It’s been simmering for too long and reaction of police authorities was a disturbing implied acquiescence in the criminal and murderous activities of its so-called anti-robbery squad, SARS, which turned into state-sponsored armed robbers, either shooting victims dead or lawlessly threatening to shoot them dead to rob unfortunate victims of their property, money, GSM phones, laptops, etc. Irrespective of explanation or pleas, victims must either meet the demand of the state criminals or be shot dead.
Local print and electronic as well as social media regularly reported the murders committed by the SARS fellows, without any response or indeed concern from either government or police heirarchy, until helpless Nigerians, took to the streets at home and abroad. It was surprising that both government and police authorities, which had been indifferent all along, suddenly got rattled into virtually uncontrollably granting concessions as demanded by the protesters.
Yet, nobody should be impressed, considering the initial conflicting reaction from the police fold. First of all, where was the Police IG over the years when the murderous SARS were on the rampage? How much was he bothered to even express any awareness of public complaints? Why did it require these protests to force him to disband the SARS? After how many deaths of innocent unarmed law-abiding Nigerians? And when, eventually, the Police IG gave official position on the future of SARS, someone among his men countered him on what he said. Who is in charge? Of course, the discordant tone infuriated the protesters who, perhaps, rightly, saw an attempt to deceive them into abandoning their protest while the SARS murderers would be once more camouflaged.
To worsen matters, the genuine anger of Nigerians was seen by Police IG’s officers only within the prism of embellishing the personal image of their boss. Otherwise, what was the purpose of a hurriedly packaged half-hour documentary last Sunday in which almost all the immediate subordinates of their boss were lined up eulogising the man’s competence? Is that the issue raised by the protesters? Who ever expected any of the IG’s officers to criticise him? The issue raised by the protesters and (still) supported by responsible Nigerians is the state-licenced murder of innocent Nigerians by SARS. Remarkably, the protesters have not demanded removal of the IG and he has re-asserted himself as the boss, especially on the future of SARS.
There are lessons to be learnt from the anti-SARS protests. Henceforth, public criticisms of major concern should not be treated with contempt, let alone indifference. Not all criticisms are necessarily anti-government. Without criticisms, how would government, for example, be aware of any gathering smoke? Failure to respond to public criticisms of the murders being committed by SARS sparked the anti-SARS protests.
There is also the arrogant mentality of some fellow citizens that Lagos is not Nigeria. There should be no argumentation about this. Lagos is not Nigeria but anti-SARS protest erupted in Lagos and spread up country within hours and now into almost a fortnight. The idea that Lagos is not Nigeria is pure blackmail and attempted divide and rule. All the towns and cities to where protests spread were solely because they, along with Lagos, experienced murders or robberies committed by SARS. Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Osogbo, Niger Delta, Enugu, Onitsha, Abakaliki, Owerri, Jos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lokoja, Calabar and others.
The case of northern border towns like Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Dutse,Damaturu, Katsina, Yola, Jalingo and others should be well understood in their fight against foreign bandits making incursion into Nigeria to terrorise the people. They have, therefore, expressed their opposition to the disbandment of SARS, who, perhaps, may perform wonders against the bandits and Boko Haram insurgents.
Every Nigerian or group of Nigerians has the right of choice under our constitution. In fact, it would be a major relief if SARS could complement the efforts of Nigerian soldiers who lately suffered some reverses. There should also be no legal or constitutional eyebrow raised on limiting operations of SARS strictly to the north. After all, JTF also exists as a special force only against bandits and Boko Haram.
Still on lessons of the anti-SARS protests for Nigerian authorities and especially the armed forces. Every time agitations arise or demands are made in Nigeria, the response is always to intimidate the agitators with the use of armed forces to maintain Nigeria’s “territorial integrity,” as if Nigerians are slaves without rights. Such threat is always a callous allusion to the bloodshed of Nigeria’s civil war. That allusion is always pooh-poohed in this column rightly to be a mentality of 50 years ago, the last century. as today’s world does not tolerate crimes against humanity. Serbian, Sierra Leonian and Burundian leaders are cooling down in different European jails for crimes against humanity. For those in doubt, the current protests in Nigeria rattled the authorities to make concessions following reports in foreign media that 10 (only 10) protesters had been killed. The reports were widely carried with visuals on BBC, Aljazeera, CNN and many others. All, minus BBC, did not exist at the time of Nigeria’s civil war last century. The world is no longer safe for political bloodthirst.
Those alleging the protest was sponsored should better offer a new excuse beyond the ever-convenient and largely discredited conspiracy theory. Were the daughters of President Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo also conscripted into a sponsored protest? The involvement of the two ladies gave credibility to the grievances of the protesters against the disbanded SARS. There was added fillip to the protest by scores of Nigerians who picketed Nigerian High Commission in London and the embassy in New York, beaming everything live to friends and relations through WhatsApp. There was also a special focus by a British journalist Piers Morgan in his column in one of the country’s widely read newspaper, Daily Mirror.
In the past, the protest would have lost bite after a day or two, a weakness not unknown to authorities. But, this time, the determination to get SARS off Nigerian streets was total as most of those involved (except Buhari’s daughter and Osinbajo’s daughter) had fallen victim of SARS criminal conduct either by losing a relative/friend or themselves brutalised and threatened to be shot.
Furthermore, the protesters obviously fully prepared for themselves. Food packs were provided in containers adorned with the portraits of our heroes past whose sacrifice “shall never be in vain.” And who were the heroes? Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello. So politically united were their efforts, commitment and mobilisation. For errant protesters, the pack might provide a meal for the day. What kept the protesters going till yesterday?
First of all, they were unusual protesters, well educated, obviously patriotic and accordingly careful not to foolishly allude to the silly idea of a revolution and never personalised their target. Their battle was against SARS, for which nobody could fault them, given the agency’s notorious reputation for criminal tendences. On the surface, SARS was the enemy. but in view of the social situation in Nigeria, the protesters, even those fully employed, had been demonised by insecurity, hardship or high cost of living and, above all, in the midst the existing luxurious life for the ruling National Assembly class side by side poverty-stricken Nigerians.
As this was being written, reports emerged that hired thugs had been attacking otherwise peaceful protesters in Lagos and Abuja.
APC beats the count
When a reigning boxing champion defending his title is floored, the shock sends supporters into silence and uncertainty on whether the glory was drawing to an end. That was the lot of Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) following its defeat in the Edo State governorship election one month ago. For whatever it is worth, the re-election of Ondo State Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu for a second term must, therefore, be a relief for the party and its supporters. It would have been politically and electorally calamitous for the party to have lost Ondo governorship race, so soon after losing Edo State, which was due to internal wrangling at the national level down to Edo State.
Yet, the victory in Ondo only increased questions. What was the situation in both states? For purposes of political ego, factions embarrassed President Muhammadu Buhari to lose the presidential election in both states in 2019 general election. The APC also substantially lost the senatorial elections held in both states on the same date of the presidential election. But a month ago, governor Godwin Obaseki was denied APC ticket and had to run on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket to defeat his APC opponent. Was the recent victory a personal triumph for Obaseki over his ex-APC nationa chairman Adams Oshiomhole or the emergence of PDP as the supreme party in Edo State?
On the other hand, Ondo State presented a slightly different picture in recovering the state for the APC. But how true? Who was rejected in in Ondo State in the 2019 presidential election, President Buhari or Governor Akeredolu? The man who lost the 2019 presidential and senatorial elections in the state was Akeredolu as a result of ego among members of the party in the state. It must be a relief that he (Akeredolu) successfully fought back to be re-elected and hopefully for his party in 2023.
In the euphoria of his victory, Governor Akeredolu went a bit off-mark when he challenged his enstranged deputy, Agboola Ajayi, to resign as a mark of honour. That is not tenable. Ajayi’s tenure ends on the same day as Akeredolu’s first term. In another way, would Akeredolu have resigned immediately if he lost the recent re-election bid? He would have stayed in office till the last day as one-term governor. APC’s former governor of Bauchi State, Mohammed Abubakar, lost the 2019 election but remained in office as a one-term governor till May 28, 2019. Similarly, deceased ex-governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi, a two-term governor, remained in office till May 28, 2019, when his tenure expired.
Despite being abandoned, Governor Akeredolu got re-elected. He should be large-hearted in victory, especially in a gathering notorious for bitter recriminations.