Magnus Eze, Enugu
Catholic Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Most Revd Calistus Onaga is gravely bothered about the way Nigeria is going. He spoke on the state of the nation; particularly the protest by Nigerian youths against police brutality tagged #EndSARS.
EndSARS protest and call for reformation of the police
Nigeria is in a big chaotic situation now about EndSARS; it was supposed to be a protest in quest of removal of SARS.
Generally speaking, the whole idea was very noble because it was an attempt by our young people; boys and girls, ladies and men to rise up to the occasion to call the attention of the government to some of the aberrations being experienced in the hands of those who are supposed to be keeping order in the society, the police officers especially this special squad called SARS, and this very protest it was very peaceful and focused. It captured the attention of Government and SARS was disbanded. But as the protest continued and government reaction went on, we believed that some people hijacked the process, that protest that was supposed to be noble and focused was then turned into a very violent and destructive process. The climax of it was what happened in the Lekki tollgate, Lagos, where people were killed by some law enforcement agents and that gave a very sad taste to the whole process because it was supposed to be a very peaceful process that has something to offer to the society. Burning down and destruction of infrastructure became the order of the day and lives were being lost. This, I believe, was not the intention of the original planners of this protest because you cannot begin to destroy the very thing you are fighting for. If infrastructure are being destroyed and human beings are dying because you want to fight for the welfare of human beings, then, it is counterproductive and this is where it touches every part of the society. It is a good idea for the young people to begin to show and say the action of the police, especially the COVID-19 situation crisis, was not good. They were too highhanded and brutal and everybody saw with them but then to persist in destroying things in order to drive home this already known objective doesn’t seem to go down well with the whole of the Nigerian citizens. That is why we are pleading with protesters, we are pleading with our parents, we are pleading with everybody that is concerned, opinion leaders to talk to our children and their followers to sheath their sword and begin to talk peace, begin to discuss on the table to see the way out. For many of us, ending SARS is not just a protest against the police, but it is a protest against anomalies going on in the society. It is a process that reminds us that all is not well in the Nigerian society. It is a process that tells us that we can do things better, especially those that are in government. The government at all levels should know that things are not fine with those they are taking care of. For instance, the increase in tariff of electricity from N22 to N66 was something very outrageous. No civilized society will take that kind of jump, 600 per cent increase, it’s not done anywhere. If you want to raise tariffs on anything that is used by the public, it has to be very gradual considering the earnings of the people. Somebody, one of our workers called me to tell me that for September, this person has been given a tariff of N25,000 just for September and this is somebody who is earning N24,000 a month; so how can somebody earning N24,000 pay just for electricity N25,000? This person has to take care of his children – he has to pay school fees, pay house rent, he has to take care of transportation, he has to take people to hospital; the same N24,000 will do the miracle. And that is why I believe that kind of action lacked human face. The government or those representing them should be able to take care of this. I appeal to all those who are working for the government on the power sector to review what they are doing. It is not correct, if you want to raise tariffs; let it be done in such a way that people can afford it. This is an anomaly when the issue of fuel increase is still hanging. EndSARS as I said is just a symbolic movement to show that things are not going fine. Look at housing and rent; I marvel at some of our families who would need to live in the township in order to work in urban area; to work, somebody will be paying N20,000 a month on a room, put together is N360,000 in a year just to work for a salary accumulation that would not be more than N500,000. That shows that even the landlords are contributing to the sufferings of the poor masses. The government should look into this, in most climes; these things are controlled from the centre, so that you don’t begin to be a shylock to others just to make sure that you are comfortable.
State of universities and other tertiary institutions
Yes! Look at our universities – the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), every year goes on strike. These are supposed to be the elite, the enlightened group in the society – the academic citadel; universities every year, they have one reason to go on strike and they will always justify it. I was telling one of them; every year you go on strike looking for one increase or one benefit or the other, they said they have not done the other one but if they remember very well, their colleagues who taught them who were their professors did not earn up to half of what they are earning today, yet they complain; not to talk of the unjust treatment of students who are forced to live immorally in order to get high marks. Yes, recently the government had to now say you must have to work just in one federal university or state university and that became a problem again; because some will take up appointments in several universities without actually paying well attention to any of them. Who is the one suffering? The students who will be given half or almost unprepared lectures are. They pay for the hand-out; they pay for the books that are not digested. I don’t say that pressure groups are not good; they are good. In every society, you have some kind of pressure group and that is why the unions go into really talk to the government or the powers that be to balance things in the society; but to make it perpetually a yearly occurrence that a group has to be going on strike is uncalled for. The academic world should look into what they are doing; let us compare ourselves to other developed or civilized worlds and what they are doing in their universities. And worse still, when they go on six months strike; students will come back and take the exams immediately, unprepared. Who is cheating who, this is our future? These children constitute the future and we are toying with the future and already we are reaping fruits of it by the kind of criminal spread we have in every part of this country; people have no conscience again and they do things because they believe that they have been exploited. I think Nigerians are self-exploiting self; we are self-exploiting ourselves in many ways.
One of the most painful ones is even on the reigns of religion; those who are proclaiming Christ, that there is this tendency to sow enmity in the families because of false prophecies by some of our religious groups and pastors and priests. You impose undue stipends – payments on them in order to wipe away whatever sin you think is there in the family. For the meantime, you have sowed a seed of discord by making brothers hate brothers, sisters hate sisters.
Deplorable state of South East roads
The situation is still deplorable. There is now the culture of destroying good roads in order to start building one that presumably will be better. Look at the Enugu-Onitsha road destroyed in early 2000; up till today, they are still under construction. Look at Abakpa Junction to 9th Mile Corner destroyed for over 10 years now and they are still under construction now; the same group who are doing this disservice to the society now have started from Four Corners to Emene, destroying the roads; after destroying, they wouldn’t do it for the next five, six years; because the ones they did about two years ago from Awgu to Four Corners has not been repaired and they are destroying the roads more and more. Please the federal and state governments should wake up to this kind of challenge and begin to stop it because they are doing it purposely. What these contractors do is that they collect the mobilization fee and then leave and go and start destroying other roads without conscience. I wonder what is happening. I say we are going into total self-exploitation. Who is fooling who? These contractors, very often they are our own local contractors who are doing this. The multinational contractors try as much as possible to do work for the payment if you have paid, to do the services but some of them are even compromised. I will appeal to our own governor here to stop this destruction of the road from Four Corners to Emene. They are destroying it and they will not reconstruct it. Since two years ago they destroyed from Awgu to Four Corners, and nothing has happened. They will move just a small inch and they will destroy five kilometers and just do 500 meters. Is that how you do reconstruction? And they are doing it because it has become a system of exploiting and using money for such construction; tomorrow they will go up and say they have done the roads when they just destroyed and left it undone. It should not happen, whoever that cannot repair the road immediately should not be given the contract. Please stop this issue of so-called settling your stakeholders. This is what is killing this country. Go round the whole of the South East, the same destruction is going on. They take money, mobilization fee and they stop and they say the government has not paid them. If you have not been paid, why would you go in to do it? This one is very painful because you see it happening every day.
Message to Nigerians
I plead to let our society become a little bit more proactive, more self-helping. We have to look at the human person before we begin to do things. It’s a pity that we have become a little bit inhuman because we are no more sensitive to people’s rights and problems.
EndSARS should be a wakeup call. Let it help us to look into some of these areas, there are so many areas to look into but these small ones I have mentioned, let us do something. We thank the young people for what they were doing but please may they stop destroying what they have started purely. They are destroying when a man kills anyhow. Human life is sacred no matter whose life it is. God has told us, you don’t destroy it – we are all Imago Dei – the images of God; you don’t destroy us anyhow. Look at our schools, we are still at home, we have just tried to even survive COVID-19 and we have entered this other crisis. We must have a way to say enough is enough.