October 25, 2020

My Take on the #EndSARS Protest


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By Fr. Maurice N. Emelu

As a Nigerian, I feel a moral obligation to state my take on the #EndSARS protests. It is one of several thoughts I may share, depending on how the government responds to restore public trust and hold themselves accountable.
It’s the right thing to do to keep to our civic duties. Paying taxes, casting votes, keeping to traffic rules, contributing in various ways to make our society a better place to live, and following policies designed to promote the common good, etc. It’s part of our “social contract.” It is also the responsibility of the government to fulfill its part of the contract. That is the only way to guarantee its legitimacy.
Sometimes, maintaining our responsibility as citizens is challenging, especially when there is a conflict between one’s belief, the common good, and what a particular government stands for. The feeling is worse if there is a perceived or real injustice. The government can sometimes be a pain, especially when you have leaders whose actions and words suggest they care less about the common good but more about themselves and power.

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We give them power. They turn around and make us pay for trusting them with our honored, if not sacred, will to lead. This situation is rampant in many parts of the world. Such is the case in Nigeria, leading to a series of corrupt governments who fatten themselves on their people’s agonies. Rather than perform one of their fundamental leadership roles of alleviating problems, they muddy the waters to create more dysphoria of lawlessness and the terrorism of exploitation. Like sadists, they seem to gloat over their prey, or worse, ignore them as if they have no dignity as human beings. The Nigerian government’s indifference in the face of tumultuous insecurity is as heinous as its corruption. It’s unacceptable.
The incredibly peaceful protests which started two weeks ago was an organically inspired call to action. Millions of people have risen to respond with the loudest and strongest voice echoing through the streets. Their protests’ initial nonviolent purity was a testimonial that they were asking for a responsible response. They matched to restore ethical sanity in the political system. Across the nation, were dances and chants of optimistic youths, calling for the end of the violence and corruption of a special police squad “SARS” whose work is to fight violent crimes but end up being the most violent themselves. Other police units worked with the protesters, safeguarding the peace, dancing, and chanting along to our beautiful Nigerian music’s tone. At first, this made me proud of being a Nigerian. All that changed with one immoral and reckless action of alleged armed forces in Lekki, leading to peaceful civilians’ horrible deaths. We all know the painful stories.
Though wounded, Nigerian youths distinguish who their real problems are and go straight to address the issues. They know it is corruption from the “oga (boss)” and “ogas” at the top. They know it is many politicians who are ridiculously dishonest. They know it is a political class who are like the proverbial animal that ate the meat it was appointed to safeguard. A culture of corruption did not start with the current government. Instead, the current government has continued the trend while running a PR persona of virtue signaling. One is not surprised that Nigerians have risen.
Hardworking Nigerians, a people with a strong will to work and earn their living, have suffered in many untold ways while politicians and their cronies milk them dry. We have been too tolerant of the government’s recklessness and abuse of the social contract. One could argue that Nigerians have become victims of desensitizing social engineering, in which the corrupt has smoothly morphed into reality and become normalized. When “reality is driven out of reality” (Baudrillard, Perfect Crime, p.4), the result is a pseudo-reality; worse—no reality. In this case, for a long time, many did not care or notice. Therefore, they have unwittingly allowed the pseudo to fester. Before they knew it, the reality of their place in the social contract has gone by the wind. Some have also become complacent. This latter has a share, albeit less, in being part of the decay because “evil thrives when good people do nothing.”
This #EndSARS protest, or rather campaign if not revolution, isn’t just about the SARS problem. An average Nigerian knows. End SARS grassroots revolution is an event mobilizing the people’s will to fight for real change. For once, the people’s moral conscience has revolted in their self-discovery that the pseudo-reality is, actually, the wolf in sheep’s clothing. It needs purging. Hence, it is much more about addressing, for the first time, with the sheer will to power of the teeming souls of the future of our nation, the reckless corruption in the government.
We, the people, have allowed these political, moral recklessness to fester and become a culture and a deadly wound to the Nigerian polity. We, the people, also have the responsibility to end it, NOW.
I stand with the campaign as I stand with a much broader call for the government to hold their part of our social contract. I do not stand for looting or violence. However, any aggression from the government whose primary role is the citizens’ safety is the worse type of irresponsibility. In the meantime, since the government could not hold themselves accountable, people call the shots for them. Nature has a way of stirring things up. It would be ludicrous for Nigerian politicians currently in office to assume, “O well, give it time, and Nigerians will go to business as usual.” Assumptions of this kind are short-sighted and ridiculously ignorant of the history of social revolt trends in the profession they claim to be experts.
When a government has violated its part of the social counteract, citizens have the right to protest, as it is currently happening in Nigeria. More often, one may not even know the direction the protest could take, which can cost quite a fortune. Power is precarious and needs keen attention.
Power in a democratic society, such as most governments, lies with the people, not politicians. It is a contract, and we have a civic right to make a bold statement. A time comes when we have got to say, “enough is enough.” It’s NOW. It’s already happening. The Nigerian government has to respond before it is too late. We all grew, knowing this maxim from childhood, “A stitch in time saves nine.”
Fr. Maurice N. Emelu, Ph.D.
Founder, Gratia Vobis Ministries; Assistant Professor of Communication (Digital Media)
John Carroll University, USA; TV Host and Indie Producer, EWTN