#EndSARS protests: Ominous clouds of bedlam over Nigeria
These are remarkable times in Nigeria with protesters showing mettle in demanding an end to police brutality. With the military threatening to intervene and thugs attacking protesters, Nigeria is facing a test of wills.
The spontaneity of the #EndSARS protests happening across major cities in Nigeria and the violence, mostly targeted at the protesters by thugs, allegedly sponsored by state actors, appear like dark clouds during a hurricane.
For the past one week, protesters have pressured the Federal Government of Nigeria to reform the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigeria Police Force notorious for brutality and other human rights abuses.
Though the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu has announced the dismantling of SARS, which has been replaced with Special Weapons and Tactical Team (SWAT), the protests have raged on unabated.
Political leaders too have given assurances of reforming the police but the protesters appear not to trust them much.
Seeing that the protests are relentlessly gathering momentum every day, the Federal Government, using the spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Col. Sagir Musa, sounded out a warning to the protesters.
“The NA (Nigerian Army) hereby warns all subversive elements and trouble makers to desist from such acts as it remains highly committed to defend the country and her democracy at all cost,” he said.
Musa went on to offer to “support the civil authority in whatever capacity to maintain law and order and deal with any situation decisively” in a Facebook post on a day thugs attacked protesters at Berger Roundabout.
The threat coming on the same day protests across the country turned bloody is a sign that the government does not yet know how to handle the situation.
Considering that the problem (protest) in itself is novel, concerns about the government trying to take on a new problem with old solutions that failed to work in the past are alarming.
The Nigerian Army has a blood-stained reputation of containing civil unrest and a security analyst has raised alarm that if mismanaged, especially deploying the military to visit violence on the protesters, Nigeria may just be heading to a state of bedlam.
Chief Jackson Lekan Ojo, a security expert, says the citizens are simply expressing their rights and registering their displeasure over issues that concern every Nigerian. He urges the Federal Government to be circumspect in handling the protests to avert the revolution it (government) so much dreads.
“This protest is a unique one in the sense that nobody gathered them. It was discovered that from one state to another, they just gathered themselves from day one to the next and it continues, telling the federal government to end SARS, it has been disbanded but they are still saying they don’t want SWAT. My concern is government is very insensitive and it appears it has taken everything for granted, thinking they are just disgruntled elements who will soon get tired and go back and rest.
“Unfortunately, the threat by the army to deal decisively with the protesters is a blunder that the Nigeria government is yet again ready to commit. When a situation is tense, I think the next thing to do is not issue threats, the next thing is negotiation. If this government will go to negotiate with bandits and insurgents, why not with law-abiding citizens that are fighting for their rights?
“Before you know what is happening, I foresee a situation where this thing will metamorphose into that language they don’t want to hear—revolution. It will metamorphose if it is not well handled,” he said.
According to him, by the time disgruntled members of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and members of the opposition party as well as IPOB and the Afenifere group, which is championing the restructuring campaign join the fray, it will certainly snowball into a crises of monumental proportions with dire consequences for the majority of Nigerians, who are hanging precariously over the precipice of crushing poverty in the country.”
Of major concern to Ojo is the fact the protest is evolving in phases, starting from the #EndSARS and moving to #EndSWAT, with the likelihood it will transmute into #EndCorruption—a point where he predicts the country will be at the cusp of a revolution.
Though he proffers a dialogue approach to solving the problem, he expresses fears that the protesters are like a headless snake that can strike, yet the victim will not see its head to kill it.
He explained that since the protests are extemporaneous and were not mobilized by known leaders, government needs tact in exploring even the dialogue option.
He sees the protest as a tip of the iceberg, suggesting that if military action is sanctioned against the protesters, the military high command will risk contending with mutiny within its ranks.
Another twist to the unfolding events, which may cause cataclysmic ripples in the polity, is the stance by the Northern Governors Forum, led by the Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong. They have declared their support for SARS. This portrays them as being insensitive to the rights abuses suffered by citizens in the hands of SARS operatives.
Besides, it further accentuates the ethnoreligious fault lines between the North and South of the country, pitching one against the other, but ultimately, showing a southern Nigeria which seeks justice for its maimed citizens and a northern Nigeria, where leaders hush up cries of the oppressed.
Of concern is the social subtleties discernible from the ardour, dynamism and spiritedness of the demonstrators, most of whom have no experience of military rule, which ended in 1999.
The military’s brutal suppressions of civil unrest during that era, and it’s blighted record of human rights abuses even in the war theatre in the northeast, puts it on a collision course with this bold and courageous generation.
And for what this group has shown in the last one week of what it is made of—mettle and tenacity—ending the protests either way may just be a long way off.
Defying the ban on street demonstrations by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) Security Committee to go out and protest at the symbolic Three-Arms-Zone, closing off Shehu Shagari Way for hours, is testimony to that.
The protests started following the alleged killing of a young man by officers from the SARS unit at the beginning of October.
Protesters called for the unit to be disbanded.
The police dismantled it and announced a new unit but protesters rejected the announcement, as many see the changes as enough to reform the police and end its brutality.
The protests have also attracted worldwide attention, most recently the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, urged his followers to donate Bitcoin to the organisers.
Nigeria superstars Wizkid and Davido have also thrown their weight behind the protesters.