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NIGERIA: MISHANDLING A HARMLESS PROTEST 2

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Protesting is never a disturbance of the peace. Corruption, injustice, war and intimidation are disturbances of the peace.” ― Bryant McGill

The exact number of human lives lost to the reportedly high-handed intervention of the Nigerian security forces on Tuesday 20 October, 2020 on the Youths’#EndSARS protests in Lekki Lagos and other parts of the country may take a while to be fully ascertained, if ever.  Figures being quoted vary from 4 to 40, depending on whom you are listening to.  Some commentators swear the casualties are more, others say the social media orchestration of a ‘massacre’ was a politically motivated exaggeration of what actually happened at Lekki.  In the absence of you being an eye witness or having independent facts, it pays to be circumspect of everything you gather on social media in these days of creative and manipulative graphics.  

What is fairly certain at this juncture, however, is that the reported carnage of Tuesday ignited a conflagration that enveloped the entire city in the subsequent 3 days. When the dust of the mindless mayhem settled, the damage was incalculable. The financial losses incurred by the state and private citizens in Lagos especially was far higher than initially estimated. It could be well over three billion dollars, an unacceptably high figure for a nation in recession and currently reeling in trillions of external debts.  Public assets were not the only targets of the rampaging hoodlums who took advantage of the mayhem that ensured after the organised and peaceful protests had been violently dispersed; private businesses located in malls and business districts were not spared, a truly sorry situation from which many of the victims may never recover without government’s reparations. 

Considering the overwhelming local and international outcry against the reported carnage of #Black Tuesday, especially as regards the Lekki demonstrators who were not only peaceful throughout their 12 day protests but were indeed recorded to be waving the Nigerian flag and singing the national anthem even as the menacing soldiers advanced on them, there was a general expectation that President Muhammadu Buhari’s much awaited address  would unavoidably take its cue from that incident. Not a few were disappointed that the president’s speech made no direct reference to it.

In his national broadcast of 22nd October, 2020, the president admitted this much: 

“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. As a democratic government, we listened to, and carefully evaluated the five-point demands of the protesters. And, having accepted them, we immediately scrapped SARS, and put measures in place to address the other demands of our youth”.

Referring to the extensive carnage witnessed all over the country in the last few days, he could not see how all these could have been executed in the name of the ENDSARS protests. “I am indeed deeply pained that innocent lives have been lost. These tragedies are uncalled for and unnecessary. Certainly, there is no way whatsoever to connect these bad acts to legitimate expression of grievance of the youth of our country.”

The president concludes further that “The spreading of deliberate falsehood and misinformation through the social media in particular, that this government is oblivious to the pains and plight of its citizens is a ploy to mislead the unwary within and outside Nigeria into unfair judgement and disruptive behaviour”.

In fairness, the government did scrap the SARS – the Police unit accused of assault, illegal detentions and extra-judicial killings, on 11 October, 2020, about the fourth day into the protest, a commendably prompt response that the President now claim may have been misconstrued by his detractors as weakness. But the demonstrators had called for more extensive reforms in the Police and in other areas of governance. 

To put it in context, it is evident that two sets of youths were involved in what can clearly be separated into different incidents of the last 15 days in Nigeria. The masterminds of the #EndSARS protests, which by the way was a spontaneous reaction at the start of the protest, were mostly educated youths  including renowned artistes who organised themselves in the most peaceful manner possible.  They raised funds among themselves and extensively from those who were sympathetic to their cause home and abroad. They eat, dance and sleep at the Lekki Toll gate and other designated gathering points across the country. For the most parts, they resisted any attempt of miscreants to infiltrate them and any thieving thug caught in their midst was handed over to the Police. Given their noble pedigrees and their calm conducts, this was the last set of people you would imagine the authority would want to disperse violently.

The second youth are the miscreants and hoodlums, who were initially either watching from the side-lines or have had to condition their participation to the peaceful manner dictated by their more refined protests leaders. All these changed dramatically and predictably after the Tuesday incident. The marauding group took over and these are the  criminals who had grudges with the police and the state for obvious reasons, attacking and burning Police stations, prisons to free inmates, and engaging in audacious looting spree. 


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