Reflection on the ‘end SARS’ protest in Nigeria

Oct 30, 2020 by

Anglican Mainstream report:

Archbishop Justin Welby has strongly condemned the reported deliberate shooting of unarmed protesters by security operatives in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria. He said: “I have also urged President Buhari directly to ensure that lives are protected at all cost.”

A senior pastor in northern Nigeria writes:

For the first time in Nigeria, I can confidently say that Nigerians have thrown away religious, sectional and ethnic differences to engage the government on the ills the population observed that are plaguing the nation. It is clear that the sufferings in Nigeria have pushed the masses to the wall and their only option was to turn and face the monster head-on. For about two weeks now mostly young people, whose future is at stake, took to the streets to lay out their grievances concerning the state of the nation. This cry was first sparked by the evident police brutality. There were extra judicial killings especially of but not restricted to young people by the police unit known as SARS – Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

Those who witnessed the protests can attest to the fact that they were peaceful. The protesters usually identify a central location at the heart of the city, place their placards and just sit there. They were not making any trouble. Most of them would even clean the street they were occupying and engage in singing some slogans and at other points in prayers. By reason of their occupying a particular road, commuters had to look for alternative routes.

Trouble fomented by sponsored ‘hoodlums’

Suddenly, conflicts began brewing in some city centres in the southern states of Lagos, Edo, the middle-Belt states of Taraba and Plateau and the Federal Capital Abuja. At first, the peaceful protesters were accused of fomenting the trouble. But later it became clear that these were some hoodlums sponsored by some highly placed people. This is confirmed by the presence of some Government security outfits visibly conveying the hoodlums in Police and other security vehicles. Persons who looked like the State Security Service SSS were conveying the said hoodlums and also giving them instructions on engaging the peaceful protesters. (Videos confirm this claim).

In some parts of the country like Lagos and Abuja, the hoodlums attacked headlong the protesters and injured a lot of them with some killed in the attacks. They also destroyed vehicles of the protesters parked at the protest grounds. In some cities like Jos where I live, the hoodlums did not even go near the protesters. The went to the central business area of the city, attacked innocent citizens, looted people’s shops and other business places, vandalized church buildings and others, and set people’s cars and properties on fire.

Some Islamic religious leaders and a few politicians claim that this protest is an effort by the Western and the Middle-Belt of Nigeria to remove President Buhari who is a Fulani man from the North from leadership. On account of this, the Military and the Police were deployed to stop the protests forcefully. This made matters worse for the peaceful protesters. The security persons who were deployed opened live fire on the protesters and a number were killed. Amnesty international reports that over fifty protesters have been killed.

What are the protesters demanding?

The demands of the protests are not about sectional interest in the country. They include the following: Stop Police brutality, sack the Nation’s security chiefs who have failed to instal lasting security in the nation especially North-Eastern Nigeria (about 80% of the security chiefs are Muslims), create a conducive atmosphere for investments and job opportunity, allocate more budgetary funds to health and education, increase police salaries and better welfare, introduce electoral reforms, address the exorbitant salaries paid to legislators and excess benefits paid to politicians who are now out of office, return Nigeria to Regional Governance or restructure the country and embrace true federalism and give States autonomy.

Nigerians are having their say in a country that observes no referendum on major issues. The leadership is afraid that the population will suddenly be aware of their rights and the power to speak in unity; that they can rise and make demands which the leadership will have to answer. The leadership wants to use touts to infiltrate the peaceful protests in order to discredit them so that the people will no longer have a voice to bring the leadership to their knees and make them accountable to the populace and to the international community.

The political consciousness of the people is now rising. The new generation is challenging the status quo. The current crop of leaders in our country are the same since independence. We have been observing a downward spiral movement. Things are going from bad to worse daily.

It is important to note that the destruction, vandalism and looting of COVID 19 food hoarded by government which was not distributed to the needy was not done by those protesting against injustice. It was done by the hoodlums and some of the hungry population who were not part of the protests. Genuine protesters were highly educated people, and sensible youths who were coordinated and organised.

Buhari himself participated in protest marches against the government he took over from. He personally encouraged the Nigerian youth during that period to rise up and take their destiny or else they will be enslaved perpetually. There was never a time the previous government sent military to disrupt their protests.

Sadly, now that he (Buhari) is holding the reins of power, his language has changed. One can infer from the president’s recent speech that the killings that followed the wake of the protests were a show of government strength and not weakness. Nigerians were brutalized while protesting against police brutality and still, the government has refused to promise to prosecute military officers who shot at and killed some protesters. I have lost one of my parishioners to this Police brutality; a young man of 25 years.

The Federal Government has ordered states to set up commissions of inquiry into police brutality. But we are not sure if the State Government has such powers to question the Federal forces or will set up these commissions. So far, only one State – Lagos – has started the process. We feel it is one way the Government will avoid and eventually bury the matter.

Another challenge we also see with this is that all Military and Para-military forces are under the Federal Government and not the States. The onus to check, act and or sanction the forces on such issues lie with the Federal and not the State Governments.

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