Saturday, 31 October 2020

#ENDSARS Protest : Our Stance..Campaign For A New Nigeria

 

CAMPAIGN FOR A NEW NIGERIA

A Statement on the Youth Protests and Challenges facing the Nation.


THE YOUTH PROTESTS: ISSUES, LESSONS AND THE WAY FORWARD FOR NIGERIA.

1. Prelude:

“Suppression of expression conceals the real problems confronting a society and diverts public attention from the critical issues. It is likely to result in neglect of the grievances which are the actual basis of the unrest, and thus prevent their correction.” Thomas I. Emerson (1907–1991) A Distinguished American Attorney and Professor of Law.


The month of October has always witnessed special events in Nigeria, even after the hand-over dates for regimes was shifted to the month of May. October still remains the official month for the annual celebration of independence and the emergence of nationhood. Throughout history, October has not been known for bloodshed and tears in Nigeria until this year, 2020. It is in October this year that the unthinkable and previously thought to be impossible happened. Young Nigerians peacefully protesting against police brutality and bad governance in Nigeria, were shot, wounded and killed by armed men alleged to be members of the Nigerian military. Sadly, but characteristic of most social movements that catalyse transformative change, it is the blood of young people that typically oil the wheels that slowly but surely turn towards the birth of a new nation. The Lekki shooting of unarmed peacefully protesting youths is a defining moment in the history of Nigeria. 

We as a people, now stand at an inflection point when silence is not an option. The urgency of the moment demands that every patriotic citizen and well-meaning civil society organization should at the minimum add their voice to the conversation about how we can go forward as a civilized country. This is our humble contribution to this very important national discourse, hoping that REASON will prevail and together we can all agree to birth A NEW NIGERIA where elected leaders will NEVER AGAIN think of nor act to cause harm to citizens that they swore an oath to serve and protect.


2. Background: The character and challenges of the Nigerian ruling class and the polity since the inception of our nascent Democracy:

The starting point for this discourse is of course historical. One sure fact of Nigeria’s post-colonial political life is that the military faction of the Nigerian ruling elite has governed the longest and it has in that process bequeathed to the ruling elite, its tendency towards violence, lack of accountability and alienation of the polity. Indeed, the younger generation who are at the heart of the recent protests, are largely a product of this undemocratic culture. No analyst can ignore this hangover in the public life of Nigeria. A compilation of the speeches announcing Coups in Nigeria since January 1966 to 1975, and an analysis of the conduct of military regimes, clearly shows that military rulership (whether serving or retired), have produced negative indices for governance and human resources development. It has made dialogue and intellectual engagement the exception in our polity and enthroned violence, confrontation, alienation of citizens and impunity as the norms. The military by their training and orientation are to defend the territorial integrity of the nation. They fulfil this constitutional duty through the use of violence and their leadership language is not that of dialogue but of “immediate effect.” The contrast with civil society is that progress is secured through dialogue and consensus building. The contrast cannot be any more glaring. The statement by Commander William Adama, of Battlestar Galactica which is currently trending on the social media, brilliantly locates the essence of keeping the military away from civil society: “There’s a reason you separate the Military and the Police. One fights the enemies of the State; the other protects the people. When the Military becomes both, then the enemies of the State tend to become the people.” The psyche of the average Nigerian in leadership today has been so militarised that casual social, intellectual or political discourse often turns violent in words and deeds.  

Another manifestation of this malaise of the Nigerian socio-political environment is the brute struggle for power. In virtually every situation that involves the contestation for leadership, especially in the public domain, competition in most cases is a matter of life and death. Or as it is very often said in Nigeria, it is “a do or die affair.” This attitude of idolising public office to the extent of elevating its occupants to the realm of “tin gods” who must now lord it over the led, has catalysed a dangerous descent into the cesspit of impunity, arrogance, intolerance and corruption. The situation has become a common feature of the political space in Nigeria. Political institutions that should demonstrate the minimum standards of democratic values and norms have become, surprisingly, the most culpable of anti-democratic acts.  Reports of graft, non-existent internal democracy in political parties, manipulation of the electoral process and the manipulation of judicial processes, have all become the norm rather than the exception in our polity. These untoward realities and many others are the cancers that are gradually destroying the fabric of our society. They are indeed responsible for the growing restiveness and unease that we are beginning to see in different parts of the country.  

A political system that is this flawed can only continue to produce leaders whose policies, programs and actions are skewed against the interests of the vulnerable in society: the poor, the youth, women and the physically challenged, etc. The relationship between leaders and the led in Nigeria, is at best that of “masters vs slaves.” It is totally bereft of trust, empathy and respect. No thanks to corruption, the gap between the poor and the rich is perhaps one of the widest in the world. The Nigerian political elite have so perfected the strategy of exploiting religion, ethnicity and other primordial cleavages to keep power, to the detriment of the progress of citizens and of the country. An apt commentary about this sad state of affairs was made recently by Emmanuel Ogebe, Esq, a Nigerian Human Rights lawyer, of the US Nigeria Law Group: “The discovery of hoarded food supplies meant for COVID19 relief but never dispensed by the government illustrates the abject failure of public service delivery which is at the root of the #EndSARS campaign. On one hand the police are brutalizing innocent people as thieves when it is the government literally that steals even food for citizens.…”


3. The Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and factors that led to the protests and the unfolding events:

The Nigerian Police Force (NPF) is precisely that - a FORCE, and true to their name, they act in that manner. They not only fail to provide the needed internal security services to the people which they are sworn to protect and serve, but go a step further by providing a disservice to them. 

Over the past few days, NGOs such as, Amnesty international and other humanitarian organisations have published their research findings into the cases of Police brutality and extrajudicial killings in Nigeria. Their discoveries have been mind-boggling to say the least. The now ‘disbanded’ SARS unit of the NPF had gone on for far too long, terrorising people on the streets and communities, who albeit with fear and insecurity, just want to live their lives in peace. The Police have elevated themselves to become gods, as they have made themselves - all at the same time, judge, jury and executioner. Their notoriety is seconded only by their cruelty and lust for blood. Key points to reference are the Akwazu SARS in Anambra state, the SARS office in Abuja nicknamed: the abattoir, where torture and wanton killings were carried out. This Unit of the Police or beat cops, have become extortionists, and essentially armed robbers on the roads and highways around the country. That is why, it is to no one’s surprise that the Nigerian people and the youth in particular have reached their boiling point and have collectively raised one voice, with one message: END SARS and END POLICE BRUTALITY. It is now evident that the nationwide protest against police brutality carried out over the past few days were not the regular run-of-the-mill Nigerian street protest where people come out to the streets for a few days, chant a few words against the government, and go back home with no results received at the end of the day. The Youth mean business this time around and are not going to take NO for an answer.

Since 1999, various demonstrations and protests have been carried out. Some of the most noteworthy are the protests against oil companies in Nigeria in 1999, protests against election results in 2007, occupy Nigeria in 2012 and most recently the EndSARS protests of 2020. Until 2020, the government’s treatment of protests is usually by isolating the leaders of the movements, finding a way to silence them by discrediting their motives, paying them off or out-right using back channels to threaten them. 

The issues of the youth protests were basic: Stop Killing and Brutalising us. They weren’t asking for 24/7 electricity, potable water, basic amenities or anything of that nature. Just a simple message, Stop Killing us. Unfortunately, their demands were met with those same measures they were protesting against: the use of Police tear gas and clubs, being sprayed with water cannons; hired thugs being unleashed into crowds of protesters to cause chaos and unlawful arrests. Finally, in Lekki, Lagos State, on Tuesday, October 10, 2020, a day that will forever live in infamy, the Nigerian government orchestrated a shooting incidence that led to the injury and deaths of some of the innocent protesters, who were armed only with the Nigerian flags and the national anthem on their lips. 

After the events of 20/10/2020 the country went into a state of anarchy, where warehouses were looted of both covid-19 palliatives meant for the general public and items not meant for the people. Private property and businesses were ransacked in most States across the country and the government had to step in to control the situation before it further escalated. Unfortunately, instead of trying to manage the situation in a more civil way, government decided to use more force. Curfews were imposed and a lot of armed personnel were deployed round the country. Some states even resorted to door to door searches and harassment of individuals and communities; methods which, in the first place, could have better deployed months earlier to distribute the Covid 19 palliatives to the people.

As it stands right now, the country is witnessing an uneasy peace and activities are gradually returning to normalcy. But as the nation reels under the weight of these measures, the feeling is like the calm before the storm. Thus, if decisive actions are not taken soon, the nation might only be postponing the next wave of civil unrest and protests. 


4. The Youth protests as a painful cry for A NEW NIGERIA.

The protests started slowly but surely, gaining momentum across the country, among the seemingly docile Nigerian citizenry that have often accommodated so much impunity and hardship with such profound elasticity of patience. The protests were spontaneous and sporadic across the country, without any known command structure, except that the youths were deeply agitated and committed. They generally shared the grief of losing brothers and sisters and relations, in their prime, to Police brutality and were resolved to see to its end - #EndSARS; #EndPoliceBrutality became their banner and cry. Individually and severally, the youths had borne the scars of this emerging monster, SARS, that was threatening to consume a whole generation before they would ascend critical positions of leadership in the country. Intersociety, Onitsha: an International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law, through research had documented “71,040 Unprocessed Citizens Lost in Police Custodies In 16 Years”; explaining how citizens had died in police custodies across the country since 2004 or in the past 16 years since the establishment of the dreaded Police outfit. The BBC News (www.bbc.com/Africa) report of 23 October 2020 was captioned: “How the #EndSars protests have changed Nigeria forever.”

Bob Dylan’s seven-stanza song in the album, “Slow Train Coming” similarly shocked the world in 1979. The lyrics of the first and fourth stanzas are worth reproducing here:

First stanza:

Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted

Can’t help but wonder what’s happening to my companions

Are they lost or are they found, have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down

All their earthly principles they’re gonna have to abandon?

There’s a slow, slow train coming up around the bend.


Fourth stanza:

Man’s ego is inflated, his laws are outdated, they don’t apply no more

You can’t rely no more to be standing around waiting

In the home of the brave, Jefferson turning over in his grave

Fools glorifying themselves, trying to manipulate Satan

And there’s a slow, slow train coming up around the bend.


At the root of the protests are fundamental issues that have plagued the Nigerian nation, for which this regime has been insensitive and has failed to address them decisively. For reasons unknown to Nigerians, the report of the 2014 National Conference has been consigned to neglect even as voices calling for restructuring of the country continue to grow louder every day. The agitations for True Federalism and Restructuring of the Nigerian Polity so as to address the structural imbalances in the governance of the nation is fundamental to the restiveness in the country. Equally fundamental to the issues that are aggravating the unease in the polity is the matter of addressing the lack of legitimacy of Nigeria’s Constitutions, especially the 1999 Constitution, and the demands for its amendment. The position of most Nigerians on this matter is that since the 1959 Independence Constitution, which was a product of debate and consensus, all others have been impositions by the Military regimes. Like the pain of a weak tooth that is being unsuccessfully managed until it is uprooted, so also is the Constitution of Nigeria. The nation would not make the needed progress until the constitution is decisively addressed to reflect the collective agreement of the people of Nigeria.


5. The Way Forward: Focus on narratives that will catalyse A NEW NIGERIA.

It is imperative to state unequivocally that neither the Government nor the people should wish away the issues of the Youth Protests, especially the killings of the unarmed Lekki protesters. There is need to urgently and adequately address the fundamental issues of the nation, with clear timelines and assigned responsibilities for execution. These fundamental challenges include but are not limited to:

a. Amendment of the 1999 Constitution, which will clearly articulate the proposals for Restructuring, Devolution of powers to States and strengthening of the Local Government system.

b. Reduction of the cost of running government at all levels, particularly, perks attached to public offices.

c. Reforming the national economy to create more opportunities for growth, development, industrialization, employment, diversified exports and massive investments in human capital infrastructure and resources - like Education and Health.

d. Strengthening of democratic institutions of governance.

e. Reforming institutions that support the rule of law – the judiciary and police.

f. Reforming the electoral system to make it more transparent and accountable. 

g. Reforming the National security architecture.


A stitch in time saves nine. We urge our elected leaders at all levels of governance to rise to the call of the moment and come forward with a reform agenda that is both compelling, credible and guarantees the emergence of A NEW NIGERIA.


FOR AND ON BEHALF OF CAMPAIGN FOR A NEW NIGERIA:


ANTHONY UBANI


PROFESSOR HARUNA DABIN, mni


DR. OMALE ADOYI


LANRE ASIWAJU


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