The clampdown on #EndSARS protesters

IT is rather concerning that the Federal Government could not even tarry a while before betraying its phoney conciliatory disposition  towards the #EndSARS protesters as its agents have started going after the youths, calling them terrorists. This is a development that can hardly make for peace. Is it not rather shocking that the same government that accepted the five-point demand of the protesters is now harassing and victimizing them? Apparently, the protesters knew that the government had a penchant for insincerity, which perhaps accounted for why they refused to back down on the protest even after the government claimed to have acceded to their demands. They wanted to see the practical evidence of the commencement of the implementation of the demands before calling off the protest. With the disturbing reports that  protesters are  being arrested and detained, their passports being seized and their bank accounts being frozen, those who thought the youths were being unreasonable for not sheathing their swords after their demands had supposedly been officially accepted, are now having second thoughts.

Sadly, by taking those precipitate actions against the alleged #EndSARS sponsors, the government has unwittingly exacerbated the trust deficit between it and the youths, which was the reason for the protesters’ initial intransigence after the official mouthing of the acceptance of their demands. Instead of working hard to gain the trust of the youths and reassure them of official willingness to meet their demands, the government has adopted a repressive approach that is characteristic of a dictatorship, using the instruments of victimization and witch-hunt. Just a few days ago, and undoubtedly at the instance of the government, an Abuja Magistrate Court ordered the police to investigate another 50 #EndSARS protesters, many of them well-known celebrities like Tiwa Savage, David Adeleke, Ayodeji Balogun, Bankole Wellington and others, over their roles in the protests. The fact that this unwarranted official suppression and highhandedness against the alleged #EndSARS sponsors is happening at a time the various panels of inquiry are still sitting across the country shows that the government was cynically unremorseful and insincere ab initio. And it does not even seem to care that it could be accused of betrayal of trust and good faith.

We roundly condemn the clampdown on the protesters because it is the constitutional and the democratic right of the youths to protest peacefully without any adversarial official consequences, the kinds that have now attended the instant protests. Yes, hoodlums hijacked the peaceful protest and engaged in wanton destruction of lives and properties, which is most regrettable, but that is no fault of the peaceful protesters. And in any case, the government is free and indeed has a duty to go after the misguided youths who engaged in looting, arson and murder, but the #EndSARS protesters should not be held vicariously liable for the offences committed by others. That is rather stroppy and clearly at variance with the Nigerian legal system. To be sure, we do not suggest that if there is any evidence to prove that any of the protesters destroyed things or committed any crime, the law should not take its course, but we insist that active participation in the peaceful #EndSARS protest does not breach any known law of the country.

Freezing the accounts of #EndSARS leaders for a whole six months based on ex-parte applications and without putting the defendants on notice is uncalled for.  Even though it is known that judicial officers make decisions based on law, facts and evidence presented before them, we urge a little bit of judicial activism on their part so as to see through the cases before them and understand the underlying issues involved in order to avoid being officially manipulated to give rulings that do not serve the cause of justice. The judiciary should help in this wise in order to contribute to social re-engineering and rein in what appears to be a burgeoning dictatorship in the land.

It is imperative to mention that if the ongoing alleged harassment and intimidation of some #EndSARS protesters are meant to scare or cow the youths, such an objective is unlikely to be achieved. On the contrary, the repressive approach the government has adopted promises to aggravate the tensions in the country because most of the protesters are clear-headed people who know what they want and, more importantly, what they are up against. The government can only underrate the protesters at its own peril. It is somewhat difficult to fathom why government has chosen the path of belligerence rather than pursuing peace and striving to meet the youths’ patently progressive demands. Could it be because this administration is in denial that it and a few before it have made some poor governance choices that have slowed down the country’s developmental trajectory? Or is it just because it cannot condone voices of dissent, no matter how well-meaning?

The country has lost so much in terms of avoidable stunted growth that the government can ill-afford to engage in the politics of self preservation and exclusivity: all hands must be on deck to recapture what has been lost.  We therefore urge the government to stop forthwith, the deployment of ruthless and undemocratic means to deal with the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests; rather, it should implement the five-point demand of the youths and genuinely dialogue with them in a trust-building fashion and atmosphere.

 

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