IT was one year exactly on October 20 since Nigerian youth protesting against police brutality were attacked by security agents at the Lekki toll gate, Lagos. The unwarranted attack resulted in the transmutation of the peaceful protest into violent demonstrations culminating in carnage and wanton destruction of economic assets across the country. The expression of grievances regarding the excesses of the Police Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) started initially as social media campaigns but it snowballed into street protests when the youth in October 2020 poured into the streets in their thousands across the country’s cities and towns to peacefully demand good governance and the disbandment of SARS. The agitators were peaceful but firm and resolute in their demands, especially on the fate of SARS which had by then become a very violent and lawless law enforcement outfit. But for that vicious but needless attack on the protesters, the demonstrations would have ended peacefully and the unprecedented violence that ensued by way of mindless looting, butchery and arsons would have been obviated.
The strong disapproval of the government’s lacklustre handling of the country’s affairs by Nigerian youth was an epochal event in the history of the country that leaders cannot wish away. Unfortunately, it is depressing to observe that a year after, nothing has changed and no lesson has been learnt. If the situation of the country was bad a year ago, it is worse today on all fronts. The negative indices and tendencies are legion. Although SARS has been disbanded and not much has been heard of its successor outfit, the police still remain an institution notorious for brutality and sleaze on the highways, in the streets and at their stations. The country remains divided with widespread agitation for secession because of the flagrant display of nepotism, inequity and near absence of inclusiveness at the centre.
Insecurity has continued to heighten. Boko Haram terrorists, Fulani killer herdsmen, and the vicious terrorist gangs tagged bandits are increasingly on the prowl killing, maiming, kidnapping and extorting money from innocent citizens on a scale never witnessed before. The government has yet to change its usual unwillingness to honour agreements it reached with the labour unions and the latter have had to resort to incessant industrial actions to attract the attention of the former. Citizens’ standard of living has plummeted as prices of food and other essential items have continued to spiral. The cost of governance has continued to burgeon, as exemplified by rising recurrent expenditure which is patently inimical to growth and development.
A disproportionate and intolerable percentage of accrued national revenue is being deployed to service national debts, and there are indications that the country may have been borrowing for consumption. And regarding official response to the raison d’etre for the suspended #ENDSARS protest, the government has shown a deplorable level of sensitivity. For instance, state governors have reduced the issue to mere compensation for victims. And though they had a whole year to address the issues, all the governors did was to try and stall a memorial, in order to prevent loss of property. Even the agreed salary increment for police personnel was not effected by the Federal Government. It is nonetheless gladdening that not even threats could deter the youth from remembering those who lost their lives during the struggle. In a nutshell, if the agitation for good governance and against police cruelty and brutality was necessary one year ago, it is compellingly imperative today. That is rather distressing and unacceptable.
The country’s tales of woe which triggered the unrest in the first place are literally endless. On all fronts, one year on, the country’s fortunes have dipped significantly. And more importantly, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth that the government would rather dissipate energy on limiting the civic space and suppressing voices of dissent than meeting the one-year-old progressive demands by the youth. In saner climes, in addition to expeditious treatment of the protesters’ demands, the government would have latched onto the positive spin-offs from the protests and convert them to advantages. The near perfect organisation and mobilisation for the protest, the resilience, cohesion and unanimity of purpose of several thousands of participants, the impeccable and sophisticated deployment of Information and Communication technology (ICT) to sensitise and mobilise people and raise funds for the cause, are all outcomes of the protests that a serious government could have taken advantage of in the interest of the protesters and the country. But the government was more interested in preventing the protesters from commemorating their fallen colleagues.
We urge the government to order the release of those arrested in connection with the memorial of the dead during the #ENDSARS protests and address the issues raised by the protesters in the interest of all. No one prays or wishes that violent agitation of the magnitude of #ENDSARS protest should happen in the country again, but it will be deluding to think it cannot, especially when the challenges that motivated the unrest have worsened. The surest way to forestall a similar or more devastating recurrence is for the government to sincerely resolve all the issues that birthed the #ENDSARS protest in the first place, and refrain from acting in ways that tend to give the impression that the martyrs of the struggle died in vain.
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