‘Transition From SARS to SWAT was too Rash, too Brash and too Hasty’

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong dialogues with Dr. James Akanbi, an Accountant and Harvard-trained strategist on what lessons the federal and state governments should pick from the EndSARS campaigns

SARS was disbanded after three days of the EnSARS campaigns, but the protests endured into the second week, do you the youths overreacted themselves?

I would not think that way. I think the major problem with their insistence to remain on the street is about suspicion. The Nigerian people have not been able to trust the government. They view whatever promise the government is making with some cynicism. They think the government has not been very sincere with the citizens. What we are seeing is the accumulation of such mistrust and distrust from the past that is actually playing out now. If the government had been trusted in the past, we are not going to have this type of situation. If it were to be in other countries, the moment the government came out and said we have heard you and can you just give us a time frame and we will back with you, if they had been faithful in the past, the people will pick it up from there and everybody will go back to their place. I have been in the UK and the US, at times when issues like this are going and I have seen that just one single address from either the Prime Minister or the President had actually taken the people back into their homes. The problem we have here is the mistrust and distrust that have been there all these while. The government has not been able to come up with an articulated speech and idea about any issue and follow it through. They have not able to do that in the past. So, it just the harvest of that kind of leadership problem that we are just having now. Under a normal situation, the moment the SARS was disbanded, it should be over. That was supposed to be the real antidote, but the problem of the suspicion is the reason we still have the youths on the street

They went on to ask for five more demands, including improved welfare for men and officers of the Nigeria Police and a total reform of the police, now they are pressing for restructuring of Nigeria, do you think these demand can be met on streets and overnight,withoutthem coming to articulate at a roundtable. And what would you advise the government to do now under the circumstance?

This is a fertile ground for revolution. This is not really a revolution. There is a particular kind of spontaneity that came out with this matter. There is no structure. There is no leadership, no organisation or administration of the whole thing. It is just an advanced mob kind of stuff. That is why we have something that looks like ideological incoherence as at now. You see the people in Ibadan saying something and those in Lagos are saying another thing. Those in Edo are saying something else. That is ideological incoherence. You have it when the whole thing is a kind of spontaneous reaction. All that people are asking is as a result of the fact that it is not really a revolution because there is no coherence of ideology. That is the reason they are coming up with one thing today, another thing tomorrow. Some of these things that they are asking for, definitely anyone that knows governance knows that it cannot be met as it is. But do you know what the government is supposed to do? The President can no longer be operating through proxy with the current situation. He should have made several addresses to the nation. He should say, we have heard you. We know we made some mistakes in the past. We have not been able to follow through with some of our promises to you, but this is a different situation, can you just gove me some time frame and if I do not and if I do not come up with a definite solution, move back to the streets. With the volatility of the whole thing right now,if they should hear that from the President, the street will be empty within the next 24 hours. If the President says, if I do not come up with a pragmatica action within a certain time go back to the street, they will go back home. But we have been having governance by proxy, presidency by proxy, that cannot work in this kind of situation. The President has to speak as the father of the nation. The president has to empathic and sympathetic. The President has to own up to past failures. He has to own up that they were not trust worthy. It is not about him alone. It has been on over time. The President has to own up to some errors of the past in governance and he should make a definite promise that the governance is on a new turn, having seen the anger of the youths of Nigeria. If those who are not intelligent enough are still protesting, the intelligent ones will withdraw. You will discover that the thing will completely dissipate and everybody will go back home.

Many states have set up judicial commission of inquiries into police brutality, do you think the youths will be willing to wait for that period of time to see their desired results?

The little training that I have from Harvard on Strategic Leadership tells me that change must never be abrupt. The transition from SARS to SWAT was too rash, too brash and too hasty. Any change that will be meaningful must be international, must be with gradually and must be with a major pragmatism. There was no sufficient communication, no tactical engagement of the citizens and you move straight to a change like, do you think the people will trust you? That is where they messed it up. They think they can bring a kind of veil upon the people and say l ook you want disbandment of SARS and now SWAT is coming. No. I would think and expect that the police would just transfer the function of this SARS to another unit With a new modus operandi, get them to actually move strategically underneath and then come up later and announce the new body that is taking over some of the functions of the disbanded SARS. The moment they came up with that swift change, the people were no longer ready to trust the government. That was where the trust broke. They people then said thos government is not ready for action unless we back it up with some level of resilience and some violence, because when you have a government that only hears but does not listen, then you need some element of force to make them to listen. That is a very crucial thing in leadership. You don’t only hear, you listen. Nigeria has been having leaders who hear but do not listen. They have been taking the populace for a ride and that is why this set of people have said we must back up our demand with some element of force. It is wrong, but it is as a result of the past of the government . In these six months that some states have set as deadline for their judicial commission of inquiries, I can tell you, everything that is involved in their demands cannot wait for six months. There are some that can be done in double quick time. Look at what Saudi Arabia did when the Kashoggi issue came up, whether sincerelyor without sincerity, they first of all claimed all the 15 guys into prison and everyone knew they were in prison. They dismissed the best friend of the Crown Prince from his position . They acted fast, yes, the international community didn’t believe them, but at least within their own country they were able to calm nerves. In this situation, there are some things they can do within two weeks, like beginning the prosecution of SARS operatives with an established prima facie case of brutality, the lawyers are there and the matter is in court. When people see some pragmatism in the government action, they will begin to reason, but when you take the whole thing to six months, people know that government is looking for a cool off time. Before six months, what stops the President from inviting people with proven cases of police brutality to Aso Rock for lunch or dinner? He should personally handover compensation to them and apologise on behalf of the government. This SARS we are talking about was it s creation of the Nigerian Police? Were there no supervisors? Nobody can be blaming those operatives on the field. What about their supervisors? Where was the government when the bruatalities were taking place. The whole thing that happened now just reveals that our leaders are very much far away from the realities of modern governance. Do they want to tell us that have not been hearing of these brutalities before? Where was the Inspector General of Police? Where was the President? Did SARS create itself? There were individuals who were supposed to call those guys to order. Nobody was doing anything. Now the operatives are the sacrificial lambs, but some people have prospered from their excesses and the government was looking them. The IGP and commissioners of police were looking at them and did nothing. This shows that our leaders are faraway from modern governance.

The latest fire brigade response from government is the curfew, was this necessary?

That is a big error. How can you announce a curfew in a few hours, especially in Lagos. I would expect that it would take place with, at least one day notice to allow the protesters to get away from the street. Giving them just a few hours….and the police banned all protests immediately means they are still operating in the Nigeria of yesterday. The governance I see in Nigeria is the draconianism of the African fatherhood, where whatever I say is final within one minute. You don’t say anything against it. That is African draconianism and they are bringing it into governance. Nobody does that. You are coming within four hours to get people who are already on the Expressway, they are not on the service lane, to return home. It doesn’t work that way. I think our governance needs to be reformed before the police is reformed. They need to learn more about leadership. Anybody who has done a study on leadership will know that this one will not work. I hear that 15 people have been killed. Within the next 24 hours more people are going to be killed if care is not taken and that will get us into trouble with the international community. We will have a bad report from all over the world. It will be Nigeria getting bad publicity and a bad image. That is exactly where we are going. It is unfortunate, honestly.

Why has the leadership of the church and other religious leaders not been in the forefront of holding government accountable to the people?

The problem is still with this government. I am so sorry about that. Look at the body language of a person like Pastor Adeboye, General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. He does not need to speak before you know what is actually going on. Papa Adeboye went ot Aso Rock for a discussion with Buhari, I do not need to read their communique to know that Buhari did not listen to the man. Daddy GO came out and became a protester, he started talking about restructuring. I know him, he would have discussed that restructuring with Buhari privately. He is not someone who would want to engage you on public. He is not that kind of man. I am sure the kind of body language of the President that he noticed at the meeting told him to move to the street and go and tell it in the public. Some of the things he is saying now I know he would have out them on the table. People have taken protest to Redemption Camp before to tell him he is not saying something about the killings in the country, but he is someone who believes in private engagement of the authority. I know the last meeting between him and Buhari did not end well and that is why we are having the body language that makes people think he is no longer the statesman he used to be. For me he remains the same. He is the focal point of the church world in Nigeria to speak to authority. I think Papa Adeboye, Papa Kumuyi, Bishop Oyedepo, the head of the Anglican church and the head of the Catholic community should come together and insist on an audience with the President. If they don’t listen to them, they should sit there. Nobody will shoot them. One way or the other, a focal point for Christians was able to engage with the President at Aso Rock, but I am not sure the meeting ended well. No communique from that meeting till today, which shows something actually went wrong and the G.O. and opted to use the social and conventional media because the government was not listening. In the past I will agree that there was not leadership point that spoke to government from the church. The situation has changed now. There is no Christian in Nigeria today that does not recognise the hegemony of Papa Adeboye. He would always say in public that whatever CAN and PFN are doing has his blessings. That is leadership. He must have put his point on the table and it must have been synchronized.

Incidentally, Pastor Adeboye and the leadership of the church did a lot to persuade Christians to vote for Buhari because of his running mate, now Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Do you think the Vice President is in a quagmire that he cannot extricate himself from?

He is in a logjam. The man is locked up. He is a prisoner. There is nothing the man can do. Making him a proxy for the President now is like the Yoruba adage that says you send the son of fire to fire. They look at the whole thing as a South-western affair and you are a product of the South, start speaking to your people. That is exactly what they are doing, it is not that the respect him to that extent. All these while, the man was completely silenced. He was no where to be found, but now they have suddenly given him a voice. They have just made him an echo. It is not really Christian’s that said vote for Buhari because of Osinbajo. If you recall there was as much persuading for President Goodluck Jonathan. The politics in Nigeria is not based on ideology. It is about godatherism, ethnicity and religion. Mind you that has changed. With the current situation on the street now, it is already a fertile force for informed electorate. The kind of people who are going to come out of this, I doubt it if stomach infrastructure will actually work. People who are able to raise fund within a short while. It means, if the cause is bigger than the current one that we have, they would raise funds for it. People who are able to use an unregistered NGO to bring fund into the country. That is saying something. It is a serious matter. It means,there are some channels through which money can enter into this country to finance some of these kind of things. Within four hours, over N3 million was raised. There are some people waiting over there whi are prepared to channel money into the country. If the cause is bigger than the current one, we are going to have bigger funds to take care of it. Nigeria has changed. The earlier the government addresses itself to this, the better. Things can no longer be like the past. The election that is coming can no longer be like the past. The people have found their voice. The way they have been able to articulate two of the demands -the #EndSARS and #EndPoliceBrutality is a serious matter. It means,there are some Nigerians that can articulate some ideology and it becomes a rallying point for the society at large If this set of people become fully align to their cause, it means they can vote in a president. The best thing is for the government to sort out this matter on time so that the negative elements in the society will do more damage otherwisewe will be in a big mess. For the few days that have gone the GDP has suffered that is in addition to the effects of COVID-19. If we are not careful in the next three years Nigeria may not be able to get out of l these. The negative elements of the society dont care. They will keep eating, robbing people and doing all sorts of evil . The positive elements of the protests cannot feed anyhow. They have decent jobs. They go to work. They have companies. They can’t be on the street perpetually.

The EndSARS campaign is like an evaluation of this government by the youths

They have written a report sheet for the Presidency. It shows, there is something the youths can do for a better Nigeria. They just told them how well or how bad they have performed. They have been able to place us on a particular premise where the failures of the government have been able to come up. If the government is wise enough they should pick some lessons out of this. They need a lot of seminars on modern leadership. It is obvious that our leaders who campaigned and won election on the mantra of change do not know what change means and how to manage change. They dont know about the intentionality of change. They don’t know about the graduality of change. They do not know about the purposefulness of it. They do not that there is need for communication. They do not know there is need for diplomatic engagement of the people before you make a change to happen. That is what has just been revealed now. They should understand that our police has a lot of half-baked professionals and semi-illitrates. The police cannot really understand what is going on. What are talking about brutality? We want evidence from a suspect and we extract in some way, how have we been brutal? These are people who have not been taught other psychological ways of getting information. The police need a lot of graduates as the bench mark for training. Policemen may say they attend courses, the question is, who are you teaching? We all know that secondary school is for basic knowledge. The first and second year in the university is for more comprehension. Synthesis starts from the fourth year. Until you get to 700 and 800 courses before you begin to do things wisely . How can you be teaching a secondary school leaver in some art of governance and you think he is going to comprehend it? He can’t . Some of the things we blame police for, we should blame the system for them. They way people are nominated into the police force, you are going to get the wrong people. These are some of the lessons, government has to pick out of these. If you have a policeman that was introduced by his traditional ruler or local government chairman, he will think twice before getting involved in shameful actions

Destruction of government property is not the way to go. It will still compress and depress the economy further. In fact, it is an opportunity for some people to abuse their office again. They will come up with outlandish costs to fix these things again. Indirectly, we are punishing ourselves. These are not protests of ideology, they are protests of violence. There are some protests of ideology that get the results.

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People who are able to raise fund within a short while. It means,if the cause is bigger than the current one that we have, they would raise funds for it. People who are able to use an unregistered NGO to bring fund into the country. That is saying something. It is a serious matter. It means,there are so.e channels through which money can enter into this country to finance some of these kind of things. There are some people waiting over there whi are prepared to channel money into the country . If the cause is bigger than the current one, we are going to have bigger funds to take care of it. Nigeria has changed. Things can no longer be like the past. The election that is coming can no longer be like the past. The people have found their voice. The way they have been able to articulate two of the demands -the #EndSARS and #EndPoliceBrutality is a serious matter. It means,there are some Nigerians that can articulate some ideology and it becomes a rallying point for the society at large. If this set of people become fully align to their cause, it means they can vote in a president