Cloud over Nigeria, time to help troubled sub-regional power

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The #EndSARS protests have reassured many doubting Nigerians that the nation’s youth are not after all lazy and that given the necessary encouragement, they will rescue the country from its current slide to anarchy

By Goddy Ikeh

Despite the pretentious posture of some politicians, especially in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, that all is well with the country, the #EndSARS protests turned out to be the unsolicited and unbiased report card on the polity.

In his independence anniversary broadcast, President Muhammadu Buhari captured the challenges facing the country as “An underlying cause of most of the problems we have faced as a nation is our consistent harping on artificially contrived fault-lines that we have harboured and allowed unnecessarily to fester.

“In addition, institutions such as civil service, police, the judiciary, the military all suffered from a general decline.

“We need to begin a sincere process of national healing and this anniversary presents a genuine opportunity to eliminate old and outworn perceptions that are always put to test in the lie they always are.

“The stereotype of thinking of ourselves as coming from one part of the country before seeing ourselves as Nigerians is a key starting point to project us on the road to our deserved nation’s evolution and integration.

“To start this healing process, we are already blessed with the most important asset any nation requires for such – OUR PEOPLE – and this has manifested globally in the exploits of Nigerians in many fields.

“Today, I am aware that our economy along with every single economy in the world is in crisis. We still face security challenges in parts of the country, while our society suffers from a high loss of moral rectitude which is driven by unbridled craving for political control.”

Unfortunately, the broadcast came less than three weeks before the #EndSARS protests began nationwide. Initially, the Presidency, the lawmakers and Police authorities failed to realize that the demands of the protesters were far more than the activities of SARS and that the protests were against most if not all the crises the country are facing, especially the issue of bad governance, which is central to all the demands made by the protesters.

Before the protests were infiltrated by hungry and angry mob, the president and the Inspector General of Police immediately promised to reform SARS and when this proposal was rejected, the police chief disbanded SARS and promised to replace another squad, which was equally rejected by the protesters. Instead, the protesters came up with more genuine challenges facing the country and impeding its growth, which included security, restructuring and bad governance.

The protests gathered steam and grounded economic activities in Abuja, Lagos and most states capitals and schools and offices were shut. And the infiltration of the protests by hungry and angry mobs resulted in large scale looting of public and private facilities, especially warehouses where Covid-19 palliatives were stored.

In trying to disperse the protesters and clear them from the highways, the army was allegedly invited to assist in Lagos since the police had failed to control the protesters. Unfortunately, on Tuesday, October 20, the soldiers allegedly opened fire on the #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki area of Lagos, leaving a number of protesters dead and this action of the military provoked the protesters across the country and this resulted in burning of buildings and vehicles.

Although the military had initially denied any involvement in the shooting at Lekki in Lagos, it later said in a statement last week that it was invited by the Lagos State Government to assist in maintaining peace in the state. In his initial broadcast to Lagosians, after the shooting at Lekki Toll Gate, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said that no fatality was recorded and that 28 persons were wounded.

But the protesters and other witnesses disagreed with the governor and insisted that many protesters were killed during the shooting. However, the governor later changed his position on the casualties, saying that only two persons died, but the Amnesty International said that at least 12 persons were killed during the shooting.

Buhari’s mea culpa: After several appeals to President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation and douse tensions, he finally did so and appealed to the Nigerian youth to discontinue with the street protests and constructively engage government in finding solutions to their demands.

In a nationwide broadcast after more than two weeks of protests by the Nigerian youth against police brutality and bad governance, Buhari said: “It has become necessary for me to address you having heard from many concerned Nigerians and having concluded a meeting with all the Security Chiefs.

“I therefore call on our youths to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage government in finding solutions. Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding.”

He warned those who have hijacked and misdirected the initial, genuine and well-intended protest of some of our youths in parts of the country, against the excesses of some members of the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS.

The Nigerian leader noted that the choice to demonstrate peacefully is a fundamental right of citizens as enshrined in Section 40 of our Constitution and other enactments; but this right to protest also imposes on the demonstrators the responsibility to respect the rights of other citizens, and the necessity to operate within the law. He lamented that human lives have been lost and that he was “indeed deeply pained that innocent lives have been lost. These tragedies are uncalled for and unnecessary”.

Buhari also went further to consult with former Nigerian leaders on the youth protests and the slide of the nation into anarchy. The meeting with the former leaders, who maintained a good distance from the administration because of the way some of them had been treated for making their views known on how the nation was being run, however, agreed that generation of employment and economic growth, including through direct foreign investments were critical to checking youth restiveness in the country.

The meeting, which was attended by General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Abulsalami Abubakar (rtd) and Dr Goodluck Jonathan, stressed the importance of respecting the fundamental rights of citizens, including peaceful protest as enshrined in the Constitution. The elder statesmen condemned the divisive and inciting pronouncements of separatists, stressing that such acts should be stopped.

They also called on the youths to pursue peaceful means in seeking redress through engagement with the government. They also advised the government to engage in further conversation with the youths and other stakeholders in the country to ensure the issues raised were properly addressed.

Foreign and local Reactions: Several local and foreign interests expressed their views on the protests, especially on the shooting of the protesters.

In his reaction, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, called for the prosecution of those involved in the shooting. In his tweet, Pompeo said: “The United States strongly condemns incidents of military forces firing on unarmed protestors in Lagos.”

“Those involved should be held to account under the law. We extend our condolences to the victims of the violence and their families,” the local media reports quoted Pompeo as saying. The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, said the Federal Government’s plan to reform the Nigeria Police would be a game-changer to end impunity in the country.

The Vice President told the United States Government delegation at the Presidential Villa in Abuja that 13 states in the country, including Lagos, had established Judicial Panels “to seek justice and to compensate those whose rights have been breached.”

Osinbajo added that the President has already supported the decisions of the National Economic Council.

The American government delegation included the US Assistant Secretary, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Bob Destro; US Assistant Secretary, Bureau for Conflict Stabilization Operations, Denise Natali; the Counselor of the US Department of State, Thomas Ulrich Brechbuhl; and the Charge d’Affairs, US Embassy, Kathleen FitzGibbon. The Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama was also at the meeting.

According to Prof. Osinbajo, NEC also agreed on the provision of monetary compensation to victims and prosecution of erring officers.

While responding to the concerns of the US government on instances of impunity in the country, Osinbajo noted that these efforts are part of the Nigerian government’s commitment to implement extensive police reforms adding that the establishment of Judicial Panels of 45. Inquiry nationwide will further ensure that the police and other security agencies ensure the protection of human rights of citizens.

In its reaction, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said that it had put all its political and electioneering activities on hold as a further mark of honour for Nigerian youths who were killed at the Lekki Toll Gate as well as other killings that have occurred in various parts of our nation over the unfortunate fall-out of the EndSARS peaceful protest.

The PDP had earlier on Thursday night, October 22, directed that its flags in all its offices nationwide be flown at half-mast in solidarity with the mood of the nation at this trying time.

The party in its communique by spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, restated its call for calm and prayers for the nation at this critical time, stressing that all hands must be on the deck in finding solutions and the way forward for the myriads of problems besetting the nation.

In her intervention, the Minister of Finance Zainab Ahmed said that a youth fund of N25 billion had been created as part of efforts to address the ongoing #EndSARS protests and youth restiveness in the country.

For the International Monetary Fund, IMF, it warned that the civil unrest in Lagos and some other parts of Nigeria, following the shooting of some #EndSARS protesters Lekki Tollgate could have a negative consequence on the economy.

It called for timely resolution of the crisis to prevent the economy, which is still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, from slipping further into a tailspin.

The Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, in their reaction, said that they observed with keen interest and fervent prayers the #EndSARS movement of many Nigerian youths over the last two weeks in protest in our cities and highways, peacefully demanding an end to police brutality and a reformed society for their fatherland. With many other Nigerians across the nation, we stand with these youths and everyone who legitimately cries for justice.

A statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria on the #EndSARS youth protests noted that simple threat analysis of these protests would have revealed certain predictable scenarios, which a responsible government, committed to the fine principles of the freedoms enshrined in our democracy, would have sought to control.

“Sadly, in the last few days, we have all watched as certain youth groups, some alleged to be sponsored by government or its sympathisers, infiltrated the group of peaceful protesters and openly dared and threatened to visit violence on protesters and disrupt their gathering.

“It is clearly in the interest of the Federal Government, and of the entire nation, to ensure that our youth are not turned against each other. Instead, we should all promote the unity of Nigerians and do all we can to forestall this issue from further degenerating into ethnic and religious crisis,” the bishops said.

Obviously, the youth protests have further revealed how divided the country is today. While the youth in the South were protesting against SARS, their counterparts in the North were demanding that SARS should not be disbanded. They were alleged cases of organised counter groups that attacked the pro-#EndSARS groups in Abuja and some northern states.

The Nigerian youth have demonstrated that they can organize a strong protest that can bring about changes in government and that if this initiative is sustained, they can achieve what their elders and politicians have failed to achieve for decades, especially in transforming the polity.

Unfortunately, it will take years for Nigeria to recover from the diplomatic impact of the protests. The cost of replacing damaged structures, buildings are enormous. The lives lost can never be recovered and no amount of compensation will address that for the families.

Therefore, the government should not only engage the youth in government, but it should provide the enabling environment for the youth to operate.

For some Nigerian lawyers, what had happened in the country in the last three weeks was a good omen. According to them, the youths are ready to lead the country and that the current politicians in the country should vacate the political space for them because age is not on their side. Indeed, from the thinking of the youth, any aspirant above 60 years should retire for good.

Apart from taking the issue of good governance seriously, Monday Ubani, a former official of the Nigerian Bar Association, said: “life will never the same again in Nigeria.” Speaking on a recent programme on Channels Television, Ubani advised the federal government not to ignore any genuine complaint from the people and avoid waiting for such bottled anger to explode.

– Nov. 1, 2020 @ 15:19 GMT |

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