Under the shadow of hoodlums
As the #EndSARS protest dust gradually settles and people power raises its head in Nigeria, pertinent questions on the learning curves and post protests trajectory (where we are headed as a nation and as a people) must now be answered.
The murders, arson, looting and jailbreak are criminal and abominable but by their very colour, an aperture is presented through which we must look at ourselves as a “nation”, as a people. Yes, we saw the nation’s youth protest for about two weeks with a lot of innovation, creativity, resilience and zest. They released some of their bottled up energy which ironically President Muhammadu Buhari had overlooked some years back, while labelling them “lazy youth”. Both the protesters and their sizable sympathizers used the new media to its fullest to mobilize, to flag issues and to draw attention to both the curves and the obvious of the matter at hand.
The swift response of the government, which scraped the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and hurriedly replaced it with Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, only served to remind the people of several broken promises of the past. Imagine government sworn to the welfare of the people sitting comfortably atop years of broken promises!
We have seen that on October 20, 2020, persons dressed in military uniform opened fire on protesters at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. Up till now there has been no veracity of whether the bullets shot were live round or empty shells. Whatever be the case, to traumatize peaceful, unarmed protesters who were bearing the national flags and exercising their civic rights in a democracy leaves more to be desired.
About Lekki and the black Tuesday, if the authorities were so bent on breaking up the siege, they could have helmed in the protesters and slowly wear down their resolve with other means and without infuriating or causing grievous harm. And if the crowd was receptive (as has been shown to happen in parts of the country), the security personnel could even “join” them, demonstrating in the process that the country belonged to all of us. But to open fire, any kind of fire, was only unmasking uncivility. It was like mid-day darkness! A new low that really rankles!!
There were worrying and warning signs! Wolves in the protests’ blanket must always be consciously watched, for the times are indeed ominous. We were rudely awoken to the fact that there exists a critical mass of citizens consumed by the thought of breaking jails when only uncivilized people open prison gates and burn down citadels of security. Why will citizens’ burn down police stations and invite anarchy rather than wait for the police systems to be reformed? Why would they seek to enthrone criminals? Some Policemen and other law enforcement agents may be deemed culpable but why would marauders slay them and any other officers of the law? People have to be brought to justice, not criminal gang justice. Lives, always are sacred!
Yet, decent people cannot fold their arms and allow outlaws sneak back into the society. This sends wrong signals on the wagon of dire consequences. So, we call out: Where are the people’s marshals who must now clean up the odium brought upon normal people? For how long would people live under the shadows of cult criminal gangs who are now being deified but who nonetheless live among the people? Ultimately, it is the same people who suffer the consequences of habouring elements that they should be throwing up to the law!
Thus everywhere now, the mayhem of the #EndSARS protests have raised the questions bordering majorly on whether we are a nation of hoodlums.
Who set fire on public and private property across Nigeria and hijacked legitimate protests? Who broke jails without shame and set the prisoners free in Benin City?
Who shot to decimate armless protesters at Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos after taking out the CCTV cameras and cutting electricity supply? Who unleashed untold violence and arson on citizens and businesses in Apo and Dutse in Abuja and elsewhere in Nigeria? Who has ethnicized the struggle and tribally woke up primordial divisions?
Who (caught on videos) encouraged and gave logistics support to hoodlums to assail protesters, break their ranks and unleash mayhem to discredit and smear the protest? Who have been jumping out of the bush like cannibals yelling wildly, discrediting and pursuing genuine protesters and creating a regional/sectional proxy war situation?
Now, who are the faceless devourers, the fifth columnists who are keeping the cows of hoodlums sacred? How has it happened that the ubiquitous hoodlums have never been seized despite going on the rampage and giving everyone something brutishly nasty to talk about? Are hoodlums therefore invisible to the Nigerian state and above the law? Is Nigeria itself under the shadow of hoodlums or under the law? Why are hoodlums let loose as the state limps and citizens enslaved? And who and what system has helped to create these scapegoats?
As part of chronicling the #EndSARS chapter which many see as a harbinger of some form of revolution, let us therefore, do a movie whose script is titled: “The Impunity of hoodlums, Nigeria and a flag stained with blood!”
Once a cup is full, it brims and there is no longer any hiding place. Thus it is only a matter of time. But let the people who are fighting for a better society, fighting in the right sense, prepare better also the next time.
On the heels of the cosmic clock which compels greater knowledge of real life beyond religiosity, our earth and of course, Nigeria, will not remain the same again. Even the rest of the world now watches Nigeria more intensely. Have we been pretending to be what we are really not?
To these seven questions, answers that read: hoodlums have been posted.
Obayuwana, a development journalist is a former Foreign Affairs Editor of The Guardian.