Last week, Nigeria came to terms with one of the most coordinated protests, wherein young people across the nation demanded the abrogation of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police. For good measure, the young people were united in a protest that rocked the country, and reverberated in the streets of London and New York.
That squad came at a time of need because armed robbery, bank robbery and other violent crimes virtually brought the nation down to its knees.
Armed robbery was said to be a negative product of the Nigerian Civil War. Combatants on both sides who did not turn in their weapons allegedly converted them to instruments of terror. Since the end of the Civil War, the ugly phenomenon has grown in leaps and bounds.
In a bid to combat the menace, the police created a special squad that became rather reckless and a killer of youth. Young people suffered severe damage in the hands of members of the squad, who killed and maimed them at the slightest suspicion.
Sometimes, young people were made to bite the dust for dressing well or driving good cars. The baseline of law enforcement is that it is better for guilty people to escape than for innocent people suffer in the hands of the law. But SARS virtually reversed that mantra, resulting in scores of untimely deaths in the land.
This is not to say that the unit was completely useless. It helped to curtail the menace of armed robbery but its personnel became caught up with the general abuse of power, which seemed to cut across every African society. Any uniformed personnel, private security outfit, the military, police, customs, etc, seems to see the uniform as a license to oppress the people, and, in fact, act above the law. Politicians also abuse power, cruising around with sirens, under the protection of scores of security agents.
There is a general abuse of power in our clime but young men and women have shown that power really belongs to the people. They have forced the police authorities to scrap SARS. Personnel of SARS were poorly trained, poorly paid, and thus prone to sadistic use of power.
The young people, in their skepticism, have continued their protest, days after the Inspector-General of Police announced that SARS was gone. They do not believe the government because it has not earned their trust. They have continued the #EndSARS protest given that Nigerians have largely lost confidence in their government.
Things have come to a head. The truth is that the protest have gone beyond SARS. Several youths, many of them university students, forced to idle away at home on account of strike by their teachers, have joined to engage themselves, to while away time. The unemployed are angry about government that spends taxpayers’ funds on maintaining their lavish lifestyles, where Nigerian ministers and legislators are probably the highest paid in the world. They have been pushed to the wall such that the protest have provided a veritable avenue to vent about sundry grievances.
Certainly, the protest has gone beyond SARS. A police station has been burnt down in Lagos, a police officer killed in Aba, as the protest becomes violent. Lagos, Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Abia and other states have declared curfew to curtail the violence. The protest might have been hijacked or become a political instrument in the hands of anti-government agents.
Government seems to have been adamant against suggestions from well-meaning Nigerians on restructuring, power-sharing, security and governance. The centralised power structure also means that every blame on governance issues goes to the Federal Government. If the police force, for instance, was decentralised, states like Zamfara and Borno that want SARS to be retained would have been free to do so. They cannot do so under the current structure, this is just an example of different needs from various zones of the federation. But they have all been forced to drink from the same tap even when they have different degrees of thirst. This example can suffice for many other issues for which everyone is forced to apply the same solutions to varied problems. Such matters bring to the fore, the need to take another look at the structure of Nigeria.
It is becoming obvious that forcible retention of this current structure is a recipe for inevitable disintegration. The youths now direct their anger at the Federal Government because the system has made it so. If the structure changes, the direction of their anger will also change. As they say in Igboland, if you fetch ant-infested wood, you must be prepared to host lizards that will come to feed on them.
Recently, the leader of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, mathematician-turned-preacher, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, recommended devolution of powers and restructuring as an antidote to disintegration. He was not the first to say so; several well-meaning and responsible Nigerians have made the same call but those in power who seem to enjoy the enormity of it at the central level have ignored such calls.
A centralised government seems to have outlived its usefulness, but some people prefer to live in the past and pretend that the solutions of yesterday will solve today’s problems. The truth is that times have changed and systems will change with it. Nigeria was not conceived as a centralised structure. It was a creation of the military, which has since become obsolete and evidently irrelevant. But only those in power and those who benefit from the current structure will not come to terms with this present reality until the whole house eventually comes down. The earlier this matter is addressed, the earlier greater problems and riots will be averted. This regime actually promised a restructuring, it is intriguing that it has abandoned its own promise. There is nothing to fear about, because, before the Civil War, people like Nnamdi Azikiwe won elections in Lagos, while a northerner was said to have been elected Mayor of Enugu. Such developments show that Nigeria will still remain united in a restructured political apparatus rather than in a forced unification.