Daily Trust

#EndSARS protests: Omi­nous clouds of bed­lam over Nige­ria

- By Terkula Igidi Nigeria Politics · Nigeria News · Society · Politics · Human Rights · African Politics · Nigeria · U.S. government · Nigeria Police Force · Mohammed Adamu · Nigerian Army · Facebook · All Progressives Congress (APC) · Plateau State · Australian Capital Territory · Twitter · Jack Dorsey · Wizkid · Davido · Federal Government of Nigeria · Shehu Shagari

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.

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