By Ochereome Nnanna
One week after the military moved in to violently disrupt the #EndSARS protests at the Lekki Toll Gate, President Muhammadu Buhari, last Sunday, called the youth to a dialogue. I call it the “dialogue of the deaf”, a situation in the communicative arts whereby there is no genuine intention by those dialoguing to share meaningfully and settle a casus belli or bone of contention.
Perhaps the president saw that day, November 1, 2020, Nigeria’s Youth Day, as an opportunity to offer an olive branch to the aggrieved youth. Usually, in his utterances and actions, President Buhari leaves you with the impression that he lives in a bubble, a world of his own and not the Nigeria that he governs.
For instance, he said: “You must realise that protests cannot last indefinitely. My government will not lift a finger to stop or suppress you”. But, Oga, government rented hoodlums to attack unarmed protesters in Abuja and reportedly sent soldiers to shoot them at the Lekki Toll Gate. That was how the protest ended and the burning and looting started. The protests and looting have since stopped. The ball is now in your court to bring back the police to their duty posts. They are still licking their wounds over the loss of their 22 colleagues and over 200 police stations. We still pay them, so they must do their work. The ball is in your court to implement the five-point demand of the #EndSARS/SWAT protesters.
I don’t believe in the genuineness of Buhari’s call for dialogue with the youth, though it is a very good idea. Another good idea in his message is the government’s intention to float the N75bn Youth Investment Fund for 2020 – 2023 if he will allow it to be equitably administered.
But, as for the offer of dialogue, I think it is a self-serving gesture. Buhari, like Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, is the personification of the state’s penchant to dissemble. They know how to offer a morsel with a hook under it. The organisers of the #EndSARS protest appear to have outsmarted government on this. The most civilised, peaceful, non-partisan/religious or ethnic, pro-Nigeria two-week protest with the worldwide appeal was organised and no one or group of persons has, to date, been identified as the leader. There is no way that such an event could take place without having leaders.
Even when Segun Awosanya, one of the prominent figures in the #EndSARS movement, twitted to end his participation in the protest over its alleged “hijack” by people he failed to name, it still went on smoothly without anyone seen to be the arrowhead or figurehead. “Come for dialogue” could be a ploy to entice the movement’s leadership to expose themselves for a “stick-and-carrot” treatment.
Government tries to neutralise such people by first making them mouth-watering offers, failing which they are slapped with extreme charges such as “treason”, “terrorism” or “worse” if they remain resolute. That is what Omoyele Sowore, the #Revolution Now exponent, is going through right now. Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB’s, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was headed for the “worse” end of it but he miraculously escaped. The Organised Labour, which regularly engages in “dialogues” with the Federal Government can no longer be trusted to stand up for the masses as it used to do when Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, President was perceived as doing (even though it became his own launch-pad to becoming a governor).
The leaders of the #EndSARS protests have adopted the wisdom of “Eneke” the bird in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: “Since the hunters have learned how to shoot without missing, I have learned to fly without perching”. The youth are beginning to understand the formidable foe they face in the ruling neo-military establishment being currently fronted by Buhari.
Apart from seeking to unmask the leadership of the #EndSARS movement, the Federal Government are likely seeking dialogue as a means of diverting the attention of the youth and the general populace from the need for change, which is the real purport of the protests.
A genuine dialogue must produce genuine reforms, not cosmetic ones. The ruling establishment in Nigeria has an immutable mindset. It can only offer cosmetic “change”, such as the “reforming” of F-SARS to SWAT at the stroke of a pen, a mere renaming ceremony. The kind of change the people seek is against their principles and interests.
If Buhari were such a big fan of dialogues, why has he stubbornly refused to revisit the 2014 National Dialogue? He and his co-travelers in the All Progressives Congress, APC, refused to be part of it. After over five years in power, they have not even set up any dialogue of their own or implemented any of their promises on true federalism and restructuring. Even to clean up our electoral process to enable the people to elect good leaders has been blocked by this president.
All we hear from Buhari and his sectional acolytes are “ruga”, “cattle colonies”, “grazing routes”, “water resources bill” and other invasive policies that advance a primitive ethnic agenda. Buhari’s invitation is a road to nowhere. Anyone who comes forward as a representative of the #EndSARS movement leadership could be a government hireling. It is a very familiar old trick.