If there is any lesson to learn from the #EndSARS protests, it is that, quite often, government, by its actions or inactions, constitutes itself into the problem of society. It is even more so when there is a ‘bad’ government in power. As the Good Book would say in Proverbs 29: 2, “when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people mourn…” We dare to say that the wicked ruleth here!
Make no mistake about it: government as a problem to society isn’t a peculiarly Nigerian experience; it is, if you will, global. One of the best known of such global examples in recent memory is the June 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising during which the Chinese government ruthlessly suppressed a demonstration by students calling for a more democratic atmosphere in communist China. In what came to be known as the Tiananmen Square massacre, the government rolled out tanks and mowed down thousands of unarmed students.
Could China have stopped the protests without massacring its own citizens in cold blood? To be sure, yes. But it chose to constitute itself into the problem by adopting a strong arm tactic to deal with the situation for the simple reason that a government, which was supposedly in power to serve the people, couldn’t bear to be “dared” by the same people, even if all the people did was ask for a more liberal atmosphere to enable them live in dignity as human beings.
Now back to Nigeria–and #EndSARS. Young people from across the country, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or creed, formed themselves into a mass of peaceful protesters against police brutality in the country. Drumming, singing, dancing and chorusing #EndSARS, they marched peacefully and simultaneously in different cities across the country, molesting or attacking nobody. Everyone was happy and proud of what was going on. Even the government initially hailed the peaceful and orderly nature of the protests: a new Nigeria, it seemed, was afoot!
Suddenly, a spanner was thrown in the works. Thanks to camera phones, twitter and Instagram, the nation watched as agents of the state transported thugs into crowds of #EndSARS protesters to disorganize the groups and cause mayhem. And did they cause mayhem! In Abuja, thugs went to a car shop that was totally unconnected with #EndSARS protests and set all of 18 luxury cars ablaze. In Lagos, soldiers fell upon protesters at Lekki Tollgate and shot some 20 of them to death. In Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi, Abia, Rivers and Imo States, soldiers tagged protesters IPOB and began firing live bullets at them. By the time their guns fell silent, the Int’l Society for Civil liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) records that 110 unarmed citizens lay dead while some 200 others were “terminally injured.”
The result was predictable: the real #EndSARS protesters who genuinely worked for change for the general good simply stepped aside and hoodlums took over and hell was let loose.
It means that agents of Nigerian governments deliberately infiltrated the #EndSARS protesters using violent elements who hijacked the protest and turned it into an orgy of looting, burning and killing all in an attempt to discredit the protest. It means that Nigerian governments actually masterminded the destruction of public property to the magnitude never before witnessed in peacetime Nigeria, just to discredit an otherwise peaceful protest by citizens who were only asking that they be not killed by security agents otherwise paid to protect them.
There are too many things that governments do that don’t make sense to us or, well, to those of us outside government. The instigation of violence against, and within the folds of, #EndSARS protesters is one of them. At the last count, some 205 police stations, were burnt down nationwide, 73 people officially announced dead, 71 public warehouses and 248 private stores were looted and 22 police officers lost their lives.
Although they didn’t seem to care, there is not a doubt that while instigating violence against, and within the folds of, the protesters, the state and its agents knew very well that they were sowing a wind and would reap a whirlwind in the form of mindless destruction of public infrastructure. And we ask, was that, really, what this government wanted to achieve: to sow a wind and reap a whirlwind? Pray, what objective did that serve?
We in AbeyaNews find the ongoing hunt for and persecution of leaders of the #EndSARS protest nauseating, absurd and embarrassingly hypocritical. Nigeria has become a typical Arab state (Syria, Egypt on our mind) where violence instigated by political actors in attempts to hold on to power (directly or indirectly) has become almost a cultural thing. Political Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari has become one miserable enclave of perennial violence and bloodshed and it is just a pity. We saw this government instigate violence among the population and now it turns around to crack down on persons whose only offence was that they organized citizens to stage a peaceful protest against what was clearly an untoward development in our society: police brutality? We brought insect-infested firewood home and we turn around to complain that there are too many insects in the house? What manner of statecraft is that?
This country is hurting badly and the cause isn’t #EndSARS. Rather, our problem has everything to do with the failure of the current leadership to run Nigeria responsibly. There is a degree of insensitivity to the concerns of the people that was hitherto unknown, perhaps even unimaginable, in the conduct of public affairs in Nigeria. We had thought that the #EndSARS protest presented the government with an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate greater empathy in its quest for solutions to the socioeconomic and political quagmire in which Nigerians find themselves at the moment, rather than re-mount its high horse and return to its old, bad ways of divisive politics, oppressive rule, financial irresponsibility and economic strangulation of the citizenry.
We insist that the path this government is currently taking in its attempt to get to the root of the #EndSARS mayhem is as duplicitous as it is misguided and can only aggravate the situation rather than mend it. To demonstrate its sincerity of purpose, we challenge the government to, first, bring to book those of its agents that misled it into approving the infiltration of the protesters with violent elements with an apparent brief to bring hell upon Nigeria! Only then will this disingenuous attempt to hunt down leaders of #EndSARS protesters make any little sense, if ever it will make sense at all.
This government must, therefore, stop forthwith the persecution of those believed to be the brains behind #EndSARS. For, in our view, such a path cannot lead to the healing that this benighted land of ours needs; it may well lead to another variant of #EndSARS protest, may be even a much more violent one, and we can bet that the nation isn’t prepared for a new wave of social convulsions in the polity.
As the Igbo would say, we must begin to look for a black cow while it’s still daytime…