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Youth rage and the shame on our leaders

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I thought President Muhammadu Buhari
got it right. His minister of youth and
sports development, Sunday Dare, met with
him on Monday, October 20 and brought this
message to our youth: “The president said
that as far as he is concerned, it’s important
to allow the younger generation to exercise
the freedom to protest and make sure such
protest is in a peaceful manner. He said that
part of the demands that were made is to
make sure that those protesting are protect￾ed and any police officer that has in one way
or the other attacked any protesters be
brought to book.”

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Less than 24 hours after that presidential
thumbs up for the rights of our young people
to speak truth to power through a peaceful
protest triggered by the brutality of the officers and personnel of SARS, a scandal that the Buhari administration had been sitting on
since 2017, Tuesday, October 20 wrote itself
into our national book of infamy. The same
unarmed youths the president promised
through Dare to protect, were set upon by
soldiers at the Lekki toll gate. It was an unpro￾voked violence and the first in the history of our fitful public protests by our young peo￾ple to make their voices heard and force changes in government attitude to the people. Protesting killer policemen, they ran into killer soldiers. Haba.

I now wonder if Dare took some liberty with
the truth and put words in the mouth of his
principal. I have a sneaking feeling that this
might be the case. The unintended consequence is that he succeeded in making the president look like a man who speaks from both sides of his mouth. Public relations cannot always be a smooth operation, I think.

The army authorities have denied that they
sent soldiers to attack the protesters but it is rather elementary that the soldiers would
not have been deployed that night to attack
the protesters without the due approval of
hight military authorities. Or, perhaps they
kitted out surrogates to do the dirty job for
the purposes of deniability. Or, perhaps, they
forgot that they deployed soldiers to Abuja
streets on October 20 and 21 to protect the
nation from undefined threats to it by “subversive elements, terrorist and cybercriminals” in an operation code-named Operation Crocodile Smile VI. This, in my memory, would be the first time the army would concern itself with crime prevention in the land.

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It may be a good thing but it is not within
their constitutional or professional purview.
That is the business of the Nigeria Police and
should be left to them, no matter how well or
poorly they discharge it.

Given the long period of military rule, there
has been a progressive tendency by the military to conflate its role with that of the
Nigeria Police. The deployment of soldiers to
essentially police duty such as manning
checkpoints and overseeing the conduct of
elections is a clear evidence that we have too
much military presence in our political
affairs. This not being a diarchy, a crocodile
smiling or weeping is an unwanted interference in civil matters. After all, there are good
reasons to make the crocodile snarl, not
smile, on Boko Haram at Sambisa forest in Borno State.

I have heard apologists for the government
push the puerile idea that forcing an end to
the protests was in the national interest. We
have heard that a zillion times. But the definition of a national interest that does not include the protection of the lives, the rights
and the freedom of the people blows in the
wind as a personal survival interest.

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Our young men and women have actually
been waiting to explode. SARS provided the
trigger. They could not miss the opportunity
to subject themselves to the danger and the
discomfort of sleeping on the streets in order
to make our political leaders peep through
the windows of their fabulous mansions and
behold on the streets below our future leaders deserted by hope and being turned into
the wretched of the earth. Their lot is nasty
and brutish. They face an uncertain future.
You cannot blame them for believing that
their nation abandoned them. Because it has.

They have bottled up frustrations for years
for reasons that no adult Nigerian would pretend to be ignorant of. Unemployment, former President Obasanjo and others have
repeatedly warned, is a time bomb. It is. There
is no fundamental attempt to reflate the
economy. The Buhari administration has
found a short cut to managing poverty: borrow and borrow and borrow.

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Each time teachers in our public universities go on strike, they spill out frustrated students into the public space. Students facing an uncertain future could also be a lethal grenade. And that is why this unprovokedviolence and killing of unarmed, harmless protesters who are doing nothing more criminal than risking their lives to let our political leaders take their leadership obligations much more seriously than luxuriating in the privileges of power is so painful and so unfortunate for a country whose human and resource endowments are hobbled by good luck and committed leadership deficits.

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It is a huge national shame, even in a nation
inured to shame that peaceful the protests
were met with such brutal official high handedness. Now, it has spread to various
parts of the country. It has become a contest
of will between the rulers and the people. At
the end of the day, the nation would be the
loser, socially and economically. The man￾agers of our national economy would be faced with new challenges. The loss would rub off on our political leaders, some of whom believe that leadership is the exercise of unrestrained power because it would make the rather poor management of our national economy even more critical.

Curfews confining people to their homes for
24 hours daily will certainly exact a toll on the national economy, reeling as it is from the
prolonged COVID-19 lockdown. The Buhari administration would be hard put to live it down. The young people have managed, quite remarkably, to draw the line in the sand. The world is watching – and speaking out in defence of the people’s right and freedom to register their disagreements through peaceful protests. Here is what they said.

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Hillary Clinton, the presidential candidate of
the Democratic Party in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, said: “I’m calling on Buhari and the Nigerian Army to stop killing young #EndSARS protesters.”

UN Secretary-general, Antonio Guterres: “I
condemn the escalation of violence in Lagos,
Nigeria, which has resulted in multiple
deaths and injuries.”

Bill Clinton, former U.S. president: “I am
deeply concerned over the reports of violence
in Lagos and urge the Nigerian government
to engage in peaceful dialogue with the
#EndSARS protesters for police reform and an
end to corruption.”

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Joe Biden, presidential candidate of the Democratic Party in this year’s U.S. presidential election: “I urge President Buhari and the Nigerian military to cease the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria, which has already resulted in several deaths. I encourage the government to engage in a good-faith dialogue with civil society to address these long-standing grievances and work together for a more just and inclusive Nigeria.” And back home:

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo: “We
are at a critical moment in this crisis and Mr.
President must now act before it is too late.
This time demands leadership and mature
leadership at such.”

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Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo: “I spoke to
some of those in the hospital. The pain of
these terrible events is palpable in our towns
and cities, and some losses are irreplaceable,
but we can and will get justice for all of them.”

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Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar: “I call
on our armed forces to show restraint. No
more lives must be lost. We must face our
common enemies, not our brothers and sisters. And our foes are the terrorists and insurgents who seek to end the Nigerian way of
life.”

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah: “Unfortunately for us, we have a president that seems almost unwilling to respond to the kind of reflexes that shows evidence that he is not listening to wise counsel.” And from President Buhari? Mum.

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