There is no gainsaying the fact that there is general dystopia in the land. Those who choose not to agree do so either due to party loyalty, blind following, or for other atavistic reasons. I doubt if any mortals on Nigeria’s soil today sincerely believe things are in order. If at all there are, they are probably afflicted with an exceptional case of fossilized thought and blurred sight which conditions the eyes to see black as white, mirage as water and Hell as Paradise. So to engage them in a debate is absolutely unnecessary—it is a waste of time.
Nigeria in the last two weeks witnessed and witnesses an unprecedented protest (as it is ongoing). It started peacefully with ENDSARS as its hashtag. It was overwhelmingly supported by opinion leaders in the country especially in the South. SARS and Nigerian police are common enemies of Nigerians as they are, to many Nigerians, synonymous with bribery and corruption; harassment and brutality; extortion and criminality. It is so devastating that many Nigerians are not comfortable with the fact that there are responsible and God-fearing policemen because of the embedded enmity they nurse towards the uniformed men. The fact remains that there are good ones among them. Our rejection of this fact will not change it.
Be that as it may, the protest was launched. It was unprecedented, in time’s length; it is already two weeks and it is still counting. The dynamics and forms of the protest reveal that it was not just against SARS and police brutality. It was against unemployment, insecurity, bad government, poor governance, nepotism, poor standard of living, ubiquitous grinding poverty, banditry, kidnapping, travesty of Justice, subversion of the rule of law and what is more, absolute disregard for Nigerians’ humanity.
To stage a protest against all the aforementioned is a noble course—democratically speaking. It is instrumental in drawing the government’s attention to general discontent. It is also to alert the government that the masses are aware of its well choreographed attempt to make life difficult for them just to satisfy its hedonism.
Protest is not alien to democracy; it is part of it. But contextualizing protest within Nigeria’s democratic milieu leaves one to wonder if its benefits override its harms or the other way round. I must submit, though uncomfortably, that Nigeria’s democracy is not ripe enough to tolerate this long protest. In other words, protest has not been embedded, rooted, and institutionalized in our democracy. The government does not have the mien of a democracy that tolerates protest. Examples are not far fetched. If that of 2012 and those before it are distant, the recent one of ENDSARS/ENDSWAT is still ongoing. It started nobly and peacefully. It set the government on its toes. The writings of the protesters on the government’s wall seem to be very clear, even to the government. Hence, it aptly responded to the deafening noise by disbanding SARS.
But for loss of trust or lack of it, the disbandment of SARS which ordinarily should be interpreted positively and get the protesters off the streets only exacerbates the protest. Now thugs have hijacked it, and of course, that is natural in Nigeria. The undue length of the protest has already birthed many conspiratorial explanations. The protest has come to be seen as being pregnant with different meanings: Protesters are sponsored! It is a deliberate attempt to bring down the government! It is to culminate in revolution! The ‘leader of all democrats’ (Asiwaju) was even fingered to be the inciter. Though he denied it. The ruling party (APC) was also accused of sponsoring thugs to destabilize the protest, incite mayhem, and justify the deployment of military to save its face. The argument on thuggery was correspondingly turned against the opposition party (PDP). They were also said to be the brain behind thugs’ deployment to knock the final nail in the coffin of the lackluster government of APC.
In as much as it is difficult to determine which of the conspiratorial explanations has or lacks merit, what is certain is that the protest has degenerated into chaos. Not only that, it has taken an international dimension; and the world is watching. A few states have already declared 24 hours curfew. Others may follow suit as the protest remains unabating. The President’s ‘loud muteness’ is un-presidentially shocking and shockingly un-presidential. Nigerians need to be convinced that the President is on top of the situation. The President has to Soro Soke: he has to speak loud to Nigerians. He has to address them. He has to stop reading from script.
Puzzlingly, protesters refuse to leave the streets; no identifiable protest leader(s)—at least for now— to dialogue with; the economy is bleeding; it is unwise to deploy naked or brute force; the foundation of the government is shaking as it is gradually losing legitimacy; and worst still, the protest has taken a global dimension in which world leaders and communities are already spectators. Definitely, the government is in confusion. But it must act. The problem is when and how to act. The government has found itself on a precarious tight rope. Yet its antecedents show it has not learnt how to walk a tightrope. Very unfortunate!
It is true that a perpetual strike of this nature will detonate the thugs. It has indeed just done that. And that is the fear. But mind you, thugs will not hijack protest if they had nothing to gain. Somebody must bankroll them. Let us assume we do not know their sponsors; can we also feign ignorance of those who deployed military men to unleash life bullets on Lekki peaceful protesters? About seven are dead; many with different degrees of sustained injury. Their protest is legendary in terms of peaceful conduct and sophisticated organization. All necessary mechanisms are put in place to ensure it is not vulnerable to hijack. And to that extent, it was successful.
So who detonated the military against Lekki peaceful protesters? Why not against thugs? Why is Nigerian military unable to extinguish the raging fire kindled by bandits in Katsina and other northern states? A point should be made clear here: those who accuse the President of jingoism and nepotism might not be always right; though they may not be wrong either. The President’s case is that of sheer incompetency. For how do you explain the Katsina situation? Are the indigenes of Katsina Igbos, Tivs, Junkuns, Nupes or Yoruba? Are they not Hausa or Fulani anymore? So, why are they allowed to suffer this much? Perhaps the President’s jingoism and nepotism is limited to his family and those he knows. That will be a compounded one. Thus, the President’s problem is more of incompetency than nepotism. A communique issued by the Katsina State chapter of the Coalition of Northern Groups on Saturday states among others that “[The] general consensus is that by any standard of judgment, the administration of President Buhari has failed the nation and in particular Katsina State in the vital area of improving the citizens’ lives and property”
While we try to appeal to the protesters, Lekki’s shooting has added salt to the injury. Oh God! Your intervention! Rescue Nigeria’s State from destruction, chaos, and war. Guide our leaders and the masses. We need your direction. Our affairs are in a limbo and in shambles. So help us God.
*** Abdulkadir Salaudeen is at email@example.com / @salahuddeenAbd