Enyeribe Ejiogu, Omoniyi Salaudeen, Olakunle Olafioye, Agatha Emeadi and Henry Okonkwo
In a manner reminiscent of the Arab Spring protests that began in Tunisia and spread across North Africa and most other Arab nations in 2010, Nigerian youths who constitute the heart and soul of the ongoing #EndSARS protests, which started on October 8, have thrown fresh demands into the mix of their main grouse against the brutality, excesses and extra-judicial killings by operatives of the Special Armed Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigeria Police.
Though the government has acceded to their first demand by scrapping SARS, the protesters, comprising able-bodied youths, most of them unemployed graduates and university students, forced to remain at home in the wake of the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), are demanding for more.
They said that they also want good governance, the absence of which, they claimed, has been the bane of the country, leading to the despicable fall in the standard of living of Nigerians and absence of a long list of basic socio-economic benefits being enjoyed by citizens of other nations that are less endowed than Nigeria.
As the #EndSARS protests got into the second week, the protesters on Friday besieged the Sango-Ota end of the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway to demand good roads from the Ogun State government. The protesters who blocked the ever-busy expressway and caused heavy traffic jam complained about the terrible condition of state roads, particularly those in Ota area of Ogun State, demanding that the government fix the roads, which they pointed out are in deplorable state.
The intervention of the traditional ruler of Ota, the Olota of Ota, Oba Abdulkabir Obalanlege, who persuaded the protesters to allow their leaders accompany him to deliver their message to the state government proved abortive.
Oba Abdulkabir informed the protesters that though he had earlier sought audience with the state government concerning the terrible state of the roads in the area and assured them that he would not hesitate to deliver their demands to the right quarters.
One of the protesters, Tajudeen Shoyemi, told Sunday Sun that the time had come for Nigerians to take their destiny in their own hands, insisting that Nigerians had taken enough nonsense from those in power.
“The protests we are witnessing are just a dress rehearsal of what is to come. Nigerian youths are fed up and angry at the impunity playing out in the country. It started with #EndSARS because SARS operatives and indeed the police force have taken us for a ride for a very long time, but the time has finally come for us to stand up against these people.
“The government may have agreed to proscribe the unit and promised to reform the force, which of course, is a welcome development, but it will be stupid of us to leave the streets just because of that. There are myriad of other issues that must be addressed before we will allow peace to reign in this country again. Today, we are changing our slogan to #Endbadroads because of the poor state of the roads in the state. Go round the state and see the roads we are condemned to ply every day. We are prepared to change this country. We will never allow anyone to take us for a ride again,” he said, adding “never again!”
In a part of Lagos metropolis, and apparently to sustain the peaceful nature of the protests, the wide expanse of the space close to the Iyana-Ipaja BRT bus terminal and the police station on the area was turned into an impromptu concert ground where the protesting youths set up their musical instruments to entertain themselves.
A concerned parent who requested not to be identified in print enthused to Sunday Sun: “It has never been so in the history of this country, maybe this is what we need to get to the Promised Land of good governance and respect for the dignity of human life by police operatives, who instead of protecting us from criminals are rather killing us, harassing and extorting money from our youths, a good number of engaged in genuine business activities or online trading, tele-marketing and such other legal activities to earn money. When they are seen with good phones, SARS operatives get envious and want to extort them by falsely branding them as Yahoo Yahoo boys, kidnappers or fraudsters.”
Another man in his 50s, Ugochukwu Njoku, who runs a tele-marketing consultancy in Surulere area of Lagos said: “Look at the situation this way: my nephew is 32 and he has been making exclusive leather bags for female celebrities and they pay him very well. He has not yet bought a car because he is saving money to acquire some additional machines to boost his production.
“So, when he goes to discuss fresh designs with select customers, he takes Uber taxis. Several times he has been stopped, harassed, questioned and extorted by SARS operatives just for working hard, doing a legitimate business and succeeding at what he is doing. Meanwhile, the armed robbers and criminals they are supposed to track down are given a free pass. So, when you have experienced the brutality and the ways of SARS operatives first hand, you begin to understand why the protesting youths are angry.
“Again, look at what is happening at the National Assembly, where in the 2019 budget, the legislature appropriated over N27 billion just for the renovation of the National Assembly complex. Just to renovate the building, not to construct it from the scratch. They originally wanted to spend N35 billion for this purpose before we cried out against such profligacy. Meanwhile, we have public hospitals that lack extremely vital medical equipment that do not cost much money. Imagine the number of X-ray, CT-Scan and MRI machines that money could be used to purchase for our teaching hospitals, to treat ordinary members of the public. Imagine the number of additional hostel rooms that could be built in our universities with that money. Add this humongous amount to all the other huge sums they siphon through several other subheads such as allowances, replacement of their SUVs every two years, fake constituency projects and several other ways, you begin to see why the youths are protesting and demanding real change and good governance. I am fully in support of the peaceful protests by the youths. Very soon, you will see older Nigerians like me either joining them in the protest.”
Interestingly, some worthy Nigerians are quietly sponsoring and supporting the protesting youths with edibles, energy drinks, musical equipment, dancers and funds to produce the banners, provide data to facilitate online video streaming of the protests on social media and similar platforms.
Religious leaders, celebrities are not left out of the action, which has drawn the attention of the world. Reputable foreign media like BBC and CNN, which have strong presence in the country have started to run regular reports and updates on the protest. The attention of the international media has added oxygen to the protest, which ostensibly is being drawn from the long-suppressed anger and frustration of the youths.
Already, there is growing and manifest evidence of coordination, networking, and largely unity of purpose and demands by the youths who have remained resilient and focused.
At the International Airport Road, Ayodele Gbolahan, one of the leaders of the protesting youths, stopped briefly to tellSunday Sun that beyond the demand for an end to police brutality, they want the government to do mass direct importation of prepaid meters that will end the decades long practice of estimated billing for electricity.
This, he said, would drastically reduce the high tariff it recently imposed on the pauperised populace who are supplied blackout rather than power for productive work and domestic use.
The youths also want the government to take real steps to bring banditry under control and rein in the marauding armed Fulani herdsmen attacking communities.
Gbolahan said: “We want to see inclusive government with 50 per cent of youths, want to see improved security; President Muhammadu Buhari should sack the Service Chiefs, create jobs and end ASUU strike. The salaries of legislators and the appointed office holders in the executive branch of government should be drastically cut down to reflect the present economic straits ordinary Nigerians are passing through.”
More troubling to the youths is the rapidly rising foreign debt, particularly from China, being piled up by the Federal Government led by President Buhari, just one decade after former President Olusegun Obasanjo got Nigeria out of long standing debt to the World Bank, the Paris and London clubs of lenders.
The youths wondered why the government had failed in five years to fix the refineries, power sector and health sector, which they pointed out government had vociferously promised in 2015 while seeking to oust Goodluck Jonathan and the People Democratic Party (PDP) from office.
As the country looks to the 2023 general election, the youths demanded that the Independent National Electoral Commission should assiduously work to introduce electronic voting, which would make all votes count, as well as eliminate rigging.
At the Ikeja axis of the Lagos metropolis, Mr Oluwaseun Ogedemgbe, one the protesters, who was wounded by thugs last Thursday, expressed disgust that the government had not taken cogent steps towards addressing the worries raised by the protesting youths.
His words: “Some of the statements made by those in government make me think that they are really stupid. They sent political thugs to attack us and disrupt our peaceful protest. The thugs gave me a deep cut on the head and battered some of us. Now, the same people came to bring water to us. This government thinks we are fools. They told us that they have heard us and all they did was to change SARS to SWAT. Does that make sense? We said we don’t want them on our streets, they should face robbers. Our protest is not just about ending SARS. It’s about ending police brutality and the daylight robbery by the electricity distribution companies (DISCOs). We want a total overhaul of the system. They are yet to realise our seriousness. And we’ll continue to protest until they wake up, even if it takes one, two, three or 10 months.”
Another protester at the Lekki tollgate, Mr Alex Ogbaje also said that he was still protesting because the government had not done enough to heed to their demands.
“Up till now, the cop who killed Jimoh Isiaq in Ogbomosho has not been arrested. The ones who killed the youths who went to protest at the Oba’s palace are yet to be named and shamed. The governor’s convoy shot at protesters in Jos. Hoodlums were brought in using the new Lagos State BRT buses to disrupt protests at Alausa in Ikeja. The government cannot claim to have fulfilled met our demands when they’re still shooting at us, killing us, sending hoodlums to attack protesters in Abuja and Lagos and shooting tear gas at us. We want a total reform and overhaul of the police system in Nigeria and that’s not too much to ask. Until we see results, until the security personnel responsible for the deaths of these people are held accountable, this protest will continue. Until the Nigerian youths see the sincerity of the government, we’re not leaving the streets. This is a fight for our lives, for our future and the future of the generations that will come after us.”
Another protester at the tollgate, Uka Emele, said: “SARS officers have been harassing young innocent Nigerians in the name of fighting crime. They have killed, tortured and extorted many. The case of the CSP James Nwafor (retired) who headed Awkuzu SARS, in Anambra State, shows the level of clandestine activities across SARS commands. I am calling on the federal and state governments to outline actionable steps with timelines on how they plan to investigate and punish erring officers in the Nigeria Police, especially those that served in SARS unit – past and present.”
Ms Nwankwo Chioma Sylvia, a young lady and one of the protesters at the tollgate, in her contribution, condemned the marginalisation of youths in the governance of the country.
“The story surrounding this whole SARS thing is wild. Their level of harassment and extortion is crazy. A lot of things are wrong with our government. We have a government that is deaf, dumb and numb all at the same time. Changing SARS to SWAT doesn’t make any sense. What we demand is the arrest and prosecution of rogue police officers. I am still protesting because they have not done anything so far,” she said.
Reacting to the growing tempo of the protest, General Ishola Willims (rtd) said that the creation of SWAT was not the solution to policing in the country, accusing the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu of insincerity in creating SWAT as a replacement for SARS.
For him, it is like treating the symptom rather than the disease.
He said: “The Inspector General Police (IGP) is not being honest with himself. The political authorities like National Security Advisers (NSA) are also not doing their work properly. Genuine reform of the police requires both holistic measure as well as political will. The only way to ensure effective policing of the country is for the governors to take full responsibility for security of their states.”
He argued that governors must be allowed to take full responsibility for maintenance of law and order in their states.
He noted that the some states of the federation already had the structure on ground for the take off of state policing.
This is even as he berated the Northern governors for insisting that SARS must be allowed to stay.
Suggesting the way forward, he said: “The police must be broken up; MOPOL must be given independent command as a paramilitary force. The Crime and Criminal Investigation department must be become an agency on its own with a Director-General. What the IGP should be doing is to regulate police with respect to standard, training, monitoring, evaluation, and feedback. If we have that, all these problems we are talking about will go because the state will be responsible for the mobile patrol.”
For those fanning the EndSARS protest, Williams challenged them to come up with their own proposal for the reform of the police.