By Anthony Akaeze
The past few days had, until now, left me somewhat lethargic. Having woken up on October 21 to learn about the brutal assault of peaceful protesters at Lekki, Lagos, by soldiers, I found myself hamstrung on how to respond to the story. Neck deep in a writing assignment, I chose to keep abreast of the incident by reading media reports of it, which revealed, among others, cases of arson, break-ins and loss of food and relief materials in warehouses to people, as well as denials by the Lagos State government and Nigerian Army of the authenticity of the story and ongoing efforts by the authorities to, nonetheless probe the incident.
Once done with my brief, I decided to focus on the issue. It’s no longer pen and paper these days but laptop. I consider it a matter of urgent, historical importance to do so. In times like this, it is important to state where one stands. I stand with the people. Never a violent person myself, I would not advocate the burning or destruction of public or private properties as seen in some Nigerian states in recent days as a means of settling scores, but people reserve the right to self-expression. The protest, which recently began and spread to parts of the country as a denunciation of police brutality, with the hash tag, “#EndSARS”(SARS stands for Special Anti-Robbery Squad) was a right of free expression that sadly went awry. In a video trending online, people in army uniform are seen shooting sporadically. Gunshots could be heard, with wailings and panic runs by the protesters. Yet the army authorities, through their spokepersons, denied that its personnel were involved.
The latest denial appears on a Wednesday, October 27 online report by the Vanguard newspaper where the 81 division of the Nigerian Army, through Major Osoba Olaniyi, Acting Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, denied killing protesters, even as it revealed that it was invited by the Lagos State government to bring the tense situation in the state under control.
“The decision to call in the Military was taken by the Lagos State Government after a 24-hour curfew was imposed. This was as a result of the violence which led to several police stations being burnt, policemen killed, suspects in police custody released and weapons carted away. The situation was fast degenerating into anarchy. It was at this point that Lagos State Government requested the Military to intervene, in order to restore normalcy. The intervention of the Military followed all laid down procedures for internal security operations. And all the soldiers involved acted within the confines of the Rules of Engagement, ROE for internal security operations.”
The statement contradicts the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s claim that he neither invited nor asked the military to shoot at protesters.
In view of the denials, who then are responsible for the shootings? Or is this another case of Boko Haram terrorists masquerading as soldiers to wreak havoc? Apart from the perpetrators of the act being officially unknown, a contentious part of the story, is the casualty figure. In the wake of the incident, different figures were bandied about as victims of the assault. In view of this, some people dismiss the shooting incident as fake news or utterly exaggerated and demand to see photographs of the victims which they claim isn’t available.
Such contentious views make the case for probe inescapable and this has already been instituted by the Lagos State government and some non state actors.
Whatever findings they come up with, the events of October 20, is certain to go down in history as a watershed, a prop of youths consciousness in their own power. Largely used as pawns by ruthless politicians who spare nothing, including human life in their quest to achieve electoral victory, the youths in Nigeria, with the disbandment of the SARS unit by the Mohammadu Buhari administration being a fallout of their agitation before the Lekki incident, and the global attention the EndSARS campaign attracted, can see just how possible it is to begin to redefine things in the country if they choose to work together. While not the only ones who suffer the effects of bad leadership, the responsibility of rebuilding the country, lies more with the youth for reasons of zest. Nigerian youths have nothing to lose but everything to gain to muster energy, and insist peacefully, on a better country and situation for themselves. It is within their rights to demand for an end to the monstrous, suffocating salary and allowances politicians (be they in the National Assembly, presidency, states) earn; it is within their right to demand for a new constitution to replace the existing evil constitution instituted in 1999 that serves mainly privileged politicians and their appointees and cronies and fails to improve the quality of life of the overwhelming majority in the country, which explains why joblessness, poverty, hunger and abject infrastructure assails the land. It is within their rights to demand for a better country and place to live in, a country where the citizens, irrespective of religious or ethnic affiliation, educational, social or economic status, would be happy and able to afford the basic things of life, a country where the rich and poor are treated equally, such that the latter is able, like the rich, to easily access bank loan as against the current situation where the rich are unduly favored and thus smile in and out of banks. It is in their place to organize themselves politically and form a party and challenge the status quo. For far too long, the youth have borne the brunt of poor and visionless leadership and only when they choose to rise in unison, casting aside ethnic and religious sentiments, can they begin to change the course of history.
One thing that the raiding of warehouses in some states, which led to people carting away food stored by government or relevant agencies has shown, is the ravages of hunger and its reach. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Moslem, Christian, atheist, or reside in Calabar, Lagos or Jos, or any of the villages; in the face of deprivation, desperation could set in. Like I noted in a write-up days before the October 20 incident, titled, Some Food for Thought for Nigeria, “Anyone who has ever experienced hunger, arising from perhaps, a lack of money, with no hope of salvaging the situation, knows what danger he is faced with. Such a person, desirous to save himself, may, if unrestrained by self or others, as one has heard over the years, cross the line of acceptable behavior.”
No one should go to bed hungry and the conditions that make such possible should be upturned.
Without a doubt, the youth in Nigeria, more than at any other time in history I can recall, have the power to change, and indeed can change the course of their country’s much derided history. And history, in the event of that, will be kind to them.
Anthony Akaeze, an award-winning freelance investigative journalist, is an author of four books. He is currently working on a new book with the tentative title, “Where Strangers Dwell,” a story of hope, pain, accomplishments, migration, love and discovery.
– Oct. 28, 2020 @ 14:59 GMT |