By Abdullah Abdulganiy
In the past two weeks or so, most parts of Nigeria, save major states in the Northern region, have been grounded by a pocket of protests under the banner of EndSARS. The protest is fast becoming a movement given that it has attracted a large number of following and continues to widen its support base overtime.
What started as an online agitation has seen hundreds of thousands of citizens taking to the streets to show their solidarity and register their voices. In fact, Nigerians in Diaspora are also pledging sympathy for the movement as some of them converged on select locations to organise a miniature kind of the EndSARS protest.
We’ve, perhaps, not witnessed a kind of demonstration founded on strong commitment and tenacity as this in recent years. You see how Governor Nyesome Wike’s order was treated as a butt of jokes? Nigerians have not been this united on a cause. And like I averred last week in this column, it’s an indication of how deep the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) had gone in its infamy, and maybe due also to the raging frustrations in the land.
Many citizens, especially the youthful population, are railing against the SARS and by extension, the Nigerian Police because they’ve, as a matter of fact, been victims of harassment, assault, extortion and other misdemeanors orchestrated by officers who are paid to protect them at one time or the other. It’s therefore only natural that the people vent their angst as they have been doing.
However, most observers are likely to argue that the protest which commenced as a genuine clamour for police reform in the country has been hijacked by certain elements with ulterior motives and agendas. Some are hellbent on drawing political capital from the demonstration. Hoodlums are also using the window to launch cowardly attacks on defenceless persons, and in the process mastermind other nefarious ambitions. Matter-of-factly, shops are being looted in Abuja, the nation’s capital, Osun State and other places. In Ogbomoso, Oyo State, the palace of the Soun was invaded by thugs masquerading as protesters, causing heavy destruction to valuables.
Similarly, people who had a long time ago also wanted to set the country ablaze to settle certain scores are also seizing the moment to push their objectives. Those who are yet to come to terms with their disgraceful shellacking in the last general election top this table. The long and short of it is that the protest is fast derailing from the mission it sets out to achieve from the get-go.
Just last Saturday, two governors (Osun State Gboyega Oyetola and Ekiti State Kayode Fayemi) were reportedly attacked by self-styled EndSARS protesters. In the case of Oyetola, he had gone to identify with the demonstrators, but was waylaid by thugs purportedly calling for EndSARS. Which government accepts this effrontery and embarrassment? This is surely not how to go about a protest. And no responsible government will turn a blind eye to the excesses of these extremists. It’s getting odoriferous!
This is the result you get when protests are not well coordinated, but what you have is a group of charged youths deafened by emotions. Mark you, protests are a fundamental pillar of democracy. And yes, most SARS officers are bad. But then, you’ve called for the dissolution of SARS which the government has quite done. Is it therefore not the time to quit and sit back as the government fulfils its promises? It’s laughable that some supposedly educated persons are hinging their continued stay on the streets on #ReformPolice, #EndBadGovernance and other shenanigans. Do all those come at a snap of the finger? There are processes to all these, and the federal government has so far been responsible and responsive enough.
In another twist, some of the protesters are saying President Muhammadu Buhari should resign?! It’s so juvenile! Where does that happen in a democracy? Can they also take same? A democratically elected president should forcefully resign? It appears to me that the genuine protest has since ended when the government acceded to the five-point demands compiled by some notable figures fronting the EndSARS movement. What remains, in all honesty, is trouble-making, irritation, confusion, pettiness and sheepishness.
Pathetically, these protesters are also becoming guilty of the lawlessness they accused men of the SARS of. Since the beginning of the protest, major roads have been blocked. And as a result, many are counting their losses as business plans have been shattered. Lives have also been lost because many patients couldn’t make it swiftly to the hospital due to the blockade of roads. Property worth millions have also been destroyed. Most unfortunately, ordinary citizens are the ones at the receiving end of these transgressions.
Of course, there is a right to protest and lawful assembly. However, it’s my belief that while exercising these rights, the rights of others should not be infringed upon. Most of the protests we have been seeing are going beyond the bounds of legality. They are fast portending threat to national security. And I repeat, no government would condone this mob behavior. If Pa Olusegun Obasanjo were the one at the helm of affairs, we, of course, know what could have happened. The silence and calmness of President Buhari must not be misunderstood as weakness.
I recall the step former Kwara State Governor, Alhaji AbdulFatah Ahmed took when political rallies were taking a dangerous dimension in the build up to the 2019 general election. He banned all political rallies in order to put the situation under control. Are political rallies not lawful? Of course, they are! But when they tamper with public security, odd measures are expected to be taken to restore normalcy. And that was what His Excellency, AbdulFatah Ahmed quite did when parties clashed at rallies.
Amusingly, when the military men start to disperse protesters with brute force, the argument will be that the President is clamping down on protesters. Are these people attacking government convoys protesters or criminals? Protest with no recognized leadership and direction. Every perceived leader of the movement has, at various times, been denied by the protesters. You need to see how Sowore, the RevolutionNow man was humbled. Ditto star artiste Davido. Again, is this a protest or riot? Which government opens its eyes for disgruntled elements to cause unrest and anarchy in the society in the guise of protest?
Those protesting have the right to protest, just as those who choose to take the government for its words have rights to enjoy. You do not express your rights at the detriment of others. Right to movement does not necessarily translate to stepping on the heads of passersby. I personally believe that the essence of the protest has been defeated since the government has swung into action. Police reform is not a day job. It takes several months or even years of strategizing and planning. It’s not a one fell swoop affair.
I therefore advise those recalcitrant on not leaving the streets to put on their thinking cap. Raw emotions and sentiments won’t solve the challenges at hand. Deep thoughts would. Those who are still bent on protesting, since they have the vigor and strength, should converge on enclosed locations and stop blocking the roads. Our people are dying. Businesses are paralysing. Plans are sinking.
The military has announced the commencement of its ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ nationwide. I believe this is necessary to restore sanity. It shouldn’t have even gotten to this stage at all since the government has shown good faith and deep commitment to the cause. But will these anarchists and mischievous elements masking as protesters sheathe their swords? My parting words to the protesters: Obedience is better than sacrifice. Leave the roads for God’s sake! Stop protests that could be hijacked.