THE Federal Government is giving conflicting and confusing signals in its reaction to the recent #EndSARS protests. If this is a “stick and carrot” approach to the handling of the protest and the ensuing burst of burning and looting, then it is being wrongly applied.
Only on Sunday, November 1, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari capitalised on the first Nigerian National Youth Day celebration to invite the youth to a dialogue with the Federal Government.
After acknowledging that citizens have the right to protest, the president added: “Our government will not lift a hand to stop or suppress you”, adding: “other forces and actors will seek to take over your protests that they may redirect them in ways you did not intend and perhaps do not agree with”.
The president’s own words made a clear distinction between the peaceful, organised and patriotic #EndSARS protests and the wanton marauding that ensued when hoodlums and soldiers were drafted to attack and quell a protest demanding for a better police and governance. Government was responsible for the remote and immediate triggers for the violence and should own up to the blame.
For the Federal Government to come out, nine days after offering an olive branch, to vow to deal with leaders of the protest is an unfortunate volte-face and derailment from some otherwise commendable steps it had already started taking to address the youths’ demands.
The seizure of the travel documents of some of them (though returned shortly after by the Immigration Service), the freezing of their bank accounts, their arrest, detention and denial of legal assistance cannot help the situation.
This is a mere recourse to the well-worn intimidation, harassment and persecution tactics perfected by our discredited military past. It never produces any useful result except to unwittingly turn the victims into heroes.
These persecutory measures have now unmasked the #EndSARS leaders who had smartly remained anonymous. Their ordeal could give them the political capital they may need to win elections, having led a patriotic youth revolt against an oppressive system.
It could be that the presidency has allowed the self-serving pressure mounted by a section of Northern leaders to put it on a war path instead of constructive engagement with the youth.
We call on President Buhari to abandon this course of action and resume his conciliatory measures. He should, in particular, personally drive the N75 billion Youth Investment Fund to help lead enterprising young people out of poverty. He should be seen as paving the way for the youth to take control of the destiny of this country.
After the Lekki Tollgate shootings, the persecution of the protest leaders can only draw more attention to the cases at the International Criminal Court, ICC.