By Tony Eluemunor
What a shame. Last Saturday, I had written that the problem with that much-hated police unit, Special Anti-Robbery Squad, was the same problem with all Nigerian security (and armed) agencies; impunity.
Impunity made the security agencies to deal ruthlessly with citizens like an army of occupation, like a hard-hearted colonising force during a war, instead of agencies funded solely for the protection of Nigeria and Nigerians.
Another problem: the authorities that ran such outfits failed woefully to reform them simply because their hearts and souls were also wedded to impunity. Lastly, I posited that impunity was Nigerians’ favourite sin; all would be involved in it as long as they were convinced they would get away with it.
Then, starting from Monday, the protest and protesters and Nigeria were betrayed as the protests and the controlling of it by the security agencies became not only violent but totally brutal. Writing this, I feel personally betrayed. For once, I had written my column for this week in time. It was ready on Monday October 19th and it gushed with pride at the fact that the youths were peaceful and peaceable, had disdained ethnic divides that have bedevilled the Nigerian polity.
That column which is now on hold, had a celebratory title: “#endSARS protest: Rejoice for the giant (the Nigerian Youth) awakes”.
Ah, I borrowed that phrases from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka’s anthem. The article on hold started by correcting one terrible impression; that the initial #endSARS protest, before it was hijacked by hoodlums, both of the governmental and street hues, was the first time Nigerian youths had nationalistically and effectively. I wanted to point out to those who hold such a wrong impression that this was the THIRD TIME.
The first was when the ikolos (youths) of the Anioma villages of the present Delta State organised themselves and gave hell to the British colonialists. A fight ensued and lasted for 31 long years. That was the first popular uprising involving a vast area, after the British had clamped its authority on any part of Africa.
The second was the civil disobedience organised by the Zikist movement from the 1940s; it was pan-Nigerian and totally nationalistic. I will bring up that piece next week, if events permit.
Now, our attention should be totally focused on the theme of the killing of our children (the youths) and another self-betrayal by the Nigerian nation.
In my column of last week, I remembered Chinua Achebe decrying Nigeria’s suicidal refusal to learn valuable and useful lesson from events; that while Japan snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the World War II, Nigeria snatched defeat from the jaws of its victory in the Nigerian Civil War. Achebe’s real anger was that the leaders did not view Nigeria as one entity in 1970 and so failed to leverage on the scientific and technological gains Biafran scientists had achieved.
This time, we have again striven mightily to snatch defeat from the jaws of another victory. The youths who were on the streets protesting the total disregard the security agencies have for Nigerians, including the dehumanised agents themselves, had remained peaceful.
They did not attack anybody. They avoided the religious and ethnic rancour that had terribly divided and devalued Nigeria. There gave ample notice that they could be harbingers of a better Nigeria, a one united country, were tribe and tongue should not define anyone. They were also calling leaders to order.
And then, as though someone switched off a light, it all vanished. The promise had been betrayed. The people who were out in the streets fighting to enhance the human dignity of every Nigerian, and those who were supposed to guide the them and so were allowed to bear arms, met untimely deaths in the streets of the cities and villages, in broad daylight and their deaths being videoed and shared so casually that the lives of Nigerians have become cheaper in a matter of three days – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – than before the protests began.
Writing this, I remember Chinua Achebe again. In 1979, he became the first to receive the revered Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) – the highest academic award in Nigeria, instituted in 1979, has so far been conferred on only 70 distinguished academicians. His acceptance was titled “What Has Literature Got To Do With It?” The “it” he was was development. And he replied that the “it” had plenty to do with Literature. He said that “people tell stories and stories tell people.”
Watching events since the murder (murder?) of the protesting youths at the Lekki Tollgate, Lagos, and elsewhere across Nigeria, how a gun would go pua and a human being that God created would bite the dust, I have also been noting how the story has been changing. At first, the youths were nothing but Nigerians. Then, according to some version of events seen on online videos, some well-heeled persons in SUVs were seen arming some scoundrels and directing them to go and attack the peaceful protesters.
In no time, hoodlums took over. And Nigeria started burning. And it burnt and burnt and burnt. No, I do mean only the buildings and cars that were torched, I am most of all worried by the ethnic and linguistic hues that the protest, once peaceful protest, has now been dressed in.
And the result? Nigeria has once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Why? Because of the acts of impunity of those who armed the rascals and tasked them, even paid them really, to attack the future of Nigeria.
That changed the story of the 2020 protests; though nationalist at the beginning, it has now turned ethnic because people chose to tell false and terrible stories and those stories told the lies told the lies to people. How do we beg Achebe for forgiveness … because we have failed to learn from his remarkable insights?