The ongoing protest by the Nigerian youths to end police brutality and other maladies afflicting the country is understandable, welcome and desirable. In a democratic government, the right to protest is given and can never be denied or obstructed by any agency of the government or hired political thugs as witnessed in some parts of the country. Without doubt, the #EndSARS protest, which can be said to be spontaneous and nationwide, came at the right time because Nigerian youths have been pushed to the wall. The youths have been treated as nobody or outcasts. They have been treated as if their lives do not matter.
They have been abused, derided and debased by the policemen attached to the ubiquitous police tactical united code-named FSARS and later SARS which operationally stands for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Operatives of SARS are known for their abuse of the rights of Nigerian youths, the violence meted to innocent citizens or suspects and their unorthodox policing system characterized by extra-judicial killings, torture, extortion and harassment of citizens they are paid to protect. For years, the police authorities have looked the other way while the dreaded SARS carry on with their violence against Nigerian youths and other citizens.
To many Nigerians, the name SARS reminds them of their great nightmares, anguish and psychological traumas as a result of their unfortunate encounter with men of the special squad who can boast of “killing anyone and nothing will happen.” They have indeed sent many Nigerians to the great beyond through extra-judicial killings. But with the #EndSARS protests, the day of judgement has come for the outfit which has been scrapped and replaced with SWAT, which is also problematic. Somebody or some people must give account of what happened between the squad and Nigerian youths. The youths are angry with the excesses of the Nigeria police as represented by the inimical SARS.
The Federal Government did not envisage that a day like this will come. The police also did not know that a day like this will come. The Nigerian politicians did not reckon that a day like this will come. The dispossessed and highly alienated Nigerian youths have taken over the roads and all available open Nigerian spaces which Nigerian politicians cannot occupy. The politicians have taken over the entire political spaces and offices. What we are witnessing is the rage of the youths. The politicians enjoy much of the wealth of the nation while the teeming youths, the so-called leaders of tomorrow are without jobs, future and sense of direction.
The government in power once derided them by calling them lazy Nigerian youths. Those of them that made it by dint of hard work were branded “yahoo boys” and armed robbers by SARS because of their dreadlocks, pop culture and flashy cars. With days of coordinated and yet leaderless protests, the youths have shown that they are in charge and must be listened to. They have demonstrated that they can be organized. They have shown some level of leadership in the way and manner the protest is organized even though they have no identifiable leader or leaders.
The protesters are well fed and taken care of. The wounded were attended to. The protest has been largely peaceful. The protesters have avenues to charge their phones. They did not litter the places they occupied. They slept there and were committed to the cause for good policing and a better Nigeria. They pray, they sing and they dance away their sorrows. These are people who live on the cyber space with their phones. They are conversant with developments around them and in the world. Many of them are highly educated up to a doctorate degree yet they do not have work. They are well informed. The demands of the youths are five. Although more items were added as the government agreed in principle to implement the five demands.
The five demands of the protesters are: Immediate release of all arrested protesters; Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families; Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct (within 10 days); In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed; Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens.
However, there is another trending interpretation of EndSARS movement or protest, which loosely means: education and economic reform; national constitution reform; debt accountability; security reform; anti-people policies cancellation; restructuring and saving cost of governance. Both the initial five demands of the protesters and the reinterpretation of the EndSARS revolt, their demands are genuine and resonate with what Nigerians have asked the government to do. The problem is that this government does not listen so much and it listens, it is too slow to act.
Nigerian youths, like other compatriots, are not satisfied with the present Nigerian system in which many are excluded from the good things of life. The youths want the country to be restructured, they want electoral reforms, economic reforms, security reforms and an end to the extant anti-people policies of the present administration. The youths are angry and they are venting their anger on the bad system. They have locked down Lagos, Abuja and other cities. They may do more in the coming days if the government is still foot-dragging in implementing the five demands which do not require rocket science to start implementing.
Although the government has really tried to appease the protesters, it should act fast and start doing what the youths can see and evaluate. The government must not bring in soldiers to the already charged situation. If other Nigerians join the protest, government may not contain it. Let government start good governance by reducing the wages of political office holders including the salaries and allowances of federal lawmakers considered the highest in the world. It can also come up with a template to create jobs for the youths. This is the time to use the carrot approach to resolve the youth restiveness.
Unfortunately, the protest has turned bloody and some protesters killed in Lagos by armed troops and many others seriously wounded. Some buildings have been razed and vehicles burnt in Lagos, Abuja and other places. President Muhammadu Buhari should speak to the nation and handle the matter in a way that it will not degenerate. Dragging troops to quell the protest and imposing curfews will not solve the problem.
This is the right time to begin the police reforms starting with state policing. This is the time to start working on how best to restructure the country in order to make it work. This is the time to devolve more powers to the federating units. Nigeria as presently constituted is not working. The universities are under lock and key because varsity teachers have been on interminable strike and the government appears unperturbed. Our health sector is in total disarray while medical tourism thrives. The children of the politicians attend foreign universities, which are well equipped and better staffed.
If government responds quickly to some of the demands of the youths, it is likely that they will suspend the revolt and give the government enough room to effect meaningful changes. The youths are calling for a better Nigeria. Their call is genuine and patriotic. Nigerian youths have spoken and they have spoken well. Let the elders, the politicians do the needful and prevent the implosion of the situation.