By Seun Awogbenle
Since the #EndSARS protests started across Nigeria over the last 12 days, I can only recall seeing President Muhammadu Buhari reading a prepared speech into camera for a little over a minute regarding an issue that has sparked national outrage, attracted global attention and solidarity.
Almost everywhere you turn across the country, sponsored thugs and organized criminals are having a field day in an attempt to delegitimize and totally discredit the #EndSARS protests which has endured for about 12 days for an end to police brutality and a wider call for police reform.
As I make this intervention, there is palpable tension and uncertainty across the country, the country infact appears rudderless, there is no semblance or pretence to leadership, there is anger, frustration and wide disenchantment, it is almost safe to conclude that the country is on auto pilot.
In saner climes, the government provides protection for protesters, ensuring their overall safety and wellbeing. In Nigeria, the situation is different, governments disingenuously aid and, in some cases, encourage thugs and hoodlums to unleash attack on protesters in the most hideous and repugnant manner.
On Monday, over 50 cars belonging to peaceful protesters were burnt by thugs and hoodlums in Abuja, until now not even a word from the police, earlier on Monday morning there was an incident of jailbreak in Benin, the video shows clearly and like the Deputy Governor Philip Shuaibu has admitted publicly, that the people that led the jailbreak can never be the same peaceful, articulate young Nigerians who have been demanding for an end to police brutality and wider reform of Nigeria’s policing system.
In Lagos, we are seeing thugs and criminal elements take over the streets to take advantage of the protest to cause mayhem and confusion, in most cases the police are either absent or deliberately distance themselves. On Saturday evening, on my way home from Lekki, where I had gone to join the protest, thugs and hoodlums were all over the street, burning tyres and attacking innocent citizens.
In what must be the most offensive news of the day, Nigeria’s Senate is only just urging President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation! That will never make sense to me, the nation is burning, and the Senate is persuading the President? How do you make a friendly persuasion in the middle of a near war situation, when the President should be compelled?
I am even appalled that we got to a point where our President would have to be persuaded to speak to the country in such a very crucial time as this! I have always known Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari to be an absentee President, what I did not know is this level of aloofness and insensitivity. Which responsible President would watch his nation burn in silence?
Our demands as young people are simple, a right to life, without being killed, set up a judicial panel of enquiry to investigate all atrocities committed by the now disbanded members of SARS, improve the salary and welfare of police officers, justice and compensation for the families of those who have been killed by SARS officials, how is that too much to ask?
But rather than meet our demands, the government would either tacitly or otherwise allow thugs, criminals and hoodlums to sabotage and delegitimize the protest, that will never make sense and Nigerians can see beyond the veneer now. The right to peaceful protest and assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and an important part of our democratic process no citizens should never be intimidated, harassed or brutalized for expressing their right to peaceful protest.
No doubt, President Muhammadu Buhari has again failed to provide leadership in a time of uncertainty like this one, by failing to address the nation to offer inspiration and hope, the body language of the President simply pass him off as a spectacular failure and incompetent leader who lacks the capacity to continue to hold on to such venerated office.
I will never understand how difficult it is for the President to show that he is in charge by addressing the nation to provide information on what the government is doing to meet the demands of the protesters, his loud silence is deafening and disappointing.
Those around the President should tell him that it is time for him to Sòrò Sókè, the country is in desperate need of leadership to prevent a further disintegration into chaos and anarchy.
The President must be reminded that the #EndSARS protests have been peaceful and will remain that way, the government has a responsibility to provide protection for protesters and ultimately address our demands for an end to police brutality and broader reform of the police.