THE HORIZON WITH KAYODE KOMOLAFE
The current protests of the youths spreading across the country, under the bold banners of #ENDSARS, were provoked by serial assaults on freedom and human dignity. So, the issue at stake is that of justice, which Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka says “is the first condition of humanity.” Backed unambiguously by the constitution and immensely supported by the public, the citizens on the streets calling for a definitive end to police brutality and extra-judicial killings are on a legal and moral terra firma.
What’s on display is the power of legitimately angry youthful citizens. At least, in this instance, the young people have constituted themselves into a social force which those in power can no more ignore.
So, it is significant in many respects that it is the issue of social justice and human rights that has triggered these protests that are gaining momentum by the day. The notoriety of some of the elements of the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force was only a sectoral manifestation of the pervading climate of social injustice in an inhumane society.
According to the Amnesty International, 10 persons have been killed since the protests began a few days ago. Some of the protesters have been brutalised, arrested and illegally detained. Journalists covering the protests including those reporting for Arise TV have been beaten up with their equipment destroyed or seized. The footage of a lady being assaulted by the police in Lagos and another protester being dragged on ground were particularly horrifying. The participants in the protest are doubtless
making enormous sacrifice and taking a huge risk on behalf of the whole society Yet, the resolve of the angry young men and women on the protest grounds is unmistakable. Given the worsening crisis of the political economy, it was always predictable that the fury of the people would burst into the streets one day.
As a matter of fact, the groundswell of discontents of the youths has been on the rise in the cyberspace for years. This virtual expression of massive anger in the social media is now being transmuted into physical forms as marches, sit-ins and waving of placards on the streets and at the offices of those in power. On this occasion
the campaign is against police brutality. This transition in operational mode of the youths should be well understood by the government and larger society alike. Pundits have long wondered why young Nigerians have not used the power of their demographic majority to change things in the polity, economy and society.
For instance, some psephologists have posited that despite all the virtual wars young people wage on the internet during elections they hardly vote or participate constructively in the political process.
The projection of these experts is that the dynamics of the political process would be different if there is a greater involvement of the young people. Meanwhile, an enormous ferment is being generated by the material questions of existence – joblessness, hunger, poor access to quality education, lack of universal healthcare, hopelessness etc. The youths are the worse victims of these socio-economic inequities that define the Nigerian society.
It would, perhaps, be uncharitable to say that governments at all levels are not yet getting the real message of this extremely tragic development: the society is being put on alert to resolve its endemic crisis so that more victims are not consumed by the system. It is a positive step that the legitimacy of peaceful protests by citizens is fully acknowledged in the official response.
Inspector-General Mohammed Adamu has dissolved SARS and a new unit, the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) is to be established. In a meeting with the civil society organisations yesterday, the inspectorgeneral reiterated the promise to investigate the alleged violations of human rights by some members of the defunct SARS.
Mental and psychological evaluation of those accused of atrocities would be done by the police authorities. It is worthy of salute that the protesters are not only calling for an end to police brutality; they are also suggesting improvement in the welfare and working conditions of the police as the fulcrum of the police reforms that have been proposed in many quarters for years.
President Buhari himself has said that the government’s response so far would only be the “first step” to the reforms of the police. The government should move swiftly with honesty of purpose to implement existing laws, decisions and recommendations of panels in this respect.
This is the way to earn the trust of the people. Concrete steps being taken by the government should also assuage the anger of the protesters on the streets and many more people who are “carrying placards in their minds,” as the late governor of the old Imo State, Sam Mbakwe, would put it.
In the circumstance, the protesters should be suggestible. All told, the expression of the anger in the land through the protests are a concrete proof that real dividends of democracy are to be located in freedom, social justice and respect for human rights. The protesters are asserting the inherent values of popular democracy. The promotion of these values should always preoccupy those in charge of governance. Beyond this, the socio-economic crisis plaguing the land should be competently and urgently tackled so as to avoid wider protests.