For the first time, in my mid forty I regret being a Nigerian. As a journalist, I have no fear that there is a curfew because I’m classified as an essential worker. So, it’s not news that in the rain or sunshine, I cover events and happenings. I attend functions, visit public places and of course investigate new trends, crimes or security of lives and properties. Activism is a calling and that is evidently reflected in my write ups. I have been doing these for the past fifteen years without regret. But young Nigerians, particularly people of my generation showed me how not to be a patriotic Nigerian during the recent ENDSARS protest.
It was meant to be a peaceful protest against abuse of police powers especially the outlawed SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad). The campaign against impunity and abuse of powers by security agencies has always been there in Nigeria. As an undergraduate in the university, I have participated in peaceful and violent demonstrations. And as a students’ union leader, I have led other students to demand better treatments from school management and even from the government.
As an investigative journalist, I have reported series of stories against police brutality and participated in series of official contest against abuse of powers by public office holders in many sectors. None of these ‘struggles’ or protests were laced with corrupt mindsets that characterized the ENDSARS protest. It was indeed a shame that younger Nigerians descend so low in their quest for better Nigeria.
Commenced like an unnoticed flame three weeks ago, the protest received huge and unprecedented acceptability in Nigeria. From commercial city in Lagos to the Nigeria’s seat of power in Abuja Nigerians protest against abuse of police powers. And like wild fire, spreads to other major cities in the country.
Immediately after the first week, specifically by Friday 16th October, 2020, the protest turned a new dangerous dimension. The protesters turned looters, robbing motorists and by the following day. Massive looting of shops malls started.
The looters are not ghost though but those we called miscreants. These sets of unemployed youths are huge, very many. They constituted over 70% of the crowd that carried out the protests. Since they were not gainfully engaged they always run into trouble water with the police. They scattered everywhere in Nigeria. They are majorly found in ‘Assembly’; that is newspapers joint, under any tree on the streets, bear parlor, Baba Ijebu shops, etc. They are the scavengers, under bridge boys, Omo Igboro. They eat hands to mouth. They struggle for daily bread on the street; they eat whatever they see and not whatever they want to eat. And like fatherless they sleep in uncompleted buildings, markets, parks and under bridges. Few of them have houses anyway.
Unfortunately, the government and police couldn’t recognize the difference between peaceful demonstration and violent attack. The former is a constitutional right while the latter is a breach of the constitution. And so the police allowed the crisis to linger. A youth based protest metamorphosed to serious criminalities.
IGP Adamu also affirmed that during the protests, officers of the Force used legitimate means to ensure that the protests were carried out in a peaceful manner and in most cases, physically protected and walked side-by-side with the protesters. The IGP reiterated that even when the protests turned violent in some parts of the country, the officers still maintained utmost restraint and did not use excessive force in managing the situations.
This may have allowed why police officers and other security personnel were attacked and killed. The irate youths attacked police stations, public institutions. They also attacked and set ablaze media houses that was said to be owned by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Lagos Governor and a key figure of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC.
Were the mob more sophisticated than the police and other security agencies in the country? Was there a lacuna in government? Why was the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces kept mute for so long realizing that the protection of lives and properties of the citizen must be paramount on his heart as constitutional demands. Or was he waiting until there is Breaking News that the hoodlums have attacked, Aso Villa, the country’ seat of power? Was there political undertone that created the controversy over who deployed soldiers to Lekki area of Lagos? The fury over Lekki was born out of the fact that it was devoid of violent as Lekki protesters were more organized that they arrested thieves in their midst and handed him over to police.
It is evidently cleared that there were genuine protesters who backed out when their demands were met and the police authority announced the disbandment of SARS. There were politically motivated crowd who remained on the street shouting EndBuhari even when SARS have been disbanded. There were RevolutionNow group led by Sahara Reporters Omoyele Sowore. There were alsoNnamdi Kanu’s IPOB elements who led many, directly or indirectly, into attack on properties and persons of interest. There are the criminals who want to free their colleagues and carry out robbery attacks. There were hungry people who merely steal the stolen palliatives to survive. Findings however, reveal that the Political Protesters and the IPOB elemts may have led us into the state of wanton destruction.
While accessing the damages in Lagos, Governors and the Ministers were very shock seeing the level of damage. They came to commiserate with Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu over the ugly incident and took time to rub minds with Lagos Government on what actually happened.
The delegation of Governors and Ministers was personally received by Sanwo-Olu at the State House in Marina, where the Lagos helmsman showed them the pictorial evidence of the violence before visiting some the torched assets - the Lagos High Court, the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) building and the Forensic Lab.
Many sighed endlessly; others were simply shaking their heads. Some brought their phones and took photographs of the “scene of war”.
At a joint press conference held after the tour, chairman of Southwest Governors’ Forum and Ondo State Governor, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, likened Lagos to a war zone, given the extent of the destruction.
He said the violence that resulted from the EndSARS protest left much to be desired, stressing that there was an agenda beyond the youth demonstration against police brutality.
He said: “We are deeply concerned with the ease with which public buildings, utilities, police stations and investment of our people have been burnt despite the proximity of security agencies in those areas. The development leaves us with no other option than to believe that there may be other reasons for continued protests, well coordinated and funded.
And now that the country has killed the morale of its police force, will it be out of point to suggest that Nigerians should commence negotiation with criminals who are now terrorizing our communities. What is the way forward as to the slain police officers. How would they seek justice? Remember, they are not allowed to protest. I suggest the police must think inwardly too. They should start aggressive compliance with the law. They must ensure bail is free and implement the policy of sureties with it constitutional demands. They should ensure that all criminal cases are charged to court and allow the prison to be more congested instead of settling cases in the police station. By doing these, the police will regain its lost glory.
Abydeen is the CEO of Investigation Media Limited and Publishers of SECURITY MONITOR.