By Muyiwa Adetiba
Anyone who lives or has lived in Nigeria knows that the occupy Lekki protest of last Saturday would not hold. And if it did, it would be low key probably with some casualties on the side of the protesters.
They would know that the balance of the power which was touted by the preceding grandstanding and flexing of muscles by the two sides would invariably tilt towards the side with the real muscles – the law enforcers.
So I was not surprised when the Lekki neighbourhood and most of Victoria Island were disturbed by the sound of sirens throughout the weekend – even after the protest had been completely muzzled. Neither was I surprised by the massive movement of heavily armed personnel to the Lekki toll plaza. Nor by the belligerent swagger of the law – or anti-protest- enforcers. It’s our way. We lack a sense of proportion. We use excessive force where minimal force would suffice and are curiously absent where overwhelming force is necessary.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not in support of the protest. Not at this time. My reason is largely economic. The last protest which came soon after the COVID 19 lockdown, brought Lagos to its economic knees and set it back several decades developmentally.
Besides, the argument that the toll gate should not be opened yet after four months of closure is curious. If the alleged shooting of the endsars protesters had taken place on the Third Mainland Bridge would the bridge then be closed until the tribunal finished its sitting? Again, one has to ask what the occupy Lekki protest would achieve except another economic disruption which could escalate to another purposeless carnage.
At the end, the poor, largely the youths would suffer more. Besides, the protest seemed to be targeted at the perceived financial revenue of an individual which gives a political colouration to it. I am more in support of a monument of sorts being put there to remind us all of what happened on October 20, 2020.
Having said this, the level of force deployed to the scene was hardly proportional to the perceived threat. These protesters would not be armed. The ammunitions in the hands of most of them would be posters. The protesters would not be many given the lack of consensus among the major actors and the lukewarm attitude towards it by the rest of us.
So deploying road and air operations against a handful of unarmed protesters was comical and an overkill. Especially since many areas in the country need the services of the security operatives more. In Ogun State, just a few hours’ drive from the toll plaza, a helpless community has sent an SOS to government to help save its farms from invasion and its people from being kidnapped. Further down in Oyo State, there have been weeks of skirmishes which could have been prevented had authorities acted proactively.
Many States have cried out that their forests have been infested and need them cleansed and bandits flushed out. But the security operatives have been largely unresponsive to these cries. Many roads have been made unsafe by kidnappers and herdsmen. The nation knows these roads. The security heads are aware of these roads. But they pay lip service to the security needs of the areas.
We all know that a small fire soon becomes a conflagration if it is not quickly attended to. So our tardiness in putting out these fires could cost us dearly at the end of the day. Yet should there be a senatorial election in a State in which the powers that be are interested, the place would be crawling with ‘law enforcers’. And a State CEO on an official visit would go with a large contingent of armed personnel just to feel safe and to feel good.
This speaks to the mind set of our leaders and security chiefs when it comes to their perception of security threats. It explains what they feel about the plight of Citizen Joe and Citizen Jane who just want to earn a modest but decent living and thereafter be able to sleep on their beds at night. But to them, a security threat is probably limited only to things that affect their tenuous hold to power.
A recent social media post after the botched occupy Lekki protest showed two contrasting pictures. The first one showed the protesters being shoved, shirtless and handcuffed, into police trucks. The other picture had politicians sitting down to take photographs with suspected bandits after an alleged attempt to negotiate with them. The first picture was captioned ‘how Nigerians treat peaceful protesters’. The second caption read ‘how Nigerians treat terrorists’.
Our disproportional approach to the use of force; our lack of discretion on how to maintain law and order is what led to the endsars protest in the first case. The allegations of brutality and use of indiscriminate force against youths who happened to fit a particular profile boiled over and culminated in a reasonably popular youth protest. People were said to be tortured sometimes to the point of death because they were in possession of phones they didn’t know was stolen in the first place. Some had found themselves in detention for the contents of their phones or computers. Misdemeanours at home or in the office that should receive a slap on the wrist would end up in brutalisation and incarceration.
Talk about swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. Meanwhile hardened criminals who operate atop a chain of command are given a wide berth. Bandits are courted and negotiated with. Our Courts are equally as guilty. A man was once jailed four years for stealing a goat. Yet politicians and public officials who loot the treasury are left to roam about scot free. The battery of senior lawyers who get rich thieves off the hook on technicalities are as guilty. They shouldn’t complain about the infrastructural decay in the country.
To rid the country of growing insecurity will mean focusing on substance and not on shadows. It will mean diverting our scarce resources to dealing with the real criminals and their sponsors. It will mean setting examples. Should the Federal Government have the will to rid the Ondo State forests of bandits for example, it would send an unmistakeable message to bandits in other places who use the cover of the bush to commit heinous crimes. Should the courts have the will to jail a few rich public officials, it would send an unequivocal message to their ‘kith and kin’ still in office.
If we can prioritise and deal with crimes according to their severity and not on the profile of their perpetrators; if we can be passionate and equitable in our pursuit of justice and not cherry pick the low hanging fruits then we can maybe begin to get a handle on the various crimes that have unfortunately led to insecurity everywhere in the country.