Sanwo Olu

The governor’s handling of the SARS protest has again showed the stuff he is made of, writes Kayode Abiodun

For the past week, young Nigerians, particularly the Generation Z, have trooped out with one voice to condemn the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the police. For them, aside from being burdened with a Nigeria that has gradually worsened economically to the stage of earning the grim title of poverty capital of the world, they have also endured police harassment. With the vent aided by technology, spirited fundraising and global television, the whole world watched as Nigerian youths took a stance against police brutality. And as they found their voice with the protests, it became obvious that it would take more than vacuous promises to take them off the streets.

When the #ENDSARS protests started across the country, it was a given that Lagos would be the epicentre. And it was. The Lekki toll gates, Lagos-Ibadan expressway at Alausa as well as other places in the metropolis have become protest landmarks.

To the political, religious and traditional leaders who condescendingly refer to them as ‘Indomie Generation’, the level of organisation, cohesion and sense of purpose exhibited by the youths has come to them as a rude shock. It must have been a rude awakening too to Mohammed Adamu, the Inspector General of Police, that his announcement of the replacement of SARS with Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team was not welcomed by the youths. Of course, the youths are sophisticated enough to realise that it may be just a change of nomenclature and not the lasting reform which the police truly need.

The ‘traditional’ leaders developed cold feet and still lips, not knowing how to handle the unprecedented outburst of the youths. But not the exemplary Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Again, he showed the stuff great leaders are made of. Sanwo-Olu felt the youths’ pain. He not only permitted the protesters chance to air their grievances right at the gate of his office in Alausa, he also joined in. Hence, it was not surprising when he took the protesters’ five-point grievances to President Muhammadu Buhari.

The grievances include releasing all the protesters, setting up a trust fund to pay compensation to families of protesters that have died, setting up an enquiry, mandating every state governor to set up a team to look into the agitations and increasing the salaries of policemen. But while presenting the youths’ anger to the president, the president’s body posture was not assuring. It’s sad. However, Sanwo-Olu should understand that he may have to single-handedly address this protest. Already, he is doing well, first, by admitting culpability of the crimes committed by the now disbanded police unit. He has also raised N200 million as a means of compensating victims of the identified victims. While such compensation can never replace people cut off in their prime, it serves as a balm to know that the Lagos State government recognises their plight and the token is to share their pain. Such gestures must as a matter of urgency be adopted by other states as well as the federal government. Okay, the Police Service Commission has pointed out that it would dismiss 37 ex-SARS officers and prosecute 24 others for misconduct. That is also a good first step. But if stories emanating from the website, and other stories from protest grounds are anything to go by, then, the PSC has more numbers of erring officials to fish out.

On Saturday, Sanwo-Olu paid a condolence visit to the widow, Ngozi Iloamuazor, and family of Okechukwu Iloamuazor at Ebutte Metta. Iloamuazor, 55, a driver was hit by bullets during the protest in Surulere last Monday and died on the spot.

“On behalf of the State Government, and the people of Lagos, I commiserate with the family over this mindless brutality that led to the death of your son,” Sanwo-Olu said, addressing the family.

In that incident, a policeman, Inspector Ayodeji Erinfolami, also died. And just like Sanwo-Olu announced on Friday that the four erring officers responsible for shooting Iloamuazor are being tried, it would be great to have the Oyo governor, Seyi Makinde, investigate and announce the identity of the policeman responsible for killing protesters at Ogbomoso. Also, while CSP James Nwafor, the erstwhile Special Adviser to Anambra State governor, Willy Obiano, has been relieved of his duty and the state government promised he would be prosecuted, it is sad that it took the protests to reveal Nwafor’s crime of ‘extra-judicial’ killings which was already public knowledge.

Managing this #ENDSARS protests is the second major challenge that has tested Sanwo-Olu’s mettle as governor of the most dynamic Nigerian state. It was impossible to ignore his sterling handling of the Coronavirus pandemic earlier in the year. As Nigeria joined the rest of the world in shutting down, while the federal government and many other states merely engaged albeit unsuccessfully in trial and error moves, Lagos developed and focused on a plan. It led the way by testing, building Covid-19 centres, dispatching food aid to vulnerable citizens and setting out a plan to mitigate the scourge of the pandemic. The exemplary move by the state government also spurred private citizens to support the Covid-19 fight.

Lagos is the soul of Nigeria. It is the only state that attracts other Nigerians and many foreigners. Patently unique, Lagos is blessed with quality leadership and it’s nice to note that Sanwo-Olu is running full-speed with the baton.

In many other ways, Sanwo-Olu has endeared himself to Lagosians. Is it his uncommon touch with ordinary Lagosian in development strides across several sectors? Or the quick response to the various emergencies in the state under his watch? Or the continuous intervention of his administration in upgrading roads in the state? Or the continuous promotion of arts and culture with the regular festivals?

And there is even more that is yet to be unravelled. I wish Sanwo-Olu more success and grace as he continues to steer Lagos to greater heights.