By Uche Uwem
It started out as a hash tag campaign on Twitter about three years ago. #EndSARS was a response of the millennials to the recklessness of trigger-happy tactical cops of Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS. They are ‘kill and go’ operatives and reportedly operate with impunity. Heart wrenching stories abound on how they were rounding young folks up on mere suspicion, even phantom allegations of being a cyber fraudster or a criminal.
Three years later, when the virtual campaign could not rein in the killer cops, the youths in an unprecedented manner took to the streets in protests. Naysayers who initially sneered that the phone pressing generation won’t stay the course of the peaceful demonstrations were proved wrong.
Hours turned to days. The protesting youths defied rain and scorching sun to demand for #EndSARS and #EndPoliceBrutality. Suddenly, it turned into a global movement as protests held in major cities and towns in Nigeria and abroad.
There were clear on their five demands which are; Immediate release of all arrested protesters; Justice for all deceased victims of all police brutality and appropriate compensations for their families; setting up of an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct (within 10 days); in line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed, and increase in police salary so that they can be adequately compensated for protecting lives and properties of citizens.
As the protest gained momentum, the protesting youth expanded their demands to include #EndBadGovernance and #ReformNigeria. The well-oiled protests were like carnivals as food, drinks and music were available in huge quantities.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila in collaboration with the President of the Senate, Dr Ahmed Lawan met with President Muhammadu Buhari to accede to the demands of the protesting youths.
He waded in on the lingering industrial action of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU so that students can return back to school. Gbajabiamila earned the confidence of the varsity teachers when he assured them that he wouldn’t sign off the 2021 budget without adequate provisions for ASUU demands.
He also made a similar deal with the #EndSARS protesters. Gbajabiamila promised that resources needed to reform the police will be captured in the budget.
Gbajabiamila’s word: “You have moved a nation to action, and now you must join in doing the hard work of making real the vision of a more just, more prosperous, and more resilient nation.”
“We see your true cause. Please do not allow your righteous cause to be hijacked by those with base motives, who see in this moment an opportunity to pursue vendettas, to spread division, exploit the many existing fissures that exist in our society and bring our nation to its knees.”
”You have raised your voices and marched to demand a better Nigeria. From Abuja to Washington, to Calgary and London, your voices have been heard.”
“Do not allow anybody to convince you that to withdraw from the streets now is to concede defeat.”
“This is the time to move your agitation from the chaos of the streets to the painstaking deliberations and strategic partnerships that birth policy and produce legislation.”
“It is time to mobilise your voices in support of specific policy interventions that will deliver on our shared objectives of national renewal and a country that reflects the best of us. I thank you, your country, thank you, and history will be kind to you.”
“I will not sign off on a 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 the 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,” the Speaker said.
When some soldiers attacked peaceful protesters at Lekki Toll Plaza, he spoke with empathy like a father and condemned the attack on innocent Nigerians.
The Speaker said, “After 60 years, our democracy should have grown beyond the point where conflicting visions of nationhood result in violence on the streets and blood on the ground.
“It is unavoidably and painfully clear that there were a number of casualties as a result of gunfire at the Lekki Tollgate.
“Therefore, there needs to be a quick and thorough investigation to determine the facts of what happened last night in Lagos. Our nation urgently needs and the Nigerian people deserve an accounting of the acts that led to the events of last night.”.
Gbajabiamila followed up by visiting Lagos on Sunday and assured that Nigeria’s parliament will ensure all necessary support for affected states will be facilitated.
These were his words: “I came in from Abuja today, not just to stand in solidarity with him (the governor), but by extension the people of Lagos State. These have been very difficult for the past few days. It has even been more difficult for me in the last hour. Driving in from the airport and sitting with the governor to watch the documentary here put together, that evidences the carnage we all witnessed. It makes us all very sad.
”This, certainly, is not the Lagos of our dream that we all talk about. And I know deep down, and I believe no matter how brave a face one puts to it, that even the protesters have their regrets that things went this far, because from my understanding and from what I’ve seen, both those who are pro-protest and those who are anti-protest, were all affected.
“There’s very little I can say. But I know that standing with me is a man of courage, a man of destiny. Because it’s very unusual for you to come into office, and within a year a few months, you witnessed two calamitous events: first, you were in the epicentre of Covid-19, which you dealt with to the admiration of all.
“Whilst we were still grappling with that, you now became the epicentre of the protests. I want to encourage you to lift your head high, because you discharged your duties as a governor of a state that was troubled in the last few months, or close to one year,” he said.
The Speaker said he did not wish the incident to take an ethnic dimension having heard a lot of conspiracy theories about it.
“Let us shut our ears to those things. Let us focus as one people, whether you’re Igbo, whether you’re from the North, whether you’re from the South. This is the mantra that we have in the House of Representatives because if you talk about nation-building, we say it is a joint task.
“I want to also use this opportunity, in a way, to be grateful and commend our brothers and sisters from the North. I said this because if the North had been a part of this, I don’t know if we’ll all be standing here today. That’s why I commend our brothers and sisters from the North.
“On Tuesday, we talked in the House about compensation. I want to reiterate that the House will do all it can to make sure that everybody that has suffered from police violence – whether you’re from the North, from the East, from the West, because everybody in Nigeria has suffered from police violence, not just those of us from the Southwest. That will be applicable to all, including policemen that lost their lives in these unfortunate incidents.
“So, Your Excellency, we bring you good tidings and good wishes from Abuja. We stand with you. Whatever the House can do to help in rebuilding not just Lagos State but other states that have been affected as well from whatever part in Nigeria, the House will definitely join hands. Because we’re now in the situation of reconstruction.
“I want to encourage our young men and women out there that you fought a good fight, and I’m sure deep down, you’re not happy with what you’ve seen. The government listened, the president listened, the House listened, the Senate listened, the governors listened, it is now time to take stock and make sure this never happens again.
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