POLSCOPE By Eddy Odivwri
My wife’s loud sob woke me from the light sleep I had fallen into because of the sedative effect of the malaria drugs I took. Her eyes were glued to the TV screen. I did not need to ask too many questions. Lagos, nay the country, was having a Black Tuesday. Innocent and unarmed protesters were being shot and killed by soldiers deployed to the Lekki toll gate by yet to be known “order from above”.
We had watched how things have gradually but steadily degenerated from the most organized peaceful protests ever, to a dangerous and chaotic one, leading to the declaration of 24-hour curfew by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. First, the notice for the curfew was less than four hours, as it was to start at 4pm that fateful Tuesday. But later shifted till 9pm, ostensibly to allow Lagosians get home from their workplaces.
The chaos this caused in an already-charged atmosphere is better imagined than experienced.
But more than an hour before the nine o”clock hour deadline, the killer soldiers had come. They came with their tools of trade: guns and hot leads. They wasted no time for protocol. When the protesters saw the invading soldiers, they knew, they did not come as friends. They all broke into singing the Nigerian Anthem, as they raised their small flags, believing that would be a patriotic code enough to save them. But not from this killer squad. The chant of the Nigerian anthem sounded like seditious martial music to them. They cocked their guns. A video recording showed one of the soldiers ordering the protesters to “just leave now in your own interest”, in a response to a female protester asking why they came. He had not repeated that statement up to three times, before the guns start blasting bullets, first into the skies, and then right into the midst of the protesters. Like flakes of Christmas light, the fire from the bullets lit up the dark skies. The protesters scampered. Some had fallen and bleeding. Many had been mowed down. Many had been murdered. And the Nigerian flags were soaked with blood. A martial sacrilege! It was pogrom at dusk. A needless murder.
The youths had nothing but placards and Nigerian flags. But they were mowed down by bullets that were never available to kill the Boko Haram terrorists. And fair-minded Nigerians got broken. They wept. They wailed. They cursed all the cursables.
Till as I write this on Wednesday evening, we still do not know the casualty figures. Some have said over 17 bodies were counted. Some say even more.
But I chose to believe and declare, like late J.P Clark that we are all casualties. Yes, we are. Those felled by the soldiers’ bullets are sons and daughter of a father like me. We are all casualties…..
Why the Protest Lingered
Many had thought that after the Lagos State government and the federal government listened to the demands of the #EndSARS protesters and promised to deal with their 5-point demand, so that the protesters will quit the streets. But it lingered for some reasons: one, there was the history of distrust. The people don’t trust government. They wanted immediate action to some of the demands before they can vacate the streets. Here was the same SARS that had been proscribed four times in three years. So how can the people trust government? The other reason to stay put on the streets was the annoying refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation on the issue. Pro-government publicists have argued that since Mr President had acceded to the demands of the protesters, what else is the point of addressing the nation? But hey, the people who elected you as the father of a nation say, address us, and you refuse? Indeed, did the President need to be nudged to address the nation in the face of the growing tension across the land? We have not forgotten how long it took him to address the nation when the Corona virus pandemic broke out early this year.
This address does not take anything away from the president. He’s got plenty of speech-writers. He’s got the medium, the recording of the address will be in the comfort of his room, it is free of charge, etc. So we do not understand the raw intransigence of Mr President. The entire senate and House of Reps passed a resolution asking him to address the nation. But it cut no ice. The people—the very givers/owners of your mandate say address us, and you say No.
If only the president had addressed the nation on this matter, perhaps all these tragic consequences could have been averted. Now, we have cut off our nose to spite our face.
Haba Mr President. What kind of unfatherly stubborness is that? Those who work closely with him explain that he reacts negatively to public clamour. In other words, he will never address the nation if that is what the whole world is clamouring for , just to prove that he is not weak, but has a mind of his own: very uncharacteristic of a politician. The President missed the moment to write his name in gold. He chose to be an object of public opprobrium and international ridicule. Already Mrs Hillary Clintoof USA, UK parliament is about debating sanctions against the Buhari administrations. Others include Rihanna, plus, the United Nations of the USA, have made scathing statements against the Buhari administration. NBA has vowed to sue the military. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Bishop Matthew, Professor Wole Soyinka, Hassan Kukah and many others have condemned the killings and called on Mr President to “act now before it is too late” No doubt, the condemnation is global. The dimension of the growing anger and destruction is not predictable. More are sure to follow.
The Entry of Miscreants
Politicians are curious set of people. They have been fingered in the infiltration of the ranks of the protesters by hoodlums. Here was a protest that had gone so peaceful for nearly two weeks with the youths singing and dancing all day, all night. Many of the musicians and other celebrities joined in the protests. They made no trouble. They ate and drank peacefully. They cleaned the streets where they protested. They donated their own monies to fete themselves. They did not allow any ”bigman” to hijack the movement. They stayed put chanting songs and waving their flags, banners and placards that was in demand of a better Nigeria. Who does not want a better Nigeria?
Then politicians reasoned that in other to discredit the peaceful and learned protesters, they should introduce miscreants into their midst who will wreak havoc and mayhem. We saw video clips of how big open trucks loaded with armed thugs from somewhere, got into Abuja . They began to attack the protesters and damage private properties. Who mobilized them? Where did the mobilisation fees come from?
In Lagos. the miscreants had attacked and burnt Orile-Iganmu police station, killed a policeman and burnt another Police Station in Ajegunle which was the immediate precursor to the 24-hour curfew declared by Gov Sanwo-Olu. Earlier on Monday, there had been two jail breaks in Benin releasing nearly 2,000 inmates. It is instructive that the police and other security agencies for whom the protesters have also fought for, looked away while the hoodlums attacked the protesters. In some cases, the police protected the hoodlums, not the protesters. It tells the story!
It was said each of the hoodlums was given N1,500, to cause the mayhem they unleashed. Those were the evidences the bileful government needed, to justify the rolling in of the tanks. And the killer soldiers were unleashed on the defenceless protesters.
Already, over 23 states have declared 24-hour curfew till further notice. Will it get to declaring National state of emergency? Time will tell in the next few days.
So, Who Deployed the Soldiers?
As at Wednesday evening the denial by the Nigerian Army that they were behind the killings at Lekki still subsisted. The soldiers were clearly in Nigerian army uniform. And an hour before they came, people believed to be security agents had come to demobilize the CCTV cameras at the tollgate, just as they also switched off the light, so they could be shielded by enough darkness when they start the killing spree. But we still could see them, including their faces. So how can the Nigerian Army say the soldiers were not their men? How? Who are those ‘zombie’ soldiers? Who gave them the order to kill innocent protesters?
Yet, in his Wednesday broadcast, Gov Sanwo-Olu admitted that the soldiers were behind the shootings. Hear him: “for clarity, it is imperative to explain that no sitting governor controls the rules of engagement of the military. I have nonetheless ordered an investigation into the rules of engagement adopted by the men of the Nigerian army that were deployed to the Lekki tollgate last night…” So who is lying? Is it the Nigerian Army or Gov Sanwo-Olu? How is it that the Nigerian Army had the audacity to send soldiers against innocent children , but lack the courage to admit same? If it is not “a country of anything goes”, heads ought to start rolling by now. But nay, it won’t happen! Sad!
Was Gov Sanwo-Olu Economical with the Truth_?
Until that Wednesday broadcast, Gov Sanwao-Olu had been the knight with shining armour among the protesters. He had been very co-operative, walking his talks. He had seemingly met all the demands of the protesters, :releasing names of police officers who brutalized protesters and ordered their trial, released N200million as compensation to victims of SARS brutality, visited families of killed victims, took the 5-point demand to meet Mr President; etc etc…. He had rolled well with them all along, including even matching with them too. But last Wednesday broadcast became a spoiler.
He had claimed that there were no casualties contrary to social media reports. He only admitted that there were 13 injured persons whom he had visited in the various hospitals. It was a sore point. Many were enraged as that “lie” drew the ire of the headlines. Many cursed and swore. About four hours later, the governor tweeted to say he’s been informed of one death. Really? Many believe the deaths were far more than one and reducing it to a hesitant one figure was rather callous and insensitive.
Destruction and Violence Rent the Air
After the shootings and killings of Tuesday night, the floodgate of violence was opened.
Protests have spread to London, and many other foreign countries.
As at Wednesday evening so many public and private properties have been razed down, Men suspected to be hoodlums unleashed themselves on Lagos and wreaked immense havoc. Not even the royal awe of the Oba of Lagos Oba could deter the miscreants. Over a dozen police stations had been burnt, not forgetting toll gates at Lekki and Ikoyi entry points,
NPA, TVC, VIO Yard, Nation Newspaper, High court Igbosere, Oriental Hotel, BRT Buses etc etc. Violence and destruction have continued to spread to other parts of Nigeria. No one knows how and when all these would end. Robbers seem to have been given a free ticket into town, with the police still in hiding? Sad!
The Way Forward
There is no gainsaying that the Nigerian people are very placid and long-suffering. Government after government have been taking them for granted. That is why we have remained undeveloped and corruption-ridden. How can it be explained that in Nigeria of today, many university graduates are either riding Okada (commercial motor bikes) or driving commercial buses aka danfo all to eke a living? But this government promised three million jobs a year, in 2015. Where are the jobs? Ask them today, they will log on to drabby excuses that beg the question.
How do we explain that after the fisty fight to raise the minimum wage to N30,000, that same amount can no longer buy a bag of rice. Common bag of rice! Inflation is at unprecedented above 16 %. Living and surviving has become many times tougher than what it was five years ago. Five years of Buhari administration is now looking like 15 years in purgatory. That is why there is much hunger and anger in the land. How can a responsible government not know this and do something about it? Is that not why we all say the #EndSARS protest is just a metaphor to condemn the many ills in government? How can it be explained that we who are a beggarly nation , borrowing huge sums from other countries are the same people whose lawmakers earn the highest salaries in the world? What is the rationale for a Nigerian Senator earning more than President Donald Trump of America? Yet we still expect grants and aids from these countries! Are we not a funny people?
So what I think the government should immediately do is to one:
* announce paycuts, especially of the lawmakers, because it is as ungodly as it is unreasonable.
*Arrest and arraign all indicted brutal SARS members, especially that notorious Anambra OC SARS, James Nwafor . There have been too many evidences against some of these tyrants such that the trial should not enjoy the shenanigans of judicial race course.
As said earlier, Mr President should shake-off his unhelpful policy and address his children. He is the father of the nation. That would douse much tension in quick pace.
Monies be made available to compensate families of all the victims of SARS and police brutalities. Thankfully, House of Reps Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila has vowed not to “sign off” on the 2021 budgets, if it doesn’t contain compensation packages for victims of SARS brutalities.
* Government and its officials must begin to treat the governed with respect and not continue in the flagrance and what-can-you-do mien, which they presently operate on. Only such a mindset would make a minister claim that the sum of N523,273,800 million was spent to feed school children during the lockdown. Such smelly lies!
Finally, President Mohammadu Buhari, if he is a true patriot and a good party man, he must put the interest of Nigeria first before any primordial sentiments that have largely defined his government. What he does or fails to do will determine the future and fate of his All Progressive Congress (APC) in the future. 2023 is not really far away.