Romanus Ugwu, Aidoghie Paulinus, Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja and Chinelo Obogo
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has condemned the shooting of peaceful protesters in Lekki, Lagos, on Tuesday evening, saying the army has replaced the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
In a statement, yesterday, Soyinka accused the Federal Government of acting in an “authoritarian manner” by deploying armed soldiers on protesters.
“It is absolutely essential to let this government know that the Army has now replaced SARS in the demonic album of the protesters. My enquiry so far indicates that the Lagos governor did not invite in the Army, did not complain of a ‘breakdown in law and order’. Nevertheless, the Centre has chosen to act in an authoritarian manner and has inflicted a near incurable wound on the community psyche.
“It is pathetic and unimaginative to claim, as some have done, that the continued protest is hurting the nation’s economy. COVID-19 has battered the Nigerian economy – such as it is – for over eight months. Of course, it is not easy to bring down COVID under a hail of bullets – human lives are easier target, and there are even trophies to flaunt as evidence of victory – such as the blood-soaked Nigerian flag that one of the victims was waving at the time of his murder.”
In his statement, Soyinka said as he resumed his trip to Abeokuta at 6 a.m. yesterday, he negotiated nearly 15 roadblocks “all distinguished by an implacable state of rage.”
“It was in stark contrast to the inclusivity of the protesting ‘family of common cause’ of earlier days,” he said.
“All inherent beauty of instant bonding and solidarity evaporated. At the block just before the Lagos Secretariat, the protesters proved the most recalcitrant. In the end, they exacted from me just the one offering to the rites of passage – I could sense it coming — I had to come down from the car and addressed them. I did. Little did they know what was churning in my mind: This is not real. This is back to Abacha – in grotesque replay.’”
The Nobel laureate called on the affected governors across the country to immediately demand the withdrawal of deployed soldiers.
“Convoke Town Hall meetings as a matter of urgency. 24-hour curfews are not the solution. Take over the security of your people with whatever resources you can rummage. Substitute community self-policing based on Local Councils, to curb hooligan infiltration and extortionist and destructive opportunism,” he said.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo also condemned what he said was the use of brute force to quell protests at the Lekki tollgate. He added that it was obvious that President Buhari didn’t exhaust all avenues before deploying soldiers.
In a statement titled, ‘Statement on violence against protesters in Nigeria: An appeal for calm’, the former President called on Buhari to “restrain the military and other security agencies from using brute force as a way of ending the crisis,” saying that history has shown that killing protesters only worsens the crisis and makes dialogue impossible.
“The shooting and murder of unarmed protesters, no matter the level of provocation, has never been effective in suppressing public anger and frustration. Instead, such actions only reinforce the anger and frustration of the populace and close the window of dialogue and peaceful resolution. It is clear that Mr President and his lieutenants did not exhaust the opportunities for dialogue with the protesters before resorting to the use of force.
“It is worse that there is a denial of wrongdoing in spite of overwhelming visual evidence. Great harm has been done but it can be stopped before it completely spirals out of control. We are at a critical moment in this crisis and the President must act now before it is too late. This time demands leadership and mature leadership at such,” Obasanjo said.
In his reaction, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, called on the armed forces to exercise restrain.
Atiku, in the the transcript of a broadcast message, made available to journalists, yesterday, said no more lives must be lost the in the course of the protests.
The former vice President noted that “our foes are the terrorists and insurgents, who seek to end the Nigerian way of life,” stating that Nigerians must face the common enemy.
He urged President Muhammadu Buhari to address the country, and to speedily implement the demands of the #EndSARS protesters.
“I woke up this morning and did the unusual: I called to speak to all my adult children.. I Idid so because I wanted to be sure that they are safe. I also wanted to be assured that the event of yesterday was a nightmare.
“But it was real. This is our new normal. As I speak, many parents and homes are in mourning. Their children mowed down in their prime by a needless show of force by security forces that were supposed to be protecting them.
“ For over a week, our young people have been trying to draw our attention to their grievances, by way of the #EndSARS movement.
“Sadly, it reached a violent crescendo yesterday, with the unprovoked killing of unarmed and peaceful protesters, even while they demonstrated their patriotism by singing the National Anthem.
“ I am heartbroken at this turn of events and deeply condole with the families of the victims. I feel their pains and the pains of the injured and maimed.
“There are reports of hospitals refusing to treat the injured from this horrendous incident. I urge all hospitals, private and public, to prioritise the Hippocratic oath and treat every and all of the injured. To save their lives is a task that must be prioritised.
“ I call on our armed forces to show restraint. No more lives must be lost. Absolutely none. We must face our common enemies, not our brothers and sisters. And our foes are the terrorists and insurgents, who seek to end the Nigerian way of life,” Atiku stated.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also, condemned the shooting of unarmed protesters in Lekki.
Welby, who is head of Anglican Church, tweeted: “I condemn in the strongest terms the reported deliberate shooting of unarmed protesters in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria.
“I have urged President Muhammadu Buhari directly to ensure that lives are protected – and I say that again now. I mourn for Nigeria. May God save Nigeria.”
Also, the General Oversear, Redeem Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor E. A. Adeboye, in a statement condemned “in the strongest possible terms, attacks launched by the Nigerian military on unarmed young people, who have been peacefully protesting police brutality over the last 12 days as #EndSARS protests. “
“I am confounded that prior to the sad events at the #LekkiTollGate, the Nigerian Police failed to arrest the weapon-bearing hoodlums who were attacking the well-organized and non-violent #EndSARS protesters.
“The condemnable actions of the military risks driving the agitations of the young people underground, thereby making the situation unmanageable,” he said.
The cleric called on the Federal Government to thoroughly investigate the tragic events at Lekki and other parts of the country and give justice to all victims even as it engages the #EndSARS protesters to reach a common agreement to end police brutality.
“I am also appealing to the Youths to allow peace reign and stop any form of action that would give the military any other form of excuse to attack. May the peace of God come upon our nation, now more than ever in JESUS name,Amen,” he said.
National Peace Committee calls for calm
National Peace Committee (NPC), has called for calm following the violence that have characterised the #EndSARS protest across the country.
It also called on protesters to take a break, saying the COVID-19 pandemic does not recognise protests and that it was dangerous for the nation to let its guards down considering what is happening around the world, with new threats of the resurgence of the pandemic.
In a statement by its Chairman and Convener, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (Retd) and Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah respectively, the group appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that the rights of citizens are fully respected and protected.
They said the #EndSARS protest was a legitimate pursuit by youths in the country, adding that like millions of other Nigerians, it was within their rights to express their grievances with the system.
“We watched with utter shock, deep sorrow and sadness, the events that have taken place across the country in the wake of these protests by our youths. We have seen ugly scenes of activities that are totally unrelated to the goals of the youth protesters. This is very sad, but we call for calm among our people and appeal to the President to ensure that the rights of citizens are fully respected and protected.
“The right to protest is considered a cardinal principle in human existence wherever individuals live together as a family or a community. Every community is formed and strengthened by the contribution of all its members. The respect for and defence of the right of each member of the community is what sustains and strengthens that community. Therefore, when an individual or some members feel aggrieved, it is their right to seek redress within the rules guiding their existence and that of the community. It is against this backdrop that we must see the EndSARS protests by youths in our country as a legitimate pursuit.”
“We assumed that the protests were an effort at ensuring that the grievances of the youths are heard. It is clear that at all levels, there has been a response. These responses show clearly that everyone acknowledges the sentiments that the protests have expressed. Now, there is need to pause for many reasons. The Federal Government has apologised and this is commendable. The state governors have responded promptly by acknowledging the genuine grievances of the youths, and thirdly, the Inspector General of Police has also been quite decisive. We believe that in any civilised pursuit of common good, these steps show some level of goodwill and an acknowledgement that the grievances of the youths are taken seriously.
“The freedom to protest ends and imposes a right on the protester when the agent acknowledges the circumstances that have led to the protest. Therefore, we call on the youths to respond appropriately by accepting the show of faith by all levels of government and the Police Force.”
The Peace Committee added that developments among some of the youths were sources of serious concerns and could lead to a defeat for the noble project that the genuinely aggrieved youths embarked upon.
The group appealed to President Buhari to take very seriously, the grievances that the youths have expressed and lay out more clearly, a short, medium and long- term programmes for meeting the objectives of the protests for the growth of the nation’s democracy.