Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has again reiterated that his government would not fold its arms and allow miscreants and criminals continue to perpetrate acts of hooliganism in the country.
He said it was unfortunate that the initial genuine and well-intended protest of youths in parts of the country against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was hijacked and misdirected.
Buhari stated this on Friday in Abuja, during a virtual meeting with the former Presidents.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, in a statement issued at the end of the meeting, said all living past leaders attended the meeting. They include Gen. Yakubu Gowon, President Olusegun Obasanjo, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, Gen. Abulsalami Abubakar, and former President Goodluck Jonathan.
“Buhari reiterated that the government will not fold its arms and allow miscreants and criminals continue to perpetrate acts of hooliganism in the country,” the statement said.
At the meeting, the President recounted the initial concessions made by his administration on the demands of youths protesting against the excesses of some members of the SARS.
Buhari recalled that the youths had demanded that the squad be disbanded, and further articulated the additional demands.
The statement said the President added that part of the demands that were met included, the immediate release of all arrested protesters and justice for deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.
”Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of Police misconduct within 10 days.
”Psychological evaluation and re-training of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be re-deployed; and increase in Police salary.
”We accepted all the demands and proceeded immediately to scrap SARS and started the process of addressing the other demands.
”Unfortunately, the protesters refused to call off the protest and engage the Government to address their grievances. Instead, they became emboldened and gradually turned violent,” the President told the former leaders.
Buhari, was however said to have expressed concern that in the mayhem that ensued, many lives had been lost, a number of public and private properties completely destroyed or vandalized.
The President reaffirmed that his government would continue to improve good governance through our democratic process including through sustained engagement.
He stressed that his government would continue to ensure that liberty and freedom, as well as the fundamental rights of all citizens were protected.
“Here, I want to also reaffirm our commitment to preserving the unity of this country,” he added.
The President also thanked the former Heads of State for attending the meeting and their invaluable comments, observations and advice, adding that ”Nigerians expect nothing less from responsible statesmen.”
The statement stressed that the former heads of state were unanimous in their view that generation of employment and growing the economy including through direct foreign investments were critical to checking youth restiveness.
Each of the former leaders also commended Buhari for steps taken so far to restore calm and order to the country and also applauded the presidential broadcast of Thursday as detailed and soothing to the country.
They also expressed their condolences to the bereaved families of civilians, policemen and soldiers killed as a result of the violent protest, and reaffirmed the commitment to respect the fundamental rights of citizens, including for peaceful protest as enshrined in the Constitution.
The statement said the former Heads of State also condemned the divisive and inciting pronouncements of separatists, and were of the opinion that such acts should be stopped.
The statement quoted remarks made by former President Obasanjo commending the speech the President delivered in a state broadcast Thursday night.
”I commend the speech of last night. The nation had been waiting. You made points that I believe need to be commended. Peaceful demonstration is part of democratic practice. The demands of the genuine protesters were accepted, and you are working on implementation,” said Obasanjo, who had previously berated Buhari for his handling of the protests.
The statement further said the former leaders commended the actions taken by governors to address the demands of the ENDSARS protesters and their efforts to check the excesses of those who perpetrated violent acts and conduct, and called on youths to pursue peaceful means in seeking redress through engagement with government.
The former leaders also encouraged further conversation with the youths and other stakeholders in the country.