LAST week, President Muhammadu Buhari was quoted by the Minister of Police Affairs, Mr. Mohamed Digyandi, as saying that he would do whatever it took to prevent a repeat of the recent #EndSars protest which unfortunately culminated in the Lekki toll plaza shootings. This was after a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC), which had the security chiefs and some ministers in attendance. . Asked to explain what the president meant by saying he would not allow a repeat of EndSARS protest and whether he would move against any such protest in future, the minister said: “What we are saying is that government will continue to dialogue, it will continue to listen and will continue to carry all stakeholders along in ensuring that there is no repeat of what happened that destroyed a lot of properties, public and private, individuals in this country.”
It is imperative to interrogate this statement in the context of the liberal democracy which the country purports to be practising now. On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with the president’s intention to dialogue with stakeholders to prevent a repeat of the #EndSARS protest. Dialogue indeed is key. There is no doubt that much progress can be made with the Buhari administration constantly interfacing with critical segments of the Nigerian society, including the #EndSARS protesters, to address the extant issues surrounding policing in the country. Such a platform would afford it the opportunity to update the protesters on the steps it has so far taken to fulfill the promises made to them during and immediately after the protests.
Unfortunately, however, there is nothing to suggest as yet that the administration is serious about the dialogue option. This is because rather than effecting the five-point demand of the #EndSARS protesters to mitigate and douse the people’s indignation and frustrations with the actions of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the Buhari government has been hunting the protesters down, freezing their bank accounts based on contrived ex-parte rulings, and running them out of town. These are not the steps of a remorseful and contrite administration. These are strong-arm tactics, the imprimatur of an establishment set in its ways. How can this administration in good conscience claim not to be interested in a repeat of the protest of the people against it? It has not shown fidelity to its promises, especially regarding the five-point demand of the #EndSARS protesters.
Without this administration deliberately doing the right things, chances are that protests against it will continue to fester comprehensively. We insist that the way to stop people from protesting against unpopular policies is to do the right thing. There are no two ways about it. This must be demonstrated with concrete actions, not mere promises. Although the president claims that he wants to dialogue with stakeholders, there hasn’t been anything discernibly conciliatory in the president’s official remarks and utterances since the Lekki toll plaza shootings. There is nothing to suggest that he was outraged by that obvious infamy, yet he would have Nigerians believe that he truly doesn’t want a repeat of the protest. That is a contradiction in terms.
Instead of emphasizing not allowing a repeat of the #EndSARS protest, Buhari should be addressing the root causes of the protest. This is how to prevent a repeat. Unfortunately, this administration seems to specialise in doing the wrong things, causing a lot of abrasions in the society.
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