government would later mock this cosmetic approach to the extent that concession should not be taken as a weakness, betraying ignorance of its temporality, and that sovereignty belongs to the people. While violence raged, the country’s leadership has no suiting balm to rob on the back of the aggrieved and alienated populace. When it eventually did in form of a national broadcast, it was simply bland, empty, and devoid of empathy. This is certainly not how to govern.
Let’s not get it twisted, the sporadic shootings at Lekki toll gate is condemnable. There must be consequences for Gory Tuesday the world is still contextualising. The government owes the Nigerian people and the international community, a responsibility to tell the world what happened at the toll gate where a Nigerian flag was reportedly bloodstained and National Anthem the young ones were rendering didn’t mean anything to those who fired gunshots. We want answers as to who ordered the shooting, which the military establishment has denied. Are there pieces of forensic evidence of a shooting, blood, and death at the Lekki toll gate? We believe the truth can only come out through an independent inquiry. Truth be told, replacing SARS with SWAT is no solution. Outright dismissal of erring personnel of SARS and their official minders would be more meaningful. We have warned several times that the country cannot carry on as though all is well. We might not be that lucky next time. It is high time we addressed the contradictions of governance. In other words, we need to urgently restructure this country and annul the incongruities that have rendered our putative federal system a unitary one. The blood of those killed in the nation-wide protest must not be in vain. As one observer of the Nigerian process notes, “Nigerian Democracy has long suffered from lack of political will. Now may be the long-awaited opportunity for that change”. It will serve a useful purpose if the authorities in Abuja and other 36 state capitals understand the significance of that ‘Bloody Tuesday.’ It is not significant to be merely asking about the extent of casualties. The death of even one Nigerian diminishes the rest of us!