The practice of democracy in Nigeria just received a boost as the government now fears the people, as opposed to the people being afraid of government.
The assertion above is underscored and illustrated by the fact that following persistent demonstrations and street protests, the authorities have eventually accepted the call by the youths of Nigeria for the disbandment of the highly dreaded and masses reviled police unit, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The authorities-President Muhammadu Buhari and Inspector General of Police (IGP) – had no choice but to harken to the voice of the ‘leaders on the streets’ who the protesters really are; since most of them are expected to be the ones occupying the positions that the current leaders are seating in, today. The ongoing protests culminating into the concession by government to disband SARS is an affirmation of the truism: Power belongs to the people; and it underscores the credo: Democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people.
President Muhammadu Buhari may not perceive how a few Democratic steps that he has taken in the past couple of weeks as policies have boosted his democratic credentials. Positive actions such as allowing the Edo State governorship election to hold without a sleight of hand that could have facilitated rigging the votes in favour of his party’s candidate; allowing free and fair election to hold in Ondo State, and by listening to the voice of the youths to dissolve SARS, are major milestones that have enhanced his democratic ethos that were in tatters following amongst other civil rights abuses, the arrest and detention of #RevolutionNow protesters, led by Omoyele Sowore. The foregoing, along with the other human rights abuses on citizens seeking to eke out a living by security agencies, recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic induced lockdown of the economy and even the outcome of the general elections in 2019, which a broad spectrum of Nigerians regard as dubious, drained all the balance of goodwill that he had in his account.
As President Buhari knows better than l do, dissent or protest is the oxygen that sustains democracy, because it is the evidence of liberty that differentiates democracy which is: Government of the People by the People and for the People; from dictatorship, autocracy and totalitarianism.
That the president and Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the armed forces of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari did not get carried away by the enormous power that he wields to unleash violence on the protesting youths, but instead yielded to the fervent and persistent call by the masses for the removal of the yoke of SARS and violent policing now pervasive in the country from their back. He has demonstrated pragmatism and inadvertently made some positive deposits in his bank of goodwill which had been depleted by the current monumental state of insecurity in the country arising from his resistance to the call for:
The replacement of military service chiefs; excruciating pains arising from the burden of excessive taxation -increase in Value Added Tax (VAT), from 5 to 7.5%; hike in fuel pump price and unjustified raise in electricity tariff, all in one fell swoop, in the middle of a pandemic that is decimating lives and livelihoods, without first of all providing robust palliatives.
Forget the shambolic Tradermoni, direct money transfer to indigent members of society, feeding school children and others that have proven to be channels for funneling public funds into private bank accounts: Let’s talk about palliatives such as free education for all up to secondary school level and student loan for those interested in proceeding further to higher institutions from the trillions of naira to be saved from the discontinuation of fuel subsidy. Such a policy is a sure bet for the provision of succour for the long suffering Nigerians who have an insatiable thirst for education but have been denied due to poverty.
If the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo, could offer free education to Yoruba people with proceeds from cocoa export, l see no reason why the Nigerian government with the humongous income from oil and gas cannot afford to offer all Nigerians that are interested in education, the opportunity to get it for free.
Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, and others have hinted at the underutilisation and untapped human capital in Nigeria which studies have revealed is dominated by the youths. The ongoing #EndSARS protest is obviously a negative fallout of the youth bulge which experts have been trying, without success in the past decade, to get the authorities to pay some attention.
I will dwell further on what our government can do to incorporate our youths into governance and what can be done with the oil/gas revenue saved from the stoppage of the revenue guzzling fuel subsidy later. But first of all, let’s interrogate the nagging question:
Can End SARS Protests Truly Be The End To Violent Policing in Nigeria?
As Simon Kolawole, a Thisday newspaper columnist revealed in his Sunday, October 17 piece on the back page of Thisday newspaper titled “NOT SARS ALONE”,the unequivocal answer is no.
Justifying his position with a chilling, startling and highly valuable account that’s often Ignored about the toxic level of violence in the police force, which he obtained from reliable sources, he argues thus:
“I don’t want to be an alarmist, but SARS is not the most deadly unit of the Nigeria Police Force. In fact, those who are very familiar with NPF operations have told me that SARS can be regarded as a gang of nice guys compared to two others.
“When you are talking about impunity and savagery, SARS is still learning the job compared to the Special Anti-kidnapping Squad (SAKS) and the Special Anti-Cultism Squad (SACS),” a police source told me. “It was SACS operatives that killed Kolade Johnson at the viewing centre in Lagos in March 2019 but people thought it was SARS.” The source said members of the disbanded SARS could even be reposted to the two deadlier units”
The realisation that the atrocities of the obnoxious SARS is a child’s play and pales into nothing compared to the aforementioned Death Squads-SAKS, SACS in the police force is blood cuddling and therefore a darn good reason for the authorities to go beyond changing the nomenclature of SARS to SWAT, which in fact is mere cosmetic, as the aggrieved youths have been insisting, and hence their continued stay on the streets.
In fact, this may just be the right time for our legislators to step into the matter, so that posterity would accord them better judgement.
Acquiescence at a critical point like this, when the youths that constitute about 60% of our population are agitating for better treatment by the police and leaders of government in general, may be one of the reasons the members of the 9th Assembly and Republic are often referred to as mere rubber stamp.
This is the opportunity for the National Assembly (NASS) to reclaim respectability by intervening on the side of the youths. Same applies to members of the judiciary. This arm of government does not have to engage frontally in the resolution of the crisis. But it can utilise back channels via creation of mediating forums or platforms for both the youths and executive arm of government to connect and harsh out amicable agreements. Whether our leaders want to accept it or not, our country is in crisis.
The fiendish nature of these police units – SARS,SAKS and SACS that instead of protecting the people have been perpetrating sheer cruelty and naked savagery, makes mockery of the police moniker – Police is your friend.
So the measure taken so far by government to assuage the anger of the youths, such as accepting their five-point demand to end SARS and the establishment of a committee to reform the police force may not be enough to de-escalate or get #EndSARS protesters off the streets.
So, it is about time that the issues that have been thrown up by protesters such as jumbo pay to our legislators in comparison to the emoluments of their counterparts in other climes and the high cost of governance underscored by the N125 billion allocated to just 465 legislators while a miserly N46 billion is allocated to health and mere N48 billion set aside for the education for a country with a population of 200 million people in budget 2021, does not leave government in a good place.
If the claim by some policemen and women that the salary of a police sergeant, and indeed other men and women in uniform is a paltry N50,000, is true, little wonder our country has been losing the war against Boko Haram terrorists and bandits.
How can our security forces that are so dispirited by poor remuneration, be motivated to fight against the bandits and terrorists who by all indications are enjoying abundant food, excess cash and even surplus women kidnapped that are being used as sex slaves, and meat from rustled cattle as well as cash robbed from banks satiate their nefarious intents.
What makes it impossible for government to reduce the cost of governance or re-allocate some resources for instance by cutting down the emoluments of legislators and increasing the wages of men and women in the military who bear the burden and wield deadly weapons to defend us and are unfortunately some of the lowest paid in system?
It sucks, because it is so unjust and inhuman that a sergeant in the armed forces is earning a paltry sum of N50,000, as monthly salary, while legislators earn in excess of N29 million monthly, which l can’t verify simply because legislator’s salary is opaque. By some estimates it is in multiple folds higher than the wage that a university professor earns monthly. Have the authorities ever considered the reason extortion of students and sex-for-grades by some lecturers in our higher institutions have assumed or attained epidemic levels, just as the SARS brutality hit a pandemic level? There may be connections to the meagre emoluments and l urge social scientists to carry out surveys to see if they can connect the dots.
Testy periods like this call for a paradigm shift in income redistribution in our public service wages system. Why should the bulk of public funds go into funding consumption as reflected by the fact that year-on-year, the operating/expenditure (OPEX) portion of our national budget is always higher than the capital expenditure (CAPEX).
It is equally absurd and disturbing that governors would be driving around in expensive and glittering SUVs along with a convoy of exotic cars with tax payer’s money, which is ostensibly why governor, Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State, the FCT minister and governor, Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State recently faced the wrath of the protesters, who were obviously appalled that the governors and minister were not showing any sense of remorse, in the light of the fact that fellow citizens that they are ruling over are poverty crushed and as a result are committing suicide.
I don’t know if anyone noticed that the VIP vehicles blockaded by the youths are exotic and foreign made, while local manufacturers like Peugeot and Innoson Motors amongst others are unable to sell their locally-assembled vehicles which could have enabled them create jobs for the army of unemployed youths now blocking the roads in protest.
To gauge the level of frustration or determine how afflicted our youths are, we simply have to recall that only recently, youths were plunging themselves into the lagoon in Lagos State due to actions or inactions of government that drove them into giving up their own lives. There are also hordes of youths, especially in the north dying in droves in the course of fighting terrorists or bandits (members of Civilian JTF) as terrorists, who have been in control of the vast hinterland of northern Nigeria, are now creeping into the cities.
The frustrating experiences of the youths, most of whom have found themselves in a bind, as they have been unable to find formal jobs either in the establishments or private sector, so resort to harnessing the benefits of the digital age or gig economy by doing business online, and yet the police is not relenting in maiming and killing them after stripping them of their hard earned funds. This is what has amongst other factors, galvanised our youths into the current potent force of resistance that they have become.
And the lack of understanding by law enforcement agents that simply because the youths are not in possession of identity cards indicating that they are bankers, lawyers, stock brokers, and civil servants, does not make all of them fraudsters, when they are seen wearing fancy clothes, driving posh cars or clutching exotic digital phones or laptops.
That’s on top of the fact the security forces have to be told that they do not have the right to stop and search youths on the streets demanding for their identity cards or pry into their phones or laptops without court order as that amounts to gender profiling which the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not approve.
So re-educating the security agencies about the new digital age and gig economy whereby businesses can be carried out virtually, on contract and for short term, should be a major focus and priority in the police reform agenda.
That’s not to say that cybercrime scourge does not exist in our society. In fact, it is part of the problem because the insignificant number of such bad eggs amongst the youths has been the excuse for the scotch earth agenda of annihilation of the youths not engaged in traditional form of work by the nefarious ambassadors of the police force.
But bursting such cybercrime should be left to those who know how to do it best-like the unit headed by DCP Abba Kyari that unraveled the killers of the teenager Lynda Osokaogu who was lured to her death by internet criminals; and the team cooperating with INTERPOL to track down cybercrimes culprits such as Hushpuppy and his ilk that admittedly abound in our society.
As some commentators have pointed out, the genie is now out of the bottle and it would take dexterity to put it back.
It is worth recalling that it took the 1, 000, 000 man march by Nnamdi Kanu in support of the late military dictator Sani Abacha, for the Niger Delta youths, who were afforded the opportunity of visiting Abuja for the first time, to see and learn firsthand, how the oil wealth generated from their region was splashed in Abuja. It is on record that it is the site of the opulence in the FCT that galvanised them into a force that escalated the resource control struggle that consumed late dictator, Abacha and overwhelmed ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo until Umaru Yar’Adua, of blessed memory dexterously managed it.
As for our youths who have decided to literally take their destiny into their hands, and have made their voices heard by virtue of the fact that government has moved the needle a bit by accepting their initial five-point demand, my counsel to them is that it is time to negotiate.
In my experience, dissent and protest are soft weapons for compelling leaders to come to the table for negotiations with aggrieved parties. And it seems to me like the government is now ready for a roundtable negotiation with the youths. The anger of the youths is palpable for all to see and feel, just as the energisation and galvanisation of their collective power cannot be denied. But the massive power that they possess, of which they are now wielding, shouldn’t give them the Dutch courage of engaging government in a do or die affair or put them in a fight to finish mode.
As part of their bargain in the negotiations, the youths should demand for the allocation of at least 25-30% of public offices to them. Incidentally, going by the social media post that came into my orbit recently, the preacher, TB Joshua of Synagogue Church was the first to make the suggestion of engaging our youths in government in 2013. This is not odd, given the fact that 30% of public office positions are today allocated to the womenfolk. And the gesture is a positive outcome of consistent advocacy by the so-called weaker sex.
Against the backdrop of the fact that the youths are indeed the leaders of tomorrow and deserve mentorship from those currently in leadership positions in order to achieve seamless succession, the proposition that the role of junior ministerial positions should, willy nilly be assigned to youths, cannot be more apt as it is indisputable.
As witnessed or obtainable in the private sector, entrepreneurs groom their children or siblings in their youthful age to be successful managers or inheritors of their firms, be it in banking, manufacturing, or in providing services. And such succession plans have been quite efficacious.
The ability of our youths to give a good account of themselves, if offered the opportunity to serve in public offices, even as junior ministers, was on parade in the course of the protests. I’m impressed by the fact that the youths were able to keep hoodlums out of the protests, thereby preventing looting and vandalisation; they fixed cars that were damaged in the course of the protests; provided medical attention to the injured and fed those who were hungry as well as offered same welfare to the police – their so-called tormentors.
Most of all, the youths raised their own money (last count N60 million) to underwrite the costs of the aforementioned activities and finally, cleaned out the debris created in the venues in which they held their rallies. In my estimation that’s quite remarkable and commendable.
Another good reference point to how productive our youths can be, would be found in the period that Nasir el-Rufai, the present governor of Kaduna State, was the Minister of the FCT. He engaged our youths in the development and management of Abuja, which is why it was the cynosure of many eyes, including visiting European heads of state.
SARS and it’s obnoxious cousins SAKS and SACS, three fingers of a leprous hand (apologies to late Bola Ige) should have been scrapped long ago. The hip-hop music rapper, Naira Marley, at one time stirred up a ruckus with SARS over invasion of his privacy, the authorities did not pay mind to it probably because the young musician’s body is covered in tattoos. A typical red flag for SARS members whose mindsets are anchored in the cave age.
So the authorities have been listening in breach, by which l mean that instead of listening to public outcry against the cruelty of the security agencies, the authorities have been engaging in esprit de corps. And that’s a way of saying injury to one is injury to all.
Which incidentally is the strategy that the youths have also adopted to protect themselves collectively from the menace of the apparently deranged and rabid men and women in uniform who relish torturing or taking the lives of innocent youths who fail to satiate their thirst for filthy lucre.
After all is said and done, the dastardly acts of the goons and thugs in police uniform have been forcefully brought to the knowledge of Aso Rock Villa.
The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, has apologised to the youths for the oversight on the part of government for allowing the perdition of youths to fester, and the ever effervescent First Lady, Aisha Buhari, looks like she is ready to join #EndSARS campaign, if not that she has been reportedly busy cooking up her own menu of #end insecurity in the north.
Hopefully heads will also roll after her campaign gathers steam and momentum.
As a crisis manager, my advice to President Buhari would be for him to come out tomorrow with an #EndSARS face cap on his head and placard in his hand.
I believe such a gesture of goodwill and olive branch would in the manner that melancholic music calms the nerves of a charging monster, cool the temper of our enraged youths.
The touted Operation Crocodile Smile by the army scheduled for Tuesday, should be completely out of the agenda or loop of Aso Rock Villa, if peaceful resolution of the crisis is the quest of government.
What President Buhari probably does not realise is that before he assumed his present role as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2015, he was almost deified, especially by his oft touted 12 million supporters in the north. Permit me to be blunt, because there is no other way that I could say it better. The stark reality is that barely five years into his presidency of eight years, Mr President has been demystified because he has basically been unable to meet the expectations of his admirers to defeat the terrorists wrecking their lives. Instead, further misery from bandits have been added. And the quest to reduce, if not eliminate hunger has also been unfulfilled. Rather, poverty and starvation have been made worse due to the inability of the masses to attend their farms as result of insecurity that pervades the land.
These are just two unmet basic needs of members of his support base who are more in the hinterlands.
As President Buhari races against time, can he be able to reverse the negative perception and regain his glory by putting the country on an even keel before he exits power in 2023?
I would argue that he would, if he puts his reforms machinery on full throttle.
He is already on the correct path by trying to reverse the negative trend in the anti-corruption fight having set up the Justice Ayo Salami panel, to investigate the investigators. By the same token, he has also settled teachers by his recent approval, on Labour Day for an increase in their salaries.
Taking on the task of reforming the police and cutting down the high and wasteful government spending by at least shuffling some funds from the over pampered legislators to the men and women in uniform, would bring back the glory that may be lost, if he is unable to put Nigeria back on even keel before he bows out in 2023.
-Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, an alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Massachusetts, USA and a former cabinet member of Delta state government, sent this piece from Lagos.