Fred Itua, Sunday Ani and Chukwudi Nweje
For about two weeks now, Nigeria has been undergoing what many regard as a national rebirth or renaissance. It is tagged #EndSARS. The youths are demanding the disbandment of the Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit notorious for human rights abuses.
Uneasy calm has enveloped the country following the massive nationwide protests by the youths across major cities in the country, and in the Diaspora.
A video footage on social media, showing the callous and insensitive police shooting of a young man in front of Wetland Hotels in Ughelli area of Delta State on October 4 triggered the outage. The footage which went viral on social media attracted widespread condemnation, which subsequently reignited the call for the disbandment of the controversial police outfit in the country.
The Twitter user posted he witnessed and recorded how SARS officials shot and killed the young boy. Many liken the development to the Arab Spring; when Arab Spring kicked about 10 years in many Middle Eastern countries, not many leaders took the angry youths serious.
Hitherto in Nigeria, youths have been relatively peaceful, beside few instances. The closest to the recent experience was the ‘Ali Must Go’ protest of 1978 by Nigerian students but since then, the youths have remained victims of bad governance and other forms of political misgivings.
Many argue that the #EndSARS uprising came as a shock to many leaders even as the development has put to rest the long term belief that Nigerian youths were incapable of leading a protest that will unsettle governments at all levels.
The protests have also seemingly settled the notion that North and South, Muslims and Christians, and different ethnic groups can’t be on the same page in their demand for an end to impunity in the country.
One emerging feature of the protests is that it has united the nation irrespective of tribe or religion. Though pockets of voices in the Northern part of the country seemed to have kicked against the #End SARS protests but the mood among the majority of people in Nigeria is in support of the uprising.
The protest which started on October 7 in Delta State has today spread across almost all the states in the country, and even outside Nigeria, with the number swelling on a daily basis.
Initially, the country’s leaders did not envisage that it would assume such a frightening dimension, because in the time past, protests of this nature had always naturally fizzled out after two, three days or one week maximum. Nigerian governments usually capitalized on ethnic or religious sentiments to neutralize such protests in the past.
But, they failed in this case because first, the protesters are predominantly youths, who have been at the receiving end of bad governance over the years with over 40 million of them unemployed. It is believed that over 70 percent of the country’s population comprises the youths and many of them are angry, frustrated, hopeless and have been patiently waiting for an opportunity to let off their anger.
Some analysts believe that the #ENDSARS protest has literally turned into the people’s parliament. Over the years, members of the National Assembly failed in the effective representation of their constituents. The protests have provided the right opportunity for the people especially the youth to ventilate their grievances, hopes and dreams. So, #ENDSARS has become a people’s parliament where everybody is free to air his or her views, unlike what obtains at the National assembly where the Senators and the House of Representatives members only speak for themselves. Though elected by their people to represent their interest and ensure that their welfare and security are adequately taken care of but they have shown that their personal interest comes before that of the people.
Interestingly, the protesters do not have a leader, unlike what obtained in the past when labour leaders or even civil society groups organised protests and eventually sold out. The #EndSARS protesters are united by one common interest, which currently goes beyond just ending SARS. The whole idea is to have good governance in the country.
Part of their demands include but not limited to total police reforms, restructuring of the country, drastic cut in the salaries and emoluments of federal lawmakers, proper funding of education, provision of affordable health facilities, provision of good roads, reversal of recent hike in petrol pump price down to N90 per litre or even less, electoral reform and expeditious passage of Petroleum Industry Bill.
The protest has gone beyond the shores of Nigeria with many citizens in the United Kingdom, United States and other countries of the world devoting their time and energy to the #EndSARS protest.
The protest is like no other as it is organized in such a way that all logistics are provided including parking lots, free foods, and medical assistance. The protesters also clean up waste materials daily from venues to avoid littering the environment.
Again, the youth are making good use of the internet and social media, hence, are more aware of the antics of the leaders. They now have more access to quality information unlike what obtained in the past where many relied on the leaders for direction.
Already, like in the past, the Federal Government was quick to agree to the five demands of the protesters. First it dissolved SARS on October 12, reaffirmed the constitutional rights of Nigerians to peaceful assembly and protest, and reaffirmed the sanctity of life of every Nigerian and the role of the police in protecting the right among others. But, the protesting youths would not budge to any of these government’s actions as they insist that the government can no longer be trusted.
They argue that in 2017, there was a social media campaign to end SARS and upon all the promises made by the government to look into their demands, nothing was done. They also cited the report of an investigative panel into atrocities and criminalities by SARS officials which has been submitted to the president since June 2019 without any action on it till today.
Although the Federal Government has appealed to the protesting youths to give it some time to be able to address issues raised, they are insisting that they would remain on the streets until the government starts the practical process of addressing the issues on ground.
They allege that about 17 protesters have so far been killed by the Police since the protest started and insisted that if the government wants them to leave the street, the police officers responsible for the death of those 17 protesters must be identified, arrested, dismissed from the police and be prosecuted and jailed. They also demand that the government visits their families, apologise to them and pay them compensation, as well as visit all the SARS formations across the country and release all the detainees. Several state governors including that of Lagos, Enugu, Delta, Anambra, and Plateau have all set up commissions of inquiry to look into the alleged atrocities of SARS. So many other prominent Nigerians have also condemned the activities of the disbanded SARS but urged the youth to end the protest so as to give the government time to address their concern.
Some Nigerians who gave their views on the #EndSARS protest believe it was long overdue.
Like President Muhammadu Buhari who has maintained a loud silence, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has repeatedly refused to address protesters who are insisting that he speaks with them.
On Thursday, protesters grounded the National Assembly and turned down attempts by the spokesperson of the Senate, Basiru Ajibola who had come out of plenary to receive their petitions and address them on behalf of the National Assembly leadership.
Ajibola, was in company of the Senate Committee Chairman on Police Affairs, Haliru Jika when he came out to receive the #EndSARS protesters.
Basiru had told them: “I have the authority of the President of the Senate to Address you” only to be booed in a chant, saying “we do not know you, who are you.”
Former governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, who was also a delegate to the 2014 National Conference said that protests are a result of “the comprehensive failure of governance in the country, and the frustration of the people.”
He said: “My prayer for Nigeria is with the Almighty God. I do not believe that the #EndSARS protest will end if they have disbanded one and created another in its place. There is this issue of comprehensive failure of Nigeria. Nigeria is generating shame to the entire black race on earth. God intended Nigeria to develop into a leading country and raise the respect and dignity of the black race, the result is what we are experiencing. I don’t think the scrapping of SARS is the end of this.”
Also, former president of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, who was a delegate to the 2014 national conference, traced the problems to what he called the Federal Government’s belief that “paternalistic benevolence” was still relevant in today’s Nigeria. According to him, paternalistic benevolence is a situation whereby the father believes that he knows best, what to do and that the youth must accept whatever he says.
National Chairman of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Falalu Bello and Dr Yunusa Tanko, head Public Affairs Bureau of National Consultative Front (NCFront) blamed the Federal Government for the outbreak of protests across the country because it refused to listen to earlier warnings regarding bad governance..
For Tanko, by organising the #EndSARS protests, the youths have shown the government that they are serious on issues of good governance.
“In the North, there is #EndInsecurity and it has gone beyond insecurity and metamorphosed into hunger and all kinds of social malpractices. In the South which supports #EndSARS, there is truth in the involvement of some youths in social vices, but have we looked at what led to these? These youth have no jobs, they have been left on their own to look for means of survival”, he said.
For critical observers, the protesters should not be carried away by the successes achieved so far. They should not expect that the protests should continue endlessly but ensure they get enough commitment with regards to their demands from the government.