Sunday Perspectives

November 8, 2020

The anatomy of EndSARS protests as an incomplete revolution (2)

Saying it as it is

By Douglas Anele

In an important sense a successful revolution is like the successful delivery of a new baby, and the inconveniences of pregnancy experienced by the potential mother and birth pangs during labour are analogous to the pain and suffering that often accompanies revolutions.

But then, just as a pregnancy can be aborted or terminate in a painful still-birth, a revolution can be truncated or end in failure for several reasons. In that regard a political revolution is costly both in terms of human and material resources, which means that those intending to embark on it must think very long and hard before committing themselves and others to the cause.

In other words they must be clear-headed with respect to the core objectives of the revolution and the means of realising them, coupled with single-minded determination to succeed against all odds. Mental stamina or toughness, resilience, huge personal sacrifices and, above all, unwavering passion, commitment, creativity and timing for maximum impact are desiderata for successful revolutionary praxis – revolutions are not for the faint-hearted.

Only a deep appreciation of the fact that revolutions involve life and death situations can generate the mental dispositions needed to lead a revolution successfully. In revolutions halfway measures are futile and counterproductive. The failure of attempted revolutions in Nigeria is probably due to the absence of the right combination of the mental attributes highlighted above in those that instigated and led them.

Having discussed the nature of revolutions in the preceding paragraphs, it is time to analyse the EndSARS movement (or ESM from now onwards) as an attempted revolution triggered by the demand from Nigerian youths for complete overhaul of law enforcement agencies which later metamorphosed into a movement against bad governance and suffering in the country generally.

The ESM dates back to 2017 when a section of Nigerian youths used the hashtag to share their unpalatable experiences regarding unwarranted human rights violations, particularly violence and brutality, committed by the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The matter died down soon afterwards but was revived on October 3 this year when a message that went viral on social media indicated that SARS officers shot dead a young man, snatched his car and sped off with it. The person who recorded the video was heard yelling frantically at anyone watching to see what had happened.

As the video circulated widely the hashtag EndSARS gathered momentum leading to justifiably angry crowds mostly in Lagos and a few cities demanding that SARS unit of the Nigerian police must be disbanded.

As the protests spread across the south, Abuja and Jos, and some celebrities publicly recounted odious stories of harassment, intimidation, extortion, brutality and fatalities by the police, vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Festus Keyamo, minister of state for labour and employment, and the inspector-general of police, Mohammed Adamu, tried to fulfil all righteousness by issuing ceremonial statements that further infuriated protesters.

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For example, whereas Osinbajo disclosed that he and President Muhammadu Buhari had discussed the issue of police reforms several times (with nothing tangible to show for it), more than twenty-four hours after the unfortunate incident that triggered the demonstrations Keyamo, exuding an irritating what’s-the-big-deal attitude, announced that the victim of the gunshot survived and was being treated in hospital.

At the beginning the protests were largely peaceful, but violence crept in when, as video footages indicate, hired layabouts started attacking the demonstrators. President Muhammadu Buhari’s belated pre-recorded broadcast a whole two weeks after the protests began has been widely condemned for being full of hot air, arrogant and completely lacking in empathy for grieving families who lost their loved ones as a result of the shooting at the Lekki toll gate two days earlier.

Indeed, Buhari did not even mention the Lekki incident nor state in clear terms timelines for implementing concrete measures to address the demands of the protesters. Now, there are conflicting accounts about what happened at the Lekki toll gate, although video clips showing soldiers deployed to calm things down shooting at protesters are all over the place.

Then there is a footage of an official of the company in charge of the toll gate removing close circuit television (CCTV) cameras mounted there shortly before power supply was deliberately disconnected probably to ensure that electronic documentation of the events is aborted.

Expectedly, the Lagos State government and the army have traded blames regarding who is ultimately responsible for inviting soldiers to deal with the protesters. That notwithstanding, inviting soldiers to handle a matter that falls squarely within the purview of the Nigerian police is a big mistake which also indicates that Nigerian politicians have not outgrown the garrison mentality and the primitive authoritarian disposition of military dictators who had ruined the country.

The allegation that people acting on behalf of government brought in undesirable elements that infiltrated peaceful demonstrations in different locations especially at Abuja and Lagos proves that this government, both at the federal and state levels, might be allergic to the constitutionally guaranteed right of Nigerians to engage in peaceful agitations and is prepared to use illicit and unorthodox methods to suppress opposition.

To allay such fears and pacify the people several investigative panels have been set up by various state governments to look into the issue. But discerning Nigerians know from experience that the probes will ultimately achieve nothing because the exercise is a cynical and facile attempt to mislead the public into thinking that something serious is being done to bring justice to the families of victims and deal with those found culpable.

As an indication of the insincerity of government, initially the governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwolu, claimed that no lives were lost at the Lekki toll gate and that powers beyond him invited soldiers to stop the protests.

He later modified his statement when incontrovertible evidence began to emerge which contradicted his earlier position, including the army spokesman’s revelation that it was actually the governor who requested military assistance to restore peace. Attorney-general of the federation and minister for justice, Abubakar Malami, argued that impersonators in army uniform, not real soldiers, were responsible for the shootings.

Even the announcement that SARS has been disbanded was received by Nigerians with a pinch of salt because previous decisions to disband the outfit were not carried out. All this shibboleth and deliberate confusion from officialdom points to one conclusion: there is a cover-up to shield henchmen of the ruling party responsible for hiring irascible unemployed youths who imported violence into the ESM.

That the demonstrations took place mostly in the south whereas northerners in general supported retention of SARS once again proves that Nigeria is a deeply divided country in spite of the false gospel of a united One Nigeria peddled by members of the ruling elite for their own beneit.

Without a doubt most of the protesters did not think of ethnicity when they decided to participate, but eventually pernicious ethnic sentiment began to rear its ugly head after a mentally unstable nonentity from Yoruba allegedly living in London released a video asking Ndigbo to vacate Yorubaland within forty-eight hours.

On top of that, an obscure Yoruba group alleged that Igbo people masterminded the destruction of Yoruba assets in Lagos as a form of clandestine economic war against descendants of Oduduwa. It is gratifying that reasonable Yoruba people have repudiated both the delusional quit notice and the conspiracy theory, although a handful of inconsequential Igbo haters endorsed them.

It follows that the attempt to use the unfortunate collateral damage from the EndSARS protests to further exacerbate discord between Ndigbo and the Yoruba has failed – for now. Turning our attention to SARS proper, it is important to observe that majority of its officers are predominantly northerners, and they tend to be more brutal in the south than in the north.

To be concluded.