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Seizing the baton

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ASUU strike boosting EndSARS protests, FG laments
EndSARS, EndSWAT protesters in Warri.

By Donu Kogbara

Bravo to the enraged youngsters who are protesting against police brutality and extortion in Lagos and other cities.

They are doing exactly what some of their parents – my age mates – did when they had axes to grind with various previous governments.

Burning issues that inspired furious demonstrations by people who are now in their 50s and 60s included June 12 (1993), aviation safety (the Sosoliso plane crash of 2005, etc) and fuel price rises.

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My contemporaries, meanwhile, were not pioneers on the banner-waving front. One of my uncles was regularly arrested for leading student agitations at the University of Ibadan in the early 1960s.

And we all know that Nigerians would not have secured the right to rule themselves six decades ago if freedom fighters like Zik Of Africa (Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe) had not boldly challenged British colonialists.

There are numerous examples, both pre- and post-Independence, of Nigerians getting together to march and say “enough is enough”.

Igbo, Ibibio, Andoni, Ogoni, Bonny and Opobo women rioted in 1929.  The Biafran war, which was wholeheartedly supported by my nuclear and extended families, took protesting to a whole different level.

Every generation contains valiant activists who flatly refuse to accept injustices, whether the authorities that they are confronting happen to be military or civilian, foreign or indigenous.

Many of the kids who are chanting and raising fists on the streets at the moment, come rain or shine, are my friends and relatives’ offspring; and we elders are immensely proud that they have energetically jumped into the risky stretch of life’s relay race and seized the baton that most of us are too old to vigorously brandish.

May God protect our children from the saboteurs and criminals who always try to hijack, infiltrate and discredit respectable causes.

I have a chum who was a highly active pro-democracy “troublemaker” when the election that the late Chief Moshood Abiola won was annulled. According to him:

“During the June 12 saga, so many protestors were killed by soldiers that the morgues in Lagos ran out of space for corpses.”

May God also protect our children from trigger-happy law enforcement officials.

Last week on this page, I quoted Editi Effiong who has written about a Naija syndrome he described as “Manage It Like That” or MILT.

MILT is, in a nutshell, about calmly – and even cheerfully – tolerating any rubbish that is thrown at you by the system or fellow citizens.

Effiong said that: “If Nigerians collectively start demanding better of themselves, beginning from small things, we will ultimately grow….If we accept bad roads, we inevitably agree to accept a broken country…Every single time we accept to manage something, we pass up the opportunity to fix a problem. And a million unfixed problems is why Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world….”

I couldn’t agree more with Effiong and am delighted that our children have understood that there is an URGENT need to sort out the shoddy, humongous mess that is the Nigeria Police Force.

OF COURSE some policemen and women are exemplary. I personally have encountered quite a few senior as well as junior officers who deserve medals for courtesy, courage and competence.

But there is no denying that vast numbers of police personnel – the majority, I daresay – are corrupt, aggressive and not fit for purpose.

Having said this, most of these unfit officers cannot be entirely blamed for their shortcomings. Sure, some are irredeemable ex-convicts who were able to sneak into the police force because there is no database that lists those who have spent time in prison).

But many started off as basically decent types and have become warped by lousy training, appalling living conditions, ridiculously low salaries and endless dysfunctions (can you believe that police recruits have to pay bribes to get their hands on uniforms and that they use their own money to fuel their operational vehicles?!).

No wonder they become bitter, twisted, dehumanised and feral! Are you surprised that they take their frustrations out on innocent members of the general public?

OK, so there has been progress in the past few days and government has caved into pressure and agreed to meet several of the protesters’ demands.

President Muhammadu Buhari has promised an “extensive” reform of Nigeria’s police service; and the Inspector General of Police has vowed to free protesters who have been detained….and assured us that all SARS officers will undergo a psychological and medical examination before further training and redeployment.

These are steps in the right direction, but far from sufficient.

Nigerian legislators “earn” fortunes and collect more cash per annum than legislators in countries that are well-run.

Nigerian legislators are extremely unpopular because they are widely regarded as selfish, overpaid, under-performers who grab unfairly large slices of our commonwealth.

I guess turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. But imagine how much respect Nigerian legislators would suddenly acquire if they voluntarily handed over a large chunk of their allocation to suffering policemen and women who risk their lives for us on a daily basis.

A few days ago an elderly gentleman called me from Warri to say he was a friend of Mantu, the former deputy Senate President whom I’d written about. He was so nice and said he loved my column. I was busy, so promised to call him back. But I forgot to save his number.

I do not normally welcome calls to the number at the foot of this page. Indeed, I have explicitly requested “texts only”.

But I am willing to make an exception on this occasion. Please Sir, feel free to call me again if you still want to chat.

Vanguard

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