By Ladesope Ladelokun
ORDINARILY, freezing the bank accounts of terrorists should be greeted with cheers for money is the oxygen that gives terrorism life. Little wonder it is argued in some quarters that we are half way to bidding farewell to the eruptions of Boko Haram if the sources of funds are cut off from the killjoys that get a kick from the sight of bloodied and lifeless bodies.
However, not a few Nigerians were thrown off balance when government officials linked the funds found in the bank accounts of EndSARS campaigners to terrorist activities. But the campaigners neither bore arms nor sentenced innocent Nigerians to the grave like the dreaded Boko Haram. They only found potency in their only weapon – voices. Patriotism was the common denominator.
For years, long-suffering Nigerians waited for the Nigerian government to name and prosecute the sponsors of Boko Haram without luck. Interestingly, help came from the United Arab Emirates.
Those who have raised eyebrows over the failure of the Nigerian government to expose the sponsors of Boko Haram have a strong point. If it is a tall order to reveal the bankrollers of the scoundrels that are merchants of sorrow and tears, it should be concerning that a sledgehammer is literally used on peaceful protesters. Or, what else advertises hatred for democratic norms and the Nigerian people?
Since it took the UAE less than six years to prosecute and convict Nigerians who wired $782,000 to Nigeria in 2015 and 2016, we should be worried that for over a decade, Boko Haram, once described as the deadliest terrorist group, savaged the Northeastern part of Nigeria without a single sponsor prosecuted and convicted. Yet it is the heads of the leaders of a peaceful protest that are wanted on a platter.
Not machete-wielding hoodlums who were allegedly contracted by the state to unleash mayhem on peaceful protesters in spite of the fact that their pictures saturate the cyberspace.
Understandably, the global outrage that greeted the role the Nigerian Army played during the EndSARS protest, especially at the Lekki Toll Gate, appears simmering.
With the Cable News Network, CNN, releasing another report on the matter after the first report that got someone’s cage rattled in spite of the threat of sanction by the Federal Government and the sanction proposed by UK parliamentarians on Nigerian officials involved in Lekki shootings, it is crystal clear that the matter will not just blow away anytime soon.
Curiously, despite the shootings at Lekki Toll Gate that left protesters drenched in blood, going by the report of CNN, President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, wants Nigerians to be grateful to his principal for not turning Nigeria to one sea of blood.
Hear him: “If President Buhari hadn’t exercised the restraint and tolerance of a father at a time that even hitherto respected people instigated the protesters to carry on (and they promptly went underground when anarchy ensued), we would have been talking of something else in the country.
The rivers of Nigeria could have turned crimson and mourning and lamentation would have suffused the land. But we are thankful for the father in President Buhari, patient and enduring, almost to a fault.”
But who told Adesina that it is the right of the president to spill the blood of peaceful protesters considered stubborn till the rivers of Nigeria turn crimson? Is it impossible that his principal will have a date with the International Criminal Court, ICC, if the rivers of Nigeria turn crimson at a time he should be enjoying his retirement?
We must remind Adesina that while the dust of #EndSARS protests is still far from settling in Nigeria, former President Merino of Peru had to resign because at least two people died after a police crackdown on protesters. Though it is true that the issues that triggered the protests in Nigeria and Peru are different, Peru provides a lesson in respect for the will of the people.
In that country, you would not see an APC and a PDP trading blames over the sponsors of protests. No one froze the accounts of protesters for daring to pour into the streets of Peru. But it would amount to flogging a dead horse to call for the resignation of Buhari because a dozen people died, according to Amnesty International, just for demanding an end to police brutality.
It will not happen. Peru is not Nigeria. But, we can at least plead to be governed with a human face in a country that persecutes and kills her own for crying when severely beaten by injustice.
It is true that the Nigerian Army has denied opening fire on protesters, that it only fired blank ammunition. However, there are sufficient grounds to believe rights activists and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana, who accused the army of having a history of lies and deception. For example, didn’t the Nigerian Army lie that soldiers were not at the scene of the Lekki Toll Gate incident on October 20 before it backtracked when confronted with overwhelming evidence?
In addition to its changing narratives, the army had said soldiers were not deployed to the Lekki Toll Gate, but were on patrol to clear up the Lekki, Eti-Osa corridor; something that contradicts its earlier submission that it was invited by the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
No doubt, the EndSARS protest across Nigeria mirrored the misgovernance and injustice that have over the years plagued the Nigerian state – but a clampdown on its promoters is impolitic. Counterproductive.
Even irresponsible. Howard Zinn, American historian and philosopher, was not far from the truth when he said: “The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away, and for such people, with such memories, revolt is always an inch below surface.”
Of course, it cannot be inapposite to state that criminalising protests can only tantamount to attacking the symptoms of a disease. We must banish injustice from our land and make Nigeria livable for all to give Nigerians less reasons to pour into the streets.
Ladelokun, a commentator on public issues, wrote from Lagos