Nigeria in the Eye of the Cyclone; #EndSARS Protests Continue to Garner Support as Uncertainty Grips the Nation

Nigeria may begin to witness what can best be described as a youth uprising and revolution that had consumed some other nations and brought far-reaching fundamental changes to these countries of the world.

It started as a call to the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari to put a stop to unrestrained police brutality and excesses of a security unit of the Nigeria Police Force tagged Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which was popular with its officers’ notorious abuse of power.

The #EndSARS movement started on social media and moved gradually to the mobilization of youths across the country for nationwide protests which the authorities ignored thinking that it was a child’s play. The whole thing snowballed into protests that have now claimed the lives of no fewer than 16 people in Nigeria and more deaths are still expected.

Though the government quickly responded to the demands of the youths by disbanding the dreaded SARS unit and directed state governors to inaugurate judicial panels of inquiry to investigate cases of abuse by the police and provide compensations (Victims Support Funds) to verifiable victims of such abuses, these, however, appear not to have gone down well with the protesters. They want a total overhauling and reform of the system, not only police brutality. The intersection between corruption, human right abuses and regulatory failure is glaring.

Timescape magazine was shown a list of the demands of the #EndSARS protesters during a visit to one of the locations of the protest in Lagos, Lekki tollgate. This is a long list of 23 demands which must be met by the government before the protests would be called off.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-la6L20EYEM (Police open fire on protesters around Lekki, a precinct in Lagos)

 

The demands among other things include an end to SARS, the government should sack all service chiefs, improve security, ensure a full deregulation of the oil and gas sector of the economy to allow more investments for job creation, guarantee immediate passage of PIB, full deregulation of the power sector to allow investment capital flow to generate, transmit and distribute more power and create jobs.

They also demand that the government should hand off petroleum pricing to enable free-market determination of pricing, the closing of Nigeria’s northern borders to stop the free entry of Fulani herdsmen and bandits, ensure an inclusive government for all tribes and regions of Nigeria with 50 per cent youths in charge of governance, allocate more funds to the education sector to provide better teaching tools and to pay better salaries to end ASUU strikes.  

The demands further include the need to make changes to the academic curriculum to reflect modern-day realities and that all politicians should be placed on a minimum wage to attract genuine public servants as well as a migration to 100 per cent electoral reforms with electronic voting tied to Nigerians’ Bank Verification Number (BVN) and GSM number. The worries also include returning Nigeria to regional governance structures and or restructuring the country and embracing true federalism, while states’ autonomy must be paramount.

To put the icing on the case, the protesters are also demanding the disbandment of the bicameral legislature and the adoption of unicameral, immediate reformation of Nigeria Police Force to allow room for state or regional police, stoppage of a budget for private affairs of elected and appointed public servants, enthronement of university education as the minimum qualification for public office holders at all levels of government from President to local government and ward chairpersons, stripping ex-governors and all elected and appointed public servants of all benefits after office.

They are also insisting that the government should increase salaries of doctors, nurses, teachers, police, military officers and civil servants, the government should hands-off ownership and management of businesses at all levels, name and shame looters and make criminal offenders and looters face trial in their home states and villages to shame them and their families and stopping all forms of foreign medical trips for public servants so that they should begin to treat themselves in Nigeria.

 

Demands Deemed Difficult to be Met Immediately

EndSARS Protesters on the streets of Lagos

Speaking on the ongoing protests, Nigerian Boxing Ambassador, World Boxing Federation (WBF) cruiserweight champion, Bash Ali, who received the highest national honour ever bestowed on any Nigerian athlete, the Order of the Niger (OON) said: “This revolution is being funded by adults. This is a movement of the people for the emancipation of Nigerians. It takes a situation to start a revolution and you never know the situation until it starts. Go back and read history, please. And always remember that Rome was not built in a day. The Nigeria of my dream will not happen in my lifetime but you will tell your children years after I am dead that Bash Ali was a part of a better Nigeria that they are enjoying today.”

Support for the protests continues to grow by the days, from Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Bishop David Oyedepo of Winners’ Chapel, the Catholic Priest, Christian Association of Nigeria, celebrities, Nollywood stars, it has all been calls on the government to heed to the demands of the youths, arguing that Nigeria was rotten.

The Nigerian House of Representatives rose up from their sitting on Tuesday to declare their support for the people and called on the President to invoke an Executive Order to meet up with the demands of the protesters immediately.

House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila said: “Today, we are witnessing across Nigeria, a call for a fundamental rethinking of our nationhood. As we sit here in this hallowed Chamber, a new independence movement is roiling our nation. A generation of young people, who came of age in the years of our democracy, have looked upon what we have built and decided that we can do better.

“We will do well to heed this call and what it portends for Nigeria. Let us take the opportunity of this moment to do the hard things, make the right choices and pursue those objectives that drive progress and put us in good stead for generations to come.

As Speaker of this House of Representatives, let me say now for the records to reflect, and in the expectation that I would be held to account: I will not sign off on 2021 Budget that does not include adequate provisions to compensate those who have suffered violence and brutality at the hands of the police in Nigeria in the last two decades. I will not sign off on a budget that does not meet the reasonable demands of the ASUU, to which Government has already acceded. There is no better time to rethink the system of funding for higher education in Nigeria. The current system does a great disservice to our children and our country and we must commit to changing it so that we can free our institutions of higher learning to be citadels where innovation thrives, and excellence is a given.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anXppIKQaNI (Chaos descends on the cities and towns of Nigeria)

 

“About two weeks ago, I spoke to this honourable House about the need for urgent, substantive, and wholesale reforms of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and an overhaul of our nation’s internal security and policing framework.

“This Honourable House debated the failures of policing that have caused our nation’s youth to take to the streets in their numbers, demanding that the Government live up to our primary obligation to ensure the security and welfare of our people.

“The nationwide protests that gave impetus to our deliberations that day have not abated. They have gotten more serious, with many reported instances of violence between state actors and protesters, between protesters and armed thugs who seek to hijack the passion and idealism of these protests for other nefarious purposes.

“The Federal Government of Nigeria has acted to dissolve the Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS), whose gross abuses of power are the proximate cause of this present unrest. The Government has moved to set up, through the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a national judicial panel of inquiry, in addition to similar panels, set up by the federating state governments.

“The House of Representatives has committed to a programme of reforms. We resolved to collaborate with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in this effort and to ensure that draft legislation is ready for consideration within thirty days.

“None of these actions have sufficed to convince the ever-growing numbers of protesters to withdraw from continued agitation. From Lagos to Awkuzu, from Port-Harcourt to Kano, Abuja and Enugu, the protests have continued relentlessly, with good cause. Whatever else may be driving this moment, our people expect more than commitments. They expect action, and we must deliver,” the Speaker concluded.

Francis Ottah Agbo, a Member of the House of Representatives, representing Ado/Okpokwu/Ogbadigbo Federal Constituency, Benue State, who is also, a journalist said the “#EndSARS now protests have been peaceful, civilized and successful with many manifest gains recorded. Some clergy men even joined to add celestial and ecclesiastic elixirs to what started as a movement! 

“This was the story of the demonstrations across Nigeria until today (Monday) when some of the protests went violent in Abuja, Edo, Lagos States, and still counting. 

“The intention of #EndSARs now, if I am right was to put a stop to police brutality, insecurity, banditry, corruption, bad governance and so on.

“But reports reaching me indicated that in parts of Nigeria, like Benin and Lagos, the protesters are doing same things that the protests aimed to condemn and stop. 

“Policemen were killed, police stations burnt, vehicles burnt, property charred, hardened criminals freed from Correctional Centres. Some policemen on routine duties were even subjected to punishments on the streets! 

“Some people lost their lives; homes of some perceived money bags are being ransacked with money and other valuables carted away! These have in my opinion eroded the gains of the protests. 

“In the light of the above, I wish to call on the vibrant youths of Ado, Okpokwu, Ogbadibo Federal Constituency and the Nigeria youths, in general, to coherently make their demands to the Federal Government.

“They should clearly state the timeframe in which their demands are to be met and then discontinue with the protest, go back to the drawing board and wait for Government action! 

“This is the best approach to all worthy struggles!  Struggles are a marathon, not a 100-metre race! A struggle is also a means to an end, not an end in itself. Once it is seen as the latter then there is a problem like we are seeing now!

“One of the takeaways from the protests is that narcotic drug addicts, hoodlums and barefaced criminals have hijacked the protests in parts of the country and any attempt to continue this way, the Federal Government may deploy its repressive state apparatuses in the streets, in the name of restoring order! Your guess is as good as mine!

“At the risk of sounding repetitive, a cursory look at the faces of the violent protesters showed clearly that they are drug addicts. Clearly, these addicts have hijacked the once peaceful protests thereby wreaking havoc on law-abiding Nigerians. This more than ever before calls for the imperativeness of declaring narcotic drug addiction as a national emergency! 

“For the record, I always support all peaceful protests. I have consistently raised my voice in support of the reform of the police to amongst other things, de-link them from the colonial mentality in which the colonial masters used them to intimidate and brutalize we the natives, in order to be totally submissive to colonialism.

“I have also on the floor of the House of Representatives called for the restructuring of Nigeria particularly the restructuring of the police, the governance architecture and so on! I am completely against the balkanization of Nigeria for I believe in a big country like Nigeria than a small country irrespective of its prosperity profile. 

“Yet we can make the current Nigeria an Eldorado for we have all it takes to be a developed Nation. This was the direction the #EndSARS protest was headed before it lost it!

“Nigeria is the African Superpower not because of its mineral resources but because of its population! South Africa and Egypt are far more developed than Nigeria, yet they are not as strategic and important as Nigeria. Why? They lack the numerical strength of Nigeria.

“Also, if mineral resources were to be the determinants of greatness as some people have argued, Kuwait and other top oil-producing countries would have had a head start over Nigeria in OPEC and international politics! So, let us reform our country and perish the thought of balkanizing Nigeria. Let us change our negative attitudes and rebrand the country. Nigerians are good people, living in a great Nation.”

The protest which started 14 days ago peacefully, however, has turned violent as it has been hijacked by hoodlums and thugs leading to burning of police stations in Lagos, jailbreak in Edo State, south-south Nigeria. These acts prompted the governors of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Edo State, Godwin Obaseki to declare curfews.

Governor Sanwo-Olu said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that “I have watched with shock how what began as a peaceful #EndSARS protest has degenerated into a monster that is threatening the well-being of our society. Lives and limbs have been lost as criminals and miscreants are now hiding under the umbrella of these protests to unleash mayhem on our state.

“As a government that is alive to its responsibility and has shown a commitment to the movement #ENDSARS, we will not watch and allow anarchy in our dear state.

“I, therefore, hereby impose a 24-hour curfew on all parts of the State as from 4:00 pm today, 20th October 2020. Nobody, except essential service providers and first responders, must be found on the streets.”

To what extent the curfew would stop the protest will be known in the next few days. But calls have gone to the protesting youths to embrace dialogue. The President of African Youth for Change Forum, a nonpolitical youth organization, which has membership across the continent, Prince Hammed Olanrewaju Mohammed told Timescape Magazine in Lagos on Tuesday that Nigerian youths should embrace dialogue as they show their concerns over the state of the nation through the ongoing #EndSARS protest.

While in support of the agitation of the teeming Nigerian youths against the excesses of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad of Nigeria Police, the Forum believes the protesters are equally exercising their constitutional right, which must be done within the ambit of the law and the rights of other Nigerians.

“I must salute the courage of the Nigerian youths as they press home their demands to end police brutality in Nigeria. This is truly a new dawn for the youths in this country. This has shown that our youths are not lazy after all,” Prince Mohammed said.

“I want to equally appreciate President Muhammadu Buhari for quickly acceding to some of the demands of the protesters by disbanding the notorious SARS and the directive to the state governors to inaugurate judicial panels of inquiry in their respective states. This is unprecedented in our nation’s history that protests like this will make the government to bow.

“Having said this, I want to appeal to our teeming youths to sheath their swords and give room for dialogue so that peace can reign. I know that anger of over the years suffering and pains fueled this protest, but we should know that this country belongs to all of us; we cannot because of this bring this nation down.

“Our youth should open room for dialogue with the government so that we can jointly find lasting solutions to these myriad problems facing us as a people. Let us give this government the benefit of doubt to see the next steps it will take to address the demands of our youths,” Prince Mohammed urged.

The US Embassy in Nigeria Tuesday evening issued a security warning to all its citizens residing in Nigeria, saying “multiple demonstrations are ongoing across Nigeria – to include areas within the consular districts of Abuja and Lagos.  Although most demonstrations are peaceful, some have become violent and have shut down major thoroughfares and bridges.  Some police stations have been targeted.  Lagos State closed all schools indefinitely as of October 19 due to protests and implemented a 24-hour curfew starting at 4:00 p.m. on October 20.  Consulate General Lagos is closed for the rest of today and tomorrow.

“We continue to urge all U.S. citizens to avoid areas around protests and demonstrations and to check local media for updates and traffic advisories.  Continue to be vigilant and avoid areas affected by the protests.”

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kqw6tlteO8 (Apparent collision between armed thugs and security operatives in the streets of Nigeria

 

AS the night grows old with unrest still spreading, uncertainty has gripped the nation and all eyes are turned towards President Buhari who is yet to make any statement to the nation. Accusations are being increasingly levied at security operatives of supporting, sponsoring and protecting the numerous thugs who have taken over the various cities armed with sticks and other weapons perpetrating violence. Video footage shot by citizen journalists are circulating all over social media showing collision between the two.