#EndSARS and a wasted opportunity
It’s amusing to see a lot of pro-government misters trying to spread the disinformation that the #EndSARS protests of October 2020 were “hijacked” and turned into some sort of orgy of violence. The facts, as recorded in this world of digital media where it is now difficult to hide, is that the Nigerian government, unable to find “leaders” to either bribe, intimidate or otherwise coerce, cynically turned to thugs to disrupt (not hijack) the protests. This succeeded to some extent, but the jury is still out, and it is increasingly looking like a case where they won a battle in order to lose a war. This is where my column in today’s BusinessDay comes in.
Nigeria has had a lot of opportunities to set itself on the path to progress. The aftermath of the pogroms of 1966 provided an opportunity to create some space so the different regions could evolve to a point where they could put aside their distrust to work together. But we wasted the Aburi Conference.
There were many other chances, but the fortuitous way in which the Abacha situation was resolved in 1998 gave Nigeria yet another chance to sort out its issues. Rather than use that, we ended up with Decree 24 of 1998, called it a Constitution, and well, the results are in for all to see.
Unfortunately in 2015, Nigeria (myself included) decided that the best way to solve the perceived problem of corruption was by voting for the living embodiment of everything that was wrong with Nigeria. I am not sure if we were trying to multiply negatives to get a positive, but whatever it was we thought we were doing did not work.
Muhammadu Buhari’s track record was well-documented and it eloquently showed his thoughts (or lack thereof) on education, civil rights, religious freedom, economic policy, ethnic unity, and all the other little blocks that ought to be important if we are to successfully convert this geographical expression into a nation. The signs were there, but as Nigeria typically does, we chose to argue with life rather than learning its lessons.
So Mr Buhari became president and went back to the same policies that failed woefully in the middle of the 1980s. As expected, his ill-thought policies have produced relentless rises in poverty, insecurity, and unemployment. Coupled with police brutality, these culminated in the #EndSARS protests.
The government’s reaction only surprised people who do not believe in using a person’s history as a guide to predicting future behaviour. We literally saw the actions that ranged from peaceful protesters being shot down in Lekki to hoodlums being ferried around Abuja in black government SUVs to attack peaceful protesters.
These responses were typical of how Nigeria handles opportunities to do the right thing. It is baffling really. This is Buhari’s final term. One would think that he would see this as an opportunity to start repairing his reputation in the eyes of the people by agreeing to police reform, sacking the IG of Police and a significant portion of the officers responsible for the solidification of such a heinous culture of extortion, armed robbery, and mass-murder in the police force.
Buhari could have also endeared himself to the people by using the wave to commit to political reforms to ensure that the next elections produce a peaceful election that reflects the will of the people. He could also have kept communicating with the people especially the younger portion of the populace by addressing the economic issues that have impoverished roughly a hundred million Nigerians and left them unable to see a positive future for themselves. Most Nigerians would have happily accepted these overtures and forgiven him for past wrongs.
Our standards are that low.
What we got, instead, was bluster, a massacre, and a Lagos State House of Assembly that accused the Lagos youth of being drug addicts who were ungrateful enough to not appreciate that Covid-19 palliatives meant for them were better off hidden or used as birthday party-packs by politicians.
It is an opportunity thrown away, which we will rue as food inflation continues to hit the pockets of Nigerians, leading to the next uprising, which will possibly be uncontrolled.