My heart aches writing this. I quiver at the darkling auguries. How can a government deliberately chase shadow when the empire is being insidiously decapitated from within? And I am talking about the ongoing manhunt, hounding and even prosecution of #EndSARS protesters. We should be prosecuting those who hijacked a peaceful process. And we know them. Those who burnt down houses, police stations, looted stores, killed security personnel and set the nation on edge. We should also prosecute security personnel who shot and killed unarmed and innocuous youths who were merely expressing their genuine anger at the ruling class. We should prosecute the indicted SARS personnel whose bad conduct triggered the protests in the first place. These are the real suspects to be prosecuted, not the peaceful protesters.
It’s clearly an act of bad faith for a government that accepted to action the demands of the #EndSARS protesters to suddenly turn round to harass and intimidate the same youths.
Hard to find any justification for the latest spin to tar a peaceful protest and its progenitors with the same brush reserved for the street hounds that seized the moment to visit their orgy of violence on the people. Even harder to find any redemptive logic in the sudden attempt by the government to dim the progressive ardour of the Nigerian youths. But no matter, you cannot kill a spirit fated to life. You cannot kill an idea championed as a bulwark against injustice, inequality and a fiendish evil which successive Nigerian governments have come to represent.
We even labelled the peaceful youths terrorists. We call them cheerleaders of insurrection. We joke too much indeed. But this is not new. It’s a familiar script. From military to civilian, Nigerian governments and actors in the public space behave like aristocrats of the medieval age. They forget all too soon that power is transient; that power actually belongs to the people, not the ruling mob.
As my mind wanders through the convoluted spins of disinformation by government and misinformation by some social media denizens around the #EndSARS protests, a few theories leap to the fore. First, there is a deliberate act by the Nigerian government to turn a blind eye to the stark reality that the peaceful protesters are different and distinct from the vendors of violence who turned the protests to plunder. There is a huge gulf of difference. Except, the Federal Government is pretending not to know. The challenge is to isolate the merchants of violence from legitimate peaceful protesters. A simple thing to do, really.
The peaceful #EndSARS protesters railed against the evil called Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS. Many Nigerian homes have tasted the bitter pill of SARS. The police authorities have on several occasions admitted to the unprofessional conduct of some members of SARS. Some policemen have openly condemned the operational style of some SARS members which bordered on extra-judicial killings, extortion, kidnapping and plain robbery. The police have not had a good public image. And it’s partly because of the sinister activities of some members of SARS.
Make no mistake about it: there are many good cops in Nigeria. I have encountered grand souls among the police community. I have been a beneficiary of the benevolence, professionalism and friendly disposition of policemen. But we also have a few bad, indeed very bad, cops. They are the bad apples that stink up the whole basket. They are the ones that the protesters are raging against. Therefore, the protest was not for the protesters alone, it was for all Nigerians. It was also for the good cops in the police community whose good conduct has been foreshadowed by the bad conduct of a few bad ones. The protesters demanded for better training and better pay for the police. They demanded reformation of the entire police community. Nothing bad in this. If the Nigerian police gets better, the society is the better for it. When the police gets improved payment and smarter tools to work with, efficiency is guaranteed. At the end, it’s a win-win both for society and the police.
Is it not strange that a government that openly idolises confirmed terrorists, ala Boko Haram, would criminalise and suddenly tag peaceful protesters who merely exercised their fundamental rights as terrorists? The Nigerian government has not hidden its love and empathy for Boko Haram terrorists, a group of certified killers who have on countless occasions exhibited insurrection tendencies including hoisting their flag on Nigerian soil. Yet, the Buhari government would, in the strangely-contrived spirit of de-radicalisation and reintegration, arrest and readmit known terrorists into the society with monetary reward to boot, for being killers, arsonists, kidnappers and terrorists. Again, we joke too much. #EndSARS does not mean an end to sense or reason. We’re obviously losing our senses. Or we pretend not to be sensible anymore. It took a court in the United Arab Emirates, UAE, to convict six Nigerians for sponsoring Boko Haram terrorists. The UAE sees Boko Haram as a terror group that deserves no pity, but Nigeria pampers the same evil nest of killers and kidnappers. A government that shows open sympathy for Boko Haram, one of the globally-rated top four terrorist organisations, will not bother scrutinising the bank accounts of its sponsors. But the same government would freeze the account of sponsors of a peaceful protest. We play too much.
Senator Ali Ndume, a man who should know and who knows the danger of romancing with terrorists, has been warning the government against cozying up to a band of killers which is what the terrorists are. But nobody is listening. They are being integrated even into the nation’s security apparatchik.
Let reason prevail. Unfreeze the accounts of the peaceful protesters and those said to be their sponsors. It’s immoral to have frozen their accounts in the first place. Instead, let government identify, name and shame sponsors of Boko Haram; prosecute them and freeze their accounts. Let government identify the gang of arsonists, thieves and scoundrels who set the nation on fire, killed security personnel, burnt down police stations and looted private businesses. This does not require rocket science.
But in all of this, I fear. I fear that despite the ubiquity of uniformed security personnel bearing all manner of arms, the nation does not have effective security system either to protect her citizens internally or to ward off external aggression. The Nigerian military is still battling with Boko Haram insurgents in what now appears an endless war. Internally, the police are ineffective. Their ineffectiveness manifested during the #EndSARS protest. In Lagos, for instance, the police fled their stations. Some smart DPOs hired members of the Odua People’s Congress, OPC, to help them guard their stations and it worked like magic. All the police stations guarded by OPC members were spared from arson and destruction. If this does not scare you, the fact that when the #EndSARS protests turned violent, not a single policeman was in sight should. They all scurried to safety leaving Lagosians at the mercy of hoodlums.
We have ended SARS. We hope that wide-ranging reforms of the police be carried out, but we must not end our ability and capacity to engage in rational thinking.