What a remarkable moment it has been for Nigerians in the last few weeks. What used to be a social media uproar against the highhandedness of ‘Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force coupled with the pain of far too many cases of police brutality has spilled over to the streets of cities across Nigeria; a situation that hitherto seemed impossible. Like author and social activist, Bura-Bari Nwilo, puts it, ‘The generation that’s known for pressing phone also knows how to register its displeasure.’ This is what demonstrators, mostly youths, have attested to as they demand an end to the infamous SARS and also for the total reform of the police.
The hashtag EndSARS has trended on social media for a few years undulating as if it were just the flutter of a lazy generation of youths. Truth be told, all the while, the accusations of police brutality were not any less gruesome. Some complains surface on twitter and cause reasonable traffic and awareness and then flicker away without any definite results in terms of justice for the victims or accountability on the part of the police and its agents. This trend has been managed with one form of concession from the police authorities, usually an announcement of guideline changes in the operations of the SARS or some other public statement that usually calmed nerves. Other times the wave got taken over by other raves and hasgtags. This time the smouldering heap wants to keep burning and understandably so.
How do we explain that after repeated outcry, a writer or computer programmer cannot go about freely with his or her laptop for fear of being harassed by the police? How do we explain that a father cannot buy his son or relative an upscale mobile phone for fear of confrontation with the police? And the other more troubling instances. Nobody needs to leave in a terrorised society. And I believe this is very true for every Nigerian, whether from the North or South; be you rich or poor, leader or led, security agent or not. Unfortunately that’s how we feel when we are faced with Boko Haram, herdsmen crisis and insensitivity of security agents who prowl our streets with guns and unwarranted intimidation. Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe acknowledged this while addressing demonstrators in Abuja. He agreed that we all want a ‘Nigeria that is peaceful, a Nigeria that is progressive, a country that works for everybody.’ We need a Nigeria where security agents go about their work humanely and appreciate that the common man is not their enemy. That we don’t need to continue with this state of confrontation amidst the common pressures of everyday life in Nigeria.
We are all in this trouble together and perhaps no single person or institution can be blamed for the rot of our society. It is also true that everyone of us should be tired of the rot by now. The demonstrations of the last few weeks is the youth of this country making it clear that we cannot continue to keep away from our challenges and run to other climes to find meaning and realize dreams.
‘The youths of Nigeria are angry’, Aisha Yusufu said on Arise TV. The reasons for this anger is not far-fetched and it is clear that the people have got to boiling point. Who doesn’t know that we have been on a ticking bomb. As a society, Nigeria is not exempted from the kind of incidents we’ve seen happen in other regions in recent history; whether it is the Spring in the Middle East or the Occupy in the West. It is important that our handlers realize this reality and avoid the dangerous arrogance of believing that it’s ‘under control’ through the usual gimmicks and perhaps violence. We need to begin to value life and be concerned about the disregard for basic human dignity that has characterized our public life over the years. There needs to be change.
No doubt the demonstration is registering where it matters. That is not to say the results are guaranteed or that it should be abandoned at this stage. It is an admission that it is a great thing that it is happening now. The youths have exhausted their thirst for twitter activism as the trust gap between the citizens and the government and its agencies is at its worst position.
Thankfully, the demonstrations have remained peaceful across the country in spite of provocations in some places. The movement has also matured to formulate clear and attainable demands from the government and security agents.
Some of our leaders also have shown genuine care. They understand that the demonstrations are reflections of discontent over the state of affairs in this country, which the more humble ones do not attempt to exonerate themselves from. The Inspector General of Police has shown goodwill in his tone towards pacifying demonstrators, regardless of the error of not delaying the public announcement of the formation of another police squad less than 48 hours after the publicized disbandment of SARS.
Every Nigerian, whether in support of the demonstrations or not, has to understand that the protest is for the good of us all and for generations unborn. Like Femi Falana admitted, it should be an awakening for every Nigerian leader and a motivation to muster the courage to do the right thing, to think of the wider good of the Nigerian people and realize that a troubled country will burn through every barrier of class, tribe and religion.
Timi Dakolo, the Great Nation crooner, has called it an ‘opportunity of a lifetime and a golden opportunity to level the playing ground for every Nigerian’. It is sadly true to admit that the system has deprived Nigerians the voice to express discontent in a civil manner, which has led to many pockets of insurrection. Hence one must commend the current movement and truly identify it as an unusual opportunity that ought to be taken advantage of by demonstrators as instigators and the leadership and policy makers on the other hand.
Demands put forward by the demonstrators are for the good of every Nigerian. It is to have people accountable for crimes; for the good of police officers who are mostly poorly paid, poorly trained and poorly motivated. The men and officers of the police must not ignore this sincerity as they go about their vital roles even protecting demonstrators. It is sad that our policemen are not encouraged to be the best they can. For the most part, our police officers are like precocious school pupils who have been misled by their parents to rely on exam mal-practice than deploy their more reliable God-given intelligence. The over reliance on guns and intimidation is depriving our security agents, and in extension the society, of a truly effective policing. As long as this remains the case, the pursuit of a society guided by the rule of law will remain a mirage. Because what makes a society sane is not the absence of crime and disorder but the certainty of repercussion for crimes and a commitment to order in a way that works for every individual citizen. So when the police, the primary institution vested with the responsibility to maintain law and order, become grossly perverted whether collectively or in part, it is surely a good place to begin the healing of what is a very clearly an instance of a troubled land.