EVERYTHING was done to keep the #ENDSARS Protests peaceful right from the beginning. The organisers went out of their way to ensure orderliness at the campaign’s two command centres in Alausa, Ikeja and Lekki Toll Plaza. They took that step because the protests were a test of sorts of their capacity as future leaders.
This was a set of people long derided as unserious and unworthy of public trust. The ‘good for nothing’ tag placed on them probably fired them on to prove what they were capable of doing. Sebi una say we lazy, we go show una say we nolazy. The protests were to prove that they have come of age, that they know their rights and are ready to defend those rights even under gun threat.
The thrust of the protests was to end the brutality of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), arrest and prosecute indicted operatives, compensate the victims of such atrocities and improve police salary. The first of their five-point demand: #ENDSARS was the battle cry across the country. This seven-letter word resonated nationwide wherever youths gathered to protest. In no time, the public joined them and #ENDSARS became a singsong, with toddlers and the old associating with the youths. With one voice, the campaign trended, to borrow a social media term, from village to village, town to town and city to city. The effect was felt mostly in Lagos. Swiftly, the government responded to the protesters’ request by disbanding SARS. It promised to meet their other demands going forward.
The government followed up by releasing the names of some indicted SARS operatives. It approved about N265 million for victims’ compensation. But the protests took a frightening dimension when the blockade of roads started. It is hard to put a finger on what informed that. It was the turning point for the protests because of the attendant traffic gridlock, especially in Lagos and Abuja. Traffic jam comes with its own problems. It is a veritable avenue for miscreants to rob and harm motorists. This was exactly what happened when the roads were blocked. Miscreants saw an opportunity and quickly latched on to it to wreak havoc nationwide, especially in Lagos.
Monday, October 19, was particularly tough for motorists and commuters. Everywhere was virtually blocked in Lagos. Many abandoned their cars to take Okada (motorbike) to work, leaving their drivers to stew in traffic. Others simply left their cars at home and took either Okada or Marwa (tricycle) to their destinations. In some parts of the metropolis, miscreants descended on police stations and set them ablaze. It was a sign of what to come that week. The next day, which some have described as Black Tuesday, because of the shootings at Lekki Toll Plaza, miscreants confronted the protesters at Alausa, all in a bid to break the protest. They did not succeed as the protesters maintained their cool. But many were injured and vehicles damaged. It was the same thing in Abuja, Benin, Ibadan, Enugu, Minna and Kano, among others. That day, the nation burned from one state to the other. Curfew was immediately imposed on Edo and Lagos states by their governors. Many other states followed suit later.
Can the #ENDSARS Protests be divorced from this mayhem? Many, especially in government are wont to blame the mayhem on the #ENDSARS Protests. They are tempted to do so on the basis that the protesters did not suspend the action after some of their demands had been met so as to pave the way for talks with the government, which did everything, including disowning its own police, to assuage them. As a nation, the people supported the protesters more than the police because of their age-long aversion for those in uniform. The police, army, air force and navy, among others, have never earned the people’s trust because of how they use their uniforms and weapons, which are acquired with public funds to intimidate the citizenry.
The #ENDSARS Protests, it is believed, allowed the public to pay the police back in their own coin. The police should learn a lesson from the protests. That lesson is that they must change their modus operandi. The police cannot afford to continue to operate the way they do now. To continue like that is to court another #ENDSARS Protests, which outcome may be disastrous than the one we just witnessed. The nation cannot do without the police, though. No nation runs smoothly without them. The police occupy a key role in any society. This is why they are the closest to the people, among the law enforcement agencies. This closeness should breed love and empathy and not hatred and enmity. The relationship between the public and the police is not what it should be at present. In the aftermath of the #ENDSARS Protests, there is the need to bring the people and the police closer through the platform of the Police Community Relations Committee (PCRC). They must mutually co-exist.
The #ENDSARS Protests have given the nation an opportunity to rethink the public-police relationship, despite the havoc wreaked nationwide by miscreants. In their rage, they destroyed amenities meant for the common good. When I saw the vehicles destroyed at the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) parks at Ojodu Berger and Oyingbo, I shook my head in pity because it is the poor, who have no other means of transportation, that will bear the brunt. All destroyed government buildings will also be renovated with public funds, which should have gone into the development of other infrastructure. The nation came out of the protests worse off because of Abuja’s undue reticence. The government could have separated the protesters from the miscreants and dealt with the latter appropriately. But it paid the government to tar both with the same brush to achieve its purpose.
The matter was compounded that fateful Tuesday when gun wielding soldiers stormed Lekki Toll Plaza to scare the protesters who had huddled together on the floor in darkness. The shooting infuriated the whole world and from that point, the miscreants let loose, invading prisons, COVID-19 palliative warehouses, homes and businesses of some known and unknown politicians as well as prominent personalities and some police and other public properties. The level of destruction in Lagos is heartrending. What did the miscreants gain from destroying those facilties? Is that how to make their grievances known or is there more to it than meets the eyes? Why the destruction of properties of people who suffer the same privations?
The painful thing is that the hapless people will end up suffering for all the destruction. Our governors and their families do not take public transport. Nor do they use many of the other facilities that were also destroyed. The miscreants and their supporters allowed their anger to blind them to the point that they did not realise that they were undoing the masses by destroying those public properties.
The deed has been done. Rather than allow the ghost to be buried, Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Tukur Buratai is making hue and cry over it. The army should accept its mistake of acting hastily in deploying troops in Lekki Toll Plaza on October 20 when there was no war at the place. As army chief, Buratai should take the blame for what happened. But no, he is talking tough. To him, the #ENDSARS Protests fallout was meant to destabilise the country. Ha! Nothing can be farther from the truth. Buratai is saying this for his troops to have an opportunity to finish what they started at Lekki last week. The people will not oblige him.
According to him, not even the threat to report them to the International Criminal Court should deter them from carrying out their duty. That duty, if I may remind him, is to defend the country’s territorial integrity when at war and not to descend on its protesting young citizens, shooting at will. The army already has its hands full. It should concentrate on the insurgency war in the Northeast and keep off the civil populace terrain which is the preserve of the police.
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