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The universal language of protests

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By Owei Lakemfa

In wars,  local or international, where armed combatants engage themselves, prisoners are taken and enemy soldiers are allowed medical treatment. Even in the First and Second World Wars, first aiders and medical personnel were allowed to evacuate the injured and dying.

In the Tuesday, October 10, 2020 shooting of unarmed civilians in Lagos, the invading army took no prisoners and stopped ambulances from getting access to the injured.

It refused the injured and dying, medical treatment. It was horrifying watching the protesters having to performing operations on themselves as they were pinned down by the un-replied firepower of the soldiers. This would have been unthinkable even in Nazi Germany.

There were no warnings, teargas was not applied before the Lagos massacres began. Even if the sentence for violating the Sanwo-Olu curfew is the death penalty, the victims should have been given the constitutional and human right to a trial before their summary execution.

The Nigerian authorities claim they shot peaceful, unarmed protesters because hoodlums had hijacked the protests. But the hoodlums are not the peaceful protesters;  the hoodlums are the thugs hired to attack the protesters, the soldiers, policemen and other security personnel sent to shoot the innocent protesters and the State and Federal Governments who assisted or gave the orders.

The attacks by the army on unarmed peaceful protesters is in addition to the Nigeria Police    Force earning pips for brutality, and certificate for murdering young Nigerians it assumes or suspect of being criminals.

The Police had earned the notoriety of sending young, promising Nigerians to the great beyond. There was the quite painful case of then American-based Nigerian international athletics champion, Dele Udoh, who represented the country in the Men’s 400 Metres at the 1980 Olympic Games. The following year, the police executed him on a Lagos street.

The Nigeria Police from the early 1970s has always acted with impunity. In those days, its elite arm was known as ‘anti-riot’ which ostensibly was to quell any form of protests by the citizenry because Nigerian governments seemed to live in perpetual fear of citizens  revolting against criminally-bad governance.

That elite squad which was also designated as the ‘Mobile Squad’ as if other legs of the Police Force were immobile, was popularly called “Kill-and-Go”, a sobriquet they earned because they seemed licenced to kill; they could kill Nigerians and go scot-free.

It was from the ribs of that notorious killer gang, a deadlier squad, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS,    was created. The SARS, an acronym that in the last two weeks has assumed international notoriety, has been operating for over two decades and attracted protests without the authorities giving them much thought.

But those who started the protests two weeks ago did not realise that this time, it was like striking a stick of match to light a prairie fire. It burnt across the country first with the harsh-tag  “EndSARS” and then taking forms like “EndInsecurity” and “EndBad Governance.”

It is like in the United States where Blacks had been murdered in every street and corner for centuries. There, White citizen killer squads, like the Klu Klux Klan, had existed for long. In the case of famous Black Protester, Malcolm X, his father who was preaching repentance, simply got laid on the railway track and an incoming train finished the job of despatching him to heaven.

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So, Black lives did not matter and the routine murder of Black people did not matter. That was until May 25, 2020, when the American police murdered George Floyd. This time, the volcano of protests erupted across America with its molten lava flowing through its streets.

The ashes covered many parts of the world as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Protest Movement. It is not that other lives do not matter, but humanity came to accept the slogan as a universal acknowledgement that all lives matter.

The Nigerian ‘EndSARS’ protest movement also became a mere symbolism as the anger was not just against a notorious state outfit, but also against the rotten Nigerian system and its self-centred parasitic political class that feeds on the carcass of broken promises and dreams. It became a rallying cry for true change in favour of the country rather than a better life for those who perpetually hold the nation by the jugular.

There have been decades of oppression and repression in the Middle East and North Africa without seeming consequences. But when on January 4, 2011, an unemployed young fruit seller, Tarek Mohammed Bouaziz, self-immolated to protest the confiscation of his wares by council officials, it set his country and some others alight with what became known as the ‘Arab Spring’ in which youths changed the course of history in many countries bringing down regimes in countries like  Tunisia and Egypt.

Within the last few weeks, over two dozen countries, including Thailand, Sudan, Algeria,  Israel, Indonesia and Guinea have witnessed street protests.    So the protest movement is international and any government that tries to hide it is like lighting a fire under the bed. This precisely is what the Buhari government is trying to do.

After the killing of scores of Nigerians, including the infamous Lekki Tollgate Massacre, it pretends nothing has happened. The Presidency issued a statement on the protests without mentioning the killings. The Federal Executive Council met on Wednesday, October 21, 2020, and had not a word for the country on the killings.

Rather, various state governments in the country are setting up meaningless panels of inquiry to probe the conduct of killer policemen who are not under their control and may not even be under their jurisdiction. Then they give each of the panels six months to submit reports that will gather dust on the shelf while hoping that business will continue as usual.

But the rest of the world is not as stupid. There have been strong reactions from various bodies and world leaders like the United Nations, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, European countries and the United States. The attempt by the Buhari regime to hide behind a finger is as disingenuous as it is untenable. In today’s world, there is no hiding place for people and governments that commit crimes against humanity.

All those involved in the cowardly shootings in Nigeria, including the security men, their bosses,    the political leaders in Lagos State and the Federal level who gave the orders, aided and abetted the shootings, should be prepared to stand trial; if not in Nigeria, then certainly, abroad. They should know or will know that murder has no statute of limitation.

The world has become a global village and the universal language of peaceful protest is that it is a fundamental human right which nobody, institution or government can annul.

VANGUARD

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