#ENDSARS protest: Charting way forward amid tension, uncertainty
There are tension and uncertainty in the land with an atmosphere of gloom pervading the country. And it is happening just weeks after Nigeria celebrated her 60th independence anniversary.
The youth-engineered #EndSARS protest, which began as a peaceful campaign against police brutality in the country developed into full-blown violence after soldiers allegedly shot at protesters at the Lekki toll gate, Lagos State, last Tuesday night.
According to Amnesty International, at least 12 people were killed in the shooting while several others were injured. However, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has so far confirmed only two deaths.
But the shooting enraged the youth and they soon went on a rampage in many states of the federation, destroying every government property they could lay their hands on. Private properties were also targeted with many of such either razed or looted by hoodlums. The protests also resulted in a jailbreak at the Nigeria Correctional Service facility in Edo State, where 1,993 inmates escaped. There were also attempted jailbreaks at the Service’s facilities in Warri, Delta State, and Ikoyi, Lagos. As of last Thursday night, no fewer than 10 states had imposed a curfew to curtail the escalating violence.
Also last Thursday, President Muhammadu Buhari waded in by addressing the nation, calling on the youth to discontinue the protest, saying, “your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding.”
Before then, many other eminent Nigerians had spoken in the same guise and it appears their voices have been heard. A semblance of peace is gradually returning to the affected cities with the military patrolling major routes to maintain law and order.
But the question on many lips is where do we go from here as a country. The Guardian spoke with some Nigerians who analysed the circumstances that led to the violence and proffered the way forward. Below are their views:
‘Govt Should Be Honest To The Governed Going Forward’
Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation, Mr. Ibuchukwu Ezike, tells MARIA DIAMOND that government should learn to be honest to the people going forward to forestall the reoccurrence of a similar crisis
What is your take on the state of affairs in the country with regard to the #EndSARS protest that has turned violent in many states?
I am shocked, especially at the manner in which the seedlings of this country (our youth) are being mowed down in cold blood by security agents paid by them (taxpayers) to protect their lives and property. It is pathetic. It is agonising and my heart bleeds.
Some people say there is more to the protest than meets the eye. Do you subscribe to such views?
Whether the protest is midwife by anyone or group, I don’t know. What I know and I think every right-thinking Nigerian knows is that things have fallen apart and the falcon no longer hears the falconer. There is gross impunity everywhere resulting in monumental human rights infractions by the state and its agents. There is mass joblessness and government is doing little to address it. There is massive hunger and poverty in the land in the midst of plenty and few swim in wealth and affluence. Your next-door neighbour lives in stolen wealth while you rarely eat once a day. People are crying that they cannot fly while you trek the roads under sun and rain and your neighbours fly overseas to treat common illnesses and you cannot afford to buy drugs from the pharmacy shop to address your serious health challenges. Our public schools have collapsed where the majority of our children study but private schools where your neighbours send their kids to learn boom. You don’t have water for your domestic needs but your next-door neighbour sunk borehole where the neighbours cannot fetch water in his or her compound. We can go on and on.
In the midst of these artificial challenges created by our politicians, most of who are thieves and insensitive to the genuine desires and needs of the people, the citizens are subjected to huge human rights violations by security agents at checkpoints and every nook and cranny of the society. It is expected that whether asked to do so or not, the people will one day stand up to say enough was enough. Recall that a small increase in the prices of bread sparked off the 1789 uprising in France. Recall that the revolutions in Russia and Cuba were motivated by similar issues that are today militating against our own society. The youth uprising in Nigeria is motivated by inept and conscienceless power, the power that has no interest in the welfare and wellbeing of the people.
Do you agree with those who posit that the protesters should have called off the protest at the point government accepted their five-point demand and committed to the implementation?
I do not think that this protest has any leadership. I may be wrong but I think that it is a spontaneous uprising caused by the government’s ineptitude, injustice, failure to deliver by managing the enormous resources that God has freely given to us to harness same and use them to put smiles on the faces of our people and happiness in our hearts. That is all. When we organise protests, there are usually leaders that manage the protest because our protests have human faces. We manage it from hijack by those with different alternative interests who the government and their allies now call “hoodlums, social miscreants, and so on” that they (those in power) produce. We have leaders of our protest who can call off the protests or who can discuss with the government. But I doubt if this protest had leaders. They are aggrieved Nigerians populated by the youth who are tired of the lies of the government and are not ready to listen to them. Government has failed to live to their promises and agreement in the past and I think that it is part of the anger of the protesters.
Look at the ASUU-government crisis. How many months has it lasted? Is government talking with sense with respect to the ASUU strike? The demand for the abrogation of SARS has lasted for years. Has the government listened to that cry till now? The issue of increment in pump prices of petroleum products and electricity tariffs, among others, are there. But the government turns a deaf ear till the people protest. Why? I think it is this deceit in previous matters that made the youth or protesters to ignore the government and its antics.
How would you assess the government’s response to the present state of affairs?
Honestly, the government has not made any germane response to the demands of the protesters. As of today, these youth or protesters are still being murdered, arrested and their major demands have not been met or addressed. The government has not demonstrated a sincere desire to address the genuine issues in the demands of the protesting Nigerian youth.
Many Nigerians are now concerned about how to restore law and order and return to normalcy. What is the way forward?
The way forward is absolutely simple. Listen to the protesters by ending SARS and not instituting similar killer squad or outfit, set up genuine accountability tribunals to probe into the agitations of the youth with respect to the heinous crimes committed by the SARS and other evil police formations in the country, end corruption and start respecting the rule of law and due process, give justice to the people and provide employment and other social amenities for the people. This thing is no rocket science and immediately the people start seeing the honesty of the government is doing these, the protest will die a natural death. The attacks on government officials, highly placed, and royal institutions and property should serve as a note of warning to all of us and should advise us to change or face the wrath of the oppressed.
‘Army, DSS, Police Should Conduct Joint Patrols Across The Country’
Dr. Bone Chinye Efoziem is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Strict Guards, a private security firm in the country. He is a member of the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS), a prestigious body for renowned players in the security sector in Nigeria and overseas. He spoke with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO on the issues that led to the escalation of the #EndSARS protest and the violence that ensued.
The country experienced monumental destruction of lives and property within the week following the #EndSARS protest by youths. How did we get here?
We got where we are as a result of the total erosion of trust between the government and the governed. There was no trust on the part of the governed that the government would attend to the issues they raised. I think that is what triggered everything.
Some people say that there is more to the protest than meets the eye. Do you see it as so?
Well, I think the youth gave room for people to believe so. Why I say so is that if you check from the beginning of the protest, from the initial demand, you would agree with me that it seemed like there was a shifting of the post in between the game. The protest kicked off as EndSARS protest. Every human being out there believed that all they wanted was let SARS end. The ending of SARS could mean looking at the Police Act. What is the law that enabled the police authority to set up SARS? If we must scrap SARS, what should be done? And if they have made a pronouncement that SARS has been scrapped, what then happened? It goes back to what I earlier said about the issue of trust.
If you remember, a lot of youths were clamouring for an Executive Order and pronouncement from the President, not the Inspector General of Police (IGP). It boils down to trust. If it were a place where there was trust, by the time the IGP had said this is the position of the government, there ought not to be any room for mistrust. But unfortunately, it was not the situation here.
Now after the scrapping of SARS, in Lagos State, for instance, there were several attempts to reach out to the demonstrators. Appeals were made to them to leave the roads when it became apparent that hoodlums were infiltrating their ranks. They were even told that they could continue the protest when the hoodlums must have been got rid of. The governor made them understand that it had got to that point. But there was this fear and lack of trust to the point that the youth said they didn’t have a leader. If there was trust, you should have expected that one or two persons would come and say, ‘we are the leaders; in the worst-case scenario, you would arrest us and we would go to court and all that’. So, as it is now, people who are saying there is more to it are saying so on the basis of what happened before the shooting at the Lekki tollgate.
I am one of the persons who have suffered most as a result of the protest; I run a private guard company. I am aware that up to 16 locations where we are supposed to be protecting have been overrun. If it was just EndSARS protest, why attack companies wholly owned by Nigerians and creating jobs for Nigerians? Some branches of commercial banks where our guards are working have been attacked and vandalised. Even small supermarkets and hairdressing saloons were looted dry in a place like Bode Thomas. If it was a targeted attack at government institutions and infrastructure, why attacking private-owned businesses? If you are clamouring for genuine concerns, why even damage public infrastructure? That leads to your question - are they really clamouring for the right thing or is there more to it?
Nigeria doesn’t have a history of peaceful demonstrations. So, for the demonstration to have lasted seven days unhindered, it was for a genuine cause, there shouldn’t have been any further demonstration.
Are you saying the protest should have ended at the point the government accepted their five-point demand?
I want to ask you a question in response to that. Can you cite any battle that has been won at the field? I am not aware of any battle that has been won on the battlefield. I think that for every battle, there are stages. For the first week, I presumed that the young men and women had achieved greatness. Why am I saying so? It’s because they had beaten the government to submission. At that point, it was for them to go for the next stage of the battle, which is discussion. But they did not give room for that.
I think that in everything we do that has to do with demand, there should be a time to make that demand, a time for the consideration of the demand, and a time for the implementation of the demand. So, having made a demand, what I expected the protesters to have done after the one week that was so successful without any violence, was to call themselves to say, ‘go off the streets; we suspend our actions and we are giving the government two weeks, three weeks or one month to respond to all our demands failure which we would be back on the streets’.
Don’t forget that this was a protest that was held for a whole week and nobody was identified as the leader; nobody was identified as the sponsor even if there were some allegations here and there. Now, it would have put government on the edge and made them respond. But see the way it has turned out. They say hoodlums have hijacked it. Who are the hoodlums? Who are the protesters? I will presume that the hoodlums only came in as a result of the lingering on of the activities of the protesters.
But do you think the government mishandled the protest at any point in time?
Yes; I think they played into the hands of the people who wanted to destroy the government at the point of the attack on protesters at the Lekki toll gate. Firing live ammunition was wrong. But I can tell you also that I have taken my time to study the footage but I was not so convinced they shot at the crowd. Again, people shouldn’t say they shouldn’t have brought in the army because, by that time, the police had been so desecrated by the protesters that bringing in the police would have been the worst mistake on the part of the government.
But I think the army high command didn’t handle it well by deploying few personnel that could be either intimidated by the crowd and by going at that time of the night. If I were to be in a position to advise the military high command, I would have told them not to do anything to the young men and women but to leave them there throughout the night. By the early hours of the next day, crowd the scene with about two companies of the army or even a whole battalion if possible. Led by the commanding officers, they should just be advancing towards them. A lot of those young men and women would have been intimidated by that show of force. If they had got there around 6.00 am and cordoned off the area, trust Nigerian parents and guardians. Everybody would have started calling his son, daughter, or relative, to leave the place. I think that is where I can say they got it wrong. But if it is about bringing in the army, there was no alternative.
Many Nigerians are now concerned about how to restore law and order so they can go about their businesses. What is the way forward in your view?
In my view, the way forward is that the military should carry out joint operations with the police and the DSS to restore law and order, not only in Lagos but also in the entire nation. The DSS should be able to get relevant intelligence about areas of build-up and all that and the police and the army should go there to conduct a show of force and dispel whatever intentions those young men and women would have. They can do this without having to fire shots.
‘FG Should Begin Restructuring Process
Once Dust Settles’
Jide Ojo is the Executive Director of Olumide, Jide, and Adebowale (OJA) Development Consult and the former Programme Manager with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). In this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, Ojo, who is also a public affairs analyst, says restructuring the country would bring an end to bad governance and the kind of violence witnessed by Nigerians following the #EndSARS protest.
What would you blame for the state of affairs in the country with regard to the #EndSARS protest that turned violent in many states?
It is the mishandling of the situation that has led to this our sorry state. We have more than 10 intelligence agencies in Nigeria. If they had done proper security threat assessment, if they had actually done their mapping very well, they should have picked intelligence on what may likely be the aftermath of the EndSARS protest. People are very bitter with the policing system in Nigeria and it is not today that the government started promising reforms but failed to deliver. So, this is a bottled-up anger against not only the policing system but also against bad governance in the country. They should have done everything humanly possible to arrest the situation because we all understand the trajectory.
The moment you have people on the street carrying placards and blocking the highways, definitely the miscreants, touts, and undesirable elements would take advantage of that to wreak havoc. And they knew the situation was tensed.
In fact, it was the NLC/TUC strike that was shelved that many of these miscreants were hoping to use as launchpad for the mindless lootings and killings that are going on now. Fortunately, the government was able to nip that in the bud on a roundtable with the NLC/TUC.
But they ignored the youths; they thought the EndSARS protesters were the children from very comfortable homes and would soon get tired; they thought they didn’t have the stamina to withstand rigour and stress. But what they failed to understand was that after a while, the children of the poor who have remained jobless as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the bad policies of the government would want to cash in to avenge the bad governance in the country. And that is what we have seen.
Given your submission, do you subscribe to the view that the genuine protesters should have called off the protest at the point government accepted their five-point demand?
Let me say I subscribe. But again, the failure of the past is what warranted what happened. The failure to do the needful all these years was why all those law-abiding protesters refused to leave the streets. They were asking their president to speak to them and give them timelines and deliverables because SARS had been scrapped more than twice in the past. What happened thereafter? Few days ago, the National Human Rights Commission submitted the report of the Presidential Investigation Panel on the SARS to the Police Service Commission, Musiliu Smith, for immediate implementation. The report they rushed to present, which recommends 35 police officers for dismissal and all of that, ought to have been submitted a long time ago. There had been several police reforms that they didn’t act upon. That was why the youth was cynical with those five for five.
So, what Nigerian youths were asking for were complete deliverables and milestones that they can hold the government accountable for. You can’t just be making blanket statements like, ‘Oh, we will establish a victims’ support fund’. For how long would that victims’ support fund be operational? Who is going to be donating? Can the Federal Government lead by sowing a seed of N1 billion or N500 million in each of the 36 states and FCT? After that, the state governments would come up with their own and then other private individuals just like they mobilised resources to fight COVID-19. Government didn’t just leave the private sector to fight COVID-19 but the private sector weighed in with over N30 billion. So, what I am saying is that Nigerian youths were actually looking for something concrete that they can take the government on.
Government has never proven itself to be credible. Look at the ASUU strike that has lasted for over six months. Many of the students that joined the EndSARS protest should have been in school. Many of them should have graduated. But the government ignored ASUU; they don’t care because their own children are schooling in Ivy League universities.
It is a fact that some of those demands cannot be immediately implemented as they would have to go through budgetary and legislative processes. Some people say the youth ought to have sheathed the sword at some point but they didn’t do that. With the level of destruction, we have seen, a lot of people are now saying that there is more to the protest than meets the eye. What is your take?
Yes, there may have been more to the protest than meets the eye but the government, as I said, gave the people no choice. Up till Thursday afternoon, a lot of eminent Nigerians were still pleading with Mr. President to address Nigerians. Why should that happen? When George Floyd was killed in the U.S., did Donald Trump not speak to the American masses? Why should Mr. President be talking to us through third parties? And why shouldn’t the government come up with concrete terms of references, timelines, deliverables, and milestones. That is where government and government officials are missing the point.
The youth are not stubborn; they want a better life for themselves. It is not everybody that wants to go abroad and become a second-class citizen. Look at the statistics; Nigeria remains the headquarters of extreme poverty globally. We took over from India about three years ago and we are yet to exit that. Now, we have an unemployment rate of 27.1 per cent according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The government promised 774,000 jobs for unskilled labourers. Do you know how many graduates that applied for that job just because they want something to do? I know people who left the university 21 years ago who have not gotten jobs as I speak; they are living from hand to mouth. These are guys that are very brilliant. That is why people are saying let us also end bad governance with #EndSARS. People are now taking vengeance on even innocent businessmen. Look at private properties that have been razed, including media houses. Yesterday alone, the Nigerian Stock Exchange said they lost about N130 billion. This is a period we are jubilating that we have flattened the curve of COVID-19. But with what is going on now, there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases. And with the economy already crumbled, because once you crumble the economy of Lagos you have inadvertently crumbled the economy of Nigeria, it will take a long time for Lagos and Nigeria to recover. When the president presented the N13 trillion budget, about N6 trillion was going to be borrowed. Now, there will be justification for more borrowings. And who is going to pay? Our generations are yet unborn.
Already, this crisis is spreading across the country. I have seen the release of detainees in a police station in Okitipupa in Ondo State; there was a jailbreak in Edo State; there was an attempted jailbreak in Ikoyi Correctional Centre. With criminals breaking away from detention facilities, there will be a spike in criminality and insecurity in the country. So, we are having a very dicey situation in our hands.
What is the way forward?
I feel the president should immediately deploy the military. But there are standard operational guidelines that must not be flouted. They are to go after the bad boys and protect the innocent ones and their investments. Let them stop these mindless killings and the destruction of private and public properties. Let there be the restoration of law and order. When that is done, let there be the political will to see through the policy reforms that the people have requested.
Above everything, we need to restructure this country for better efficiency. Let’s have a dialogue and restructure this country. If we fail to restructure this country, the continuation of bad governance will just make what is going on now in a child’s play. And I pray that this will not be the beginning of the end of Nigeria.
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