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NIGERIA: MISHANDLING OF A HARMLESS PROTEST 3

I drove round some parts of Lagos on Thursday 22nd October, 2020 the 2nd day of the curfew. What I witnessed was scary: No policemen anywhere, only weed smoking hooligans manning illegal check points mounted on the highways and extracting money from the extremely few motorists who dared to be on the road. Considering the sheer numbers of these disgruntled youths in many locations of the state, the weaponized poverty I witnessed gave me an impression of a city playing with fire while sitting on a keg of highly inflammable substance.   Monuments and state assets which took several years and colossal amounts of money to build can be brought to ashes by a few unchecked hoodlums in no time at all.

One can therefore sympathise with the Governor of the state, Babajide Sanwo Olu who dissociated himself from the point at which the demonstrations turned disastrous! In his televised address on Friday 23rd October, after inspecting the horrendous carnage in parts of the State, he appeared visibly overwhelmed. His frustration is mirrored in a leaked interview he had with a foreign envoy, now in public domain, in which his undeniable voice was heard lamenting whatever caused the misdirected operatives to shoot at the peaceful protesters. Some excepts are reproduced below:

Governor: “Straight to the point, you knew there was a curfew declared at about 10.30 in the morning, that there was meant to be total lockdown and people are to vacate the streets and be in their homes from 4pm. That was the instructions that was passed out.  So at 6 o’clock or thereabout, when we realised that the protesters at the toll plaza were still there, there were several appeals from civil societies and some of the parents that we should extend the curfew time. We graciously communicated thereafter that the curfew would be extended till 9pm (take off time) before we get the security operatives out.

So those were the communications that were out to a whole lot of security operatives but I think about 7 o’clock or thereabout, there were a small unit of the military that now went there, and we heard that gunshots were fired. Initially, we couldn’t even believe it, because, security operatives were not meant to be there till around 10 o’clock or 11, so why would anybody be there ?

ENVOY:  But the Army said they were not there. Was the army there or not?

Governor:  I think the footage showed that they were the military. I wasn’t there on ground myself but some of the things captured on camera showed that it was the army.

ENVOY:  Why is the army denying it then?

Governor:  They don’t report to me, you know, I wouldn’t know why.  The instructions were that they shouldn’t be there until around 10pm.  I think there must have been some miscommunication somewhere in their own formation.   What we heard is that the unit that went there, their location is less than 10 minutes from where the incident occurred. You know, its straight down the same road, 5 minutes from their barracks they actually could get there. I don’t know who gave those instructions. I don’t know how they missed the information that was passed on.

ENVOY: Just to be clear, you are not saying that people should have been opened fire on because they disobeyed the curfew

Governor: Absolutely not. There were no instructions to that effect. I am not a party to that. I would never instruct people to open fire on protesters.

Pray, what kind of security set up do we have in Nigeria which could make a sitting governor, the chief executive officer of the state, not to be in total command of deployment and control of forces of intervention in matters whose ugly repercussions are entirely for his state to bear? Notwithstanding his disavowal, Governor Sanwo-Olu and those who supported the drafting of soldiers to quell the peaceful protests, even if the soldiers had gotten their timing right, grossly underrated the inevitability of the maximum damage that the military are trained to inflict in battles.

The condemnations  that trailed #BlackTuesday have been massive, coming from prominent voices everywhere. At home, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party among others reprimanded the government for its high-handedness and called for restraints on all sides. Internationally,  former US presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey; Archbishop of Canterbury and current US Democratic Candidate Joe Biden condemned the development in the strongest possible terms, calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

The European Union said it was shocked by the killings in the wake of the #EndSARS protests. In a Statement by the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell on Wednesday 21 October, 2020 , it said it was looking forward to seeing the sort of reforms that would be put in place to ensure police reforms. It is crucial that those responsible for abuses be brought to justice and held accountable”

Nigeria’s Vice president, Prof. Yemi Osibajo SAN promised this much on Thursday 22nd October when he received at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, an American government delegation including the US Assistant Secretary, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Bob Destro; US Assistant Secretary, Bureau for Conflict Stabilization Operations, Denise Natali; the Counselor of the US Department of State, Thomas Ulrich Brechbuhl; and the Charge d’Affairs, US Embassy, Kathleen FitzGibbon as well as Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama.

According to him, at least 13 states in the country including Lagos, have since established Judicial Panels “to seek justice and to compensate those whose rights have been breached.”

Plans  are afoot to investigate all cases of police brutality including any extra-judicial killings, prosecute erring police officers, create new State-based Security and Human Rights Committees, as well as provide compensation to victims of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police units. It will be a final end to impunity, he enthused.

The Nigerian government is running out of time to quell the growing dissatisfaction among the populace. There are those who believe that a slice of the monstrous emoluments of the few in power, starting with those members of Assembly, the atrocious entitlements of Ex- governors and the financial leakages in all tiers of government would make a telling difference in Education, social amenities and Police welfare.

Surprisingly, even in the midst of the current national crisis, for just two days between Wednesday 21st and Friday 23rd October, no less than four large warehouses were discovered in Lagos and other states, stuffed to overflow with essential everyday edibles which were meant as palliatives for the masses during the recent Covid-19 lockdown.  People suffered hunger and deprivation during the 4 months compulsory stay home, and still do, yet several millions worth of foodstuffs donated by government and at the instance of local and international goodwill, which would have assuaged people’s hardships were kept under locks by conscienceless politicians for whatever reasons.

Of course, a throng of people rowdily helped themselves to the near inexhaustible stocks, while searches are ongoing by people in other states to locate their own hidden storages.  It would be interesting to know on whose orders were these stuffs stored? Why did they remain in safe keeping several weeks after they ought to have been distributed?

These issues are galvanising a generation already disillusioned with the ruling class.  The government needs to take concrete action to assuage people’s widespread discontent.  

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