AfterBlack Tuesday occurred on October 20, 2020 at Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, our own Ground Zero, life took on a new meaning for Nigerians – both at home and abroad. Death and blood-soaked Nigerian flags betrayed human emotions and provoked a consequential global outrage. The international community also lent its voice to the chorus which was wrongly interpreted by President Muhammadu Buhari in his speech. Why would young and innocent protesters who did not pose any threat be suddenly cut down in their prime by a hail of bullets? It was unthinkable. What was their offence? They yearned for change for a better country that works for everyone – #EndSARS was symptomatic of the bigger issues; it was the face and symbol of the campaign that became a global movement.
Death, arson, destruction and mindless looting that followed could have been avoided. The days after Black Tuesday became unpredictable because hoodlums had infiltrated the protests that were largely peaceful and orderly. What we witnessed last week around the country was a free for all mayhem and breakdown of law and order. There has been nothing like this in a long time; it was an embarrassing meltdown and the reign of anarchy was beginning to go out of control. Law enforcement agents were completely missing in action. The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu and his men, owe Nigerians an explanation.
Unfortunately, policemen do not see themselves as part of society; it explains why they segregate and victimise Nigerians through unconscionable extortions and extra-judicial killings. The conditions of their barracks are horrible, but they cannot complain about their poor conditions of service, which have been begging for reforms for so many years. The #EndSARS protest was, in part, a rallying cry for the improvement of the welfare of police officers who are, unfortunately, portrayed as the dregs of society.
Life as a police officer can be better and purposeful, and I’m not sure they are exactly proud of the uniforms they wear. If they are, they are only pretending because the facts speak for themselves when you visit a police station or their barracks to see how they live. The conditions of police barracks require a constant physical examination and mental evaluation of police officers to be sure they are all right. When you hand over guns to men in uniform who are poorly treated, what exactly should we expect in return? They face us with their guns to meet up and we oblige them out of fear. If Abuja cannot do the needful, our officers must survive in one way or the other. But police officers are supposed to be our friends, right?
Society cannot survive when there is impunity and lawlessness, and society will always produce the leadership it deserves – it means individually and collectively, we have roles to play, as stakeholders, in choosing our leaders carefully in order to build a better society. However, when a state fails, the failure rests squarely on the shoulders of its leaders and political elite, and they must take full responsibility for acts of omission and commission. Last week’s mob action, violence, mindless looting were an embarrassing failure of leadership at all levels and a flagrant violation of the Nigerian constitution which guarantees the protection of life and property. The mob has no mind of its own and the only language mobs understand is violence and destruction which was on full display last week throughout the country. It does not matter whether the issues are polarised as #EndInsecurity in the North or #EndSARS and #EndPoliceBrutality in the South, they all mean the same thing – what we need is good governance. Period!
It was a difficult period for Lagosians after Black Tuesday as no part of Lagos was safe. Hoodlums and miscreants began to test the waters some days before the men in uniform allegedly killed harmless protesters in Lekki by mounting blockades at the different points of the city, which served as toll gates – you had to part with some cash to drive through. These were the early signs that all was not well. Anger, idleness, poverty and frustration helped to escalate the widespread violence and looting across the country. I have friends and family members who suffered huge losses for the second time in a row – they have become constant targets each time shops are looted. See how Shoprite, the popular supermarket chain in Lekki, was burnt down after it was completely looted. All the other shops in the mall were also not spared.
We have too many jobless youths milling around us who see crisis situations as opportunities to wreak havoc but the plain truth is that we cannot ignore them anymore. It is now evident that the recent events triggered by the #EndSARS protests are a wakeup call for the political elite. The key message is that the same people whom we call hoodlums were actually “vagabonds in power” for a few days – they created and manned their own territories – a very dangerous trend, while the breakdown of law and order lasted. No wall is too high for these characters to climb and no bush is too dense for them to go through.
Our leaders must understand the sociology of the moment and know that the solution is to serve their people well. It means local government chairmen and their councillors, parliamentarians; state governors and their appointees as well as the federal bureaucracy in Abuja should come down from their high horses and provide effective leadership that is result-oriented. Why is it difficult to do the right thing? The answer is simple: we are greedy people; including those who looted non-stop. But delivering the dividends of democracy is not rocket science and you are left wondering why things are the way they are. Politicians who ask for our votes think of only themselves because they are greedy and selfish, and they live on obscene salaries and allowances that they are proud to defend. What is the quantum and value of productivity from the National and State Houses of Assembly?
With due respect to the professionals among them, most of our lawmakers have not truly earned their current status. What are their antecedents? Which first job can they return to? They are at best professional hustlers with every government in power. For a job that should be part time, our lawmakers must understand that the #EndSARS protest is also a protest against their current unfathomable emoluments; it is also a protest against the huge security votes pocketed by state governors every month, and yet we say Nigeria is broke.
Indeed, Nigeria is actually broke; the economy is in recession and struggling to recover, but our politicians are unmindful of that and would therefore not consider reducing their emoluments. They should lead by example and cut the fat out of the National Assembly annual budget. This is the time for those we elected into office to act and review the payments aforementioned because they can no longer be justified and sustained in view of the anger and frustration boiling over around us. Public safety of everyone should be regarded as top priority going forward before we have another panic attack from mobs resorting to self-help.
No one in is his right senses would support violent behaviour but how do we explain why COVID-19 palliatives were stored in warehouses around the country when Nigerians are dying of hunger? The Nigeria Governors Forum gave a tepid response to what should pass as “Scandal of the Year”. Again, it highlights the burning issue of lack of trusting relationships between politicians and those who voted them into office. Whether we call the recent protests and mob action a “revolution” or our own “Arab Spring”, one thing is clear: youth consciousness has been created; awareness to bring about social justice and good governance has been raised, and there’s no going back.
It is therefore in the best interest of those in authority to listen to the cries of our youths and those who mean well for Nigeria; it is not too late to reset the agenda for a great and prosperous country that we shall all be proud of. When Lagos shut down last week, the Nigerian economy also shut down. Clearly, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu was between a rock and a hard place. As he responded to the crisis, his initial steps were tentative and doubtful. Sanwo-Olu is a good man but the demand of the office he occupies is like a tonne of bricks on the head of anyone – heavy, painful and stressful. When he addressed the media, he appeared worried, rattled, disconsolate and disconnected. Who wouldn’t be? He appealed to Lagosians to embrace peace, but at that time, the city was literally on fire. Even the 24 hours curfew was observed more in the breach.
There was palpable fear of the rampaging mob descending on the nearest neighbourhood. For about five days last week, Lagos was on another forced lockdown and, to make matters worse, some parts of Lagos did not have electricity. No one was sure what would happen next. There was uncertainty. By Monday, October 26, as businesses re-opened and workers headed back to their offices, there was an eerie feeling that was pregnant with unspeakable torment. “How safe would the roads be?” an associate asked me as he departed for work. “Don’t worry, you will be fine,” I assured him, “but be vigilant.” Lagos looked like a city just coming out of the ruins of a prolonged war. By 3 pm, workers, fearful of further attacks, closed and began to return home and banks also closed early at 1 pm. By 7 pm, there was unbearable traffic jam in Lagos, which was largely due to the absence of traffic police officers and LASTMA officials.
We can do without the current siege mentality of bash and grab; it is very wrong to damage public and private facilities or inflict harm on anyone under the guise of blind fury. Whether we believe it or not, Lagos State needs about N1 trillion or more to rebuild the city. As life gradually returns to normal, what we need to heal our wounds at this time is empathy, care and affection. Now is the time to show some love and we must allow peace to reign. I’m confident that we shall rise from the ashes of the civil unrests to build a better country. God bless Nigeria.
–Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)