Burning Issues from #ENDSARS Protests

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Using the word ‘unfortunate’ to describe the events that transpired last Tuesday, October 20th and Wednesday October 21st, 2020 would be a gross understatement. It will go down in the annals of our nation’s history, as two of the darkest days in our democracy – ‘BLACK TUESDAY’ and ‘LOOTING WEDNESDAY’ (collectively referred to as the BLACK DAYS).

Condolences

Before I proceed, I seize this opportunity to sympathise with the #ENDSARS Protesters who were injured in the attack unleashed by ‘unknown soldiers’ (in the words of late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti) at the Lekki Tollgate, and thank God for sparing their lives. The issue of those who may have lost their lives there, remains unclear; but, however, even if it was only one life that was lost, it is a life too many and I express my heartfelt condolences to the deceased’s family (I stand to be corrected).

To those who were maimed or killed, including Police men and Soldiers during the Blacks Days, I also pray for the repose of their souls, and express my sympathies to their families. And to those whose properties, belongings and sources of livelihood were destroyed by the hoodlums/miscreants, I pray that God will compensate, restore and replenish you all. Amen. Whether fake or real bullets, whether shooting into the sky, onto the ground or directly at the #ENDSARS Protesters, the Army had no business being at the Lekki Tollgate or opening fire there (see the various UN and African Charters and Protocols).

That Government has failed us, is stating the obvious. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the primary purpose of Government is the security and welfare of the people – Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution). Unfortunately, Government is oblivious and unaware of its protective role, and seems to have connived and plotted against the citizens, instead. I say this with all sense of responsibility and sincerity, as a result of my observations of the terrible events which transpired during the Black Days (as I am not given to unproven conspiracy theories). Therefore, while I shall refrain from laying blame on specific individuals for now until we have more information, I cannot but hold the Government as a whole, responsible for the attack on our Youths on Black Tuesday, and the theft, destruction and mayhem that followed on Looting Wednesday (and continued in other parts of the country well into the weekend). After all, for the one week of the #ENDSARS protest, there was no incidence of violence, until the unknown soldiers showed up to disperse the Protesters on that fateful day.

Allegations Against the Nigerian Army

Is it not ironical that the peaceful #ENDSARS Protesters at the Lekki Tollgate who were demanding that Government put a stop to the excesses of the Police, ended up being brutalised by unknown soldiers on Black Tuesday? In Yusuf v Obasanjo 2005 18 N.W.L.R. Part 956 Page 96, Salami JCA (as he then was) declared that: “It is up to the Police to protect our nascent democracy and not the Military, otherwise the democracy might be wittingly or unwittingly militarised”. It is actually the duty of the Police, to protect Protesters. Who then called in the unknown soldiers and why? The Youths were never security threat. Even though access had been impeded in different areas that the Protesters gathered (which disturbed people from going about their lawful business in those areas), and Government may have alleged that there was some kind of civil disobedience because of that, civil disobedience is not a crime let alone warrant the Army to descend on Protesters in the manner they did; certainly, the Protesters did not qualify as those that Government would call out the Army to quell, and such action must be strongly condemned while those responsible, held accountable. After all, the #ENDSARS Protesters were organised, peaceful, prayerful, even cleaning up after themselves.

This leads me to my second observation – the same Government or whoever, who found it easy to send armed soldiers to disperse unarmed peaceful youths, did absolutely nothing and left hoodlums to run riot in Lagos even in broad day light, looting, burning and destroying, as if to punish Lagos for being the epicentre of the #ENDSARS protest. As I was having a telephone conversation with a close friend on mine who happens to reside on Bode Thomas Street around 9pm on Looting Wednesday night, I was frightened and worried for her family. I could hear the loud rough voices of the miscreants, shouting on the street as they ferried away their loot. When we spoke first thing the next morning, my friend confirmed that the looting went on till the early hours of Thursday morning. There’s a Police Station on Bode Thomas Street, a stone’s throw away from Shoprite on Adeniran Ogunsanya, where the miscreants looted and wrecked with gusto and aplomb, and yet, nobody came to the rescue. This was only one location out of many, that were looted and destroyed by miscreants. The Army, Police and all other law enforcement agencies did not respond to the emergencies; in fact, they were nowhere to be found on Looting Wednesday.

For this, the Federal Government, the Inspector General of Police (IG) and Lagos State Commissioner of Police (CP), (the Army, Civil Defence) must be held accountable for their failure to stop the looters, because Section 215(2)of the Constitution puts the Nigeria Police Force under the command of the IG, while 215(4) empowers the Governor of a State to give the CP lawful direction regarding the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order within the State as he may consider necessary, as in these circumstances. Even though the proviso in Section 215(4) states that the CP may request that the matter be escalated to the President or Minister in charge (obviously through the IG)(before acceding to the Governor’s request), I submit that in the particular circumstances of Looting Wednesday, the CP and his men had their work cut out for them without need for escalation anywhere (indeed, all law enforcement agencies had their work cut out for them) – the miscreants were out of control in broad daylight, and for some unknown reason, law enforcement all failed to salvage the situation.

I cannot imagine that on Looting Wednesday, Governor Sanwo-Olu sat twiddling his thumbs while numerous precious, valuable, State assets, and even his Mother’s house, went up in flames. We cannot rule out the possibility that, the Presidency and the IG may have deliberately held back and failed to respond timeously to Mr Governor’s cries for help, again reiterating the urgent need for State Police which would have been at his beck and call, to save the day (Restructuring). This issue must be thoroughly interrogated.

As far as I’m concerned, we can only get to the truth if an independent inquiry is undertaken. The Army/Government certainly cannot be asked to investigate itself – that would be absurd – Nemo judex in causa sua (no one is judge in his own cause). Additionally, the truth of the matter is that, most Nigerians have no faith in most of our panels of inquiry – nothing usually comes out of them; and if Government is to be sincere and committed to proving that it was not complicit in the sad chain of events, we would be better off inviting an international body like an International Commission of Inquiry set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council (as was done in Syria and Libya) to carry out this inquiry, along with a few credible Nigerians; and seek assistance of countries like USA and Britain to assist us in employing the aid of deciphering technology, which we know are deployed by them in matters such as this. Anything short of this type of unimpeachable inquiry, I’m sorry to say, would be fruitless.

Reasonable Deductions

I found it rather strange that President Buhari could refer to people who are obviously miscreants, as “so-called Protesters” in his address last Thursday evening. We all know that those who went on the Looting Wednesday rampage, were definitely not the #ENDSARS Protesters.

Presently, conspiracy theories, the blame game, and rewriting the narrative are in full swing, and though we should await the outcome of a credible inquiry, there are still some deductions which we can comfortably make based on the occurrences, and some pertinent questions which we can also ask: That the unknown soldiers had no business being invited to unleash violence on unarmed flag-carrying #ENDSARS peaceful Protesters; that neither the Police nor the Army (or other law enforcement) did anything to protect the citizenry on Looting Wednesday; that no Governor has control over the Army, or even the Police completely; that Lagos is the worst hit in terms of destruction of property (it was like a systematic terrorist attack); that it was someone or a group of persons who had the power, that commanded the unknown soldiers to move on the #ENDSARS Protesters, as rank and file soldiers could not have acted on their own volition; that it was only those who control the Police and the Army who could have directed that they intervene to stop the destruction on Looting Wednesday; that unlike the Ojora of Ijora whose Palace was protected by his subjects because he is well loved by them, the Oba of Lagos does not enjoy the same support of his people – his Palace was ransacked, looted and damaged, while Kabiyesi had to be spirited out of the place; that the Federal Government of Nigeria is paranoid, and views all exercises of our right to protest (Sections 39(I) and 40 of the Constitution – freedom of expression and freedom of association, respectively) as an attack on it, and an attempt to embarrass and destabilise them, or hound them out of office; that this Government, like most of its predecessors, has failed Nigerians and plunged us into extreme hunger and poverty, the consequences of which we saw play out on Looting Wednesday. I concur to an extent with Learned Senior Advocate, Dr Konyin Ajayi, that the destruction that we saw, is ‘weaponised poverty’ – “poverty and illiteracy that has been growing in the last six years of this administration”, now making Nigeria the poverty capital of the world. That so many Government establishments were the primary targets of attack by the hoodlums, is ample evidence of the perpetrators’ feelings of hopelessness, rejection, despair, anger and contempt for Government and its officials.

Unanswered Questions

Why was a curfew imposed in Lagos in the first place, when the #ENDSARS protest had been nothing but peaceful? Who stood to gain from all this? In Abuja, we saw a videoclip which showed thugs sponsored by unknown persons of means, mobilising and conveying them in their SUV to Wuse 2 to disrupt the Protesters on the street. We saw another videoclip of a Young man in Abuja, who held a press conference in which he gave the #ENDSARS Protesters 48 hours to vacate the streets, or else….. We saw a videoclip of thugs being conveyed in a Police van, earlier in the day on Black Tuesday. Who authorised the unknown soldiers to go to the Lekki Tollgate to disperse the Protesters? Was it the Chief of Army Staff? If it was him, who ordered him to do so, as Section 217(2)(c) of the Constitution only allows the Army to suppress an insurrection and restore order at the request of the President (and there was no insurrection)? Was the Governor of Lagos aware that unknown soldiers had been deployed to his State on Black Tuesday? Could the reason for the deployment of the unknown soldiers and thugs, have been to cause confusion in order to bring to a screeching halt, the protest which had lingered for longer than expected and was certainly a source of embarrassment to the Federal Government, especially as the whole world was watching and had come out in support of the #ENDSARS Protesters? Why did Government fail to protect the lives and property of the people, on Looting Wednesday? In this day and age of advanced technology, videos of the rampage were circulating on social media as they were happening, and it would be impossible for Government to feign ignorance of it.
Whatever the reason for the mayhem of Looting Wednesday, it was enough to cause extreme public disorder, thereby allowing the President to ban the #ENDSARS Protest. The rights donated in Sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution are not unlimited, but are restricted by Section 45(1) of the same Constitution in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health. Was that the reason behind the disruption? To orchestrate such a chaotic situation, that it would become the basis for invoking Section 45(1) of the Constitution to end the protest?

Destruction of the Courts

As a Lawyer, the court is my constituency, and it was heartbreaking to see how the hoodlums set fire and destroyed the Court of Appeal, the Lagos High Court (the oldest court buildings in Nigeria), and the Magistrates Court. Another sign of the common man’s disdain for the temple of justice, which they may feel has not done them well. All the vital case files and documents that were destroyed! God knows when the courts will be fit for purpose again. Certainly, this will affect the livelihood of those of us in the legal profession. Particularly painful, was the wanton destruction of Nigeria’s only world class state-of-the-art DNA Centre and Forensic Lab.

Conclusion

The invasion and destruction of Government facilities by hoodlums which occurred on Looting Wednesday, has been described by some as “the 9/11 of Africa” – a terrorist attack on Lagos.

It reminds me of the ‘Storming of the Bastille’ on July 14, 1789, when the French peasants invaded the Bastille, which was the representation of royal authority, marking the onset of the French Revolution and the rejection of the Monarchy by the French peasants. Beyond acceding to the #ENDSARS Protesters’ five-point demands, as a matter of urgency, Government must look into the demands for good governance by the Youths, and indeed, all Nigerians, and restructuring. I advice the Youths to ensure that they all get their voter’s cards, take advantage of their strength, and organise themselves into a cohesive and formidable force – as the ‘Almighty 2023’ is almost upon us.

Some mischief makers have sought to create more confusion, by adding an ethnic colouration to the events that transpired on Looting Wednesday, blaming the Igbos for what happened in Lagos – this seems ridiculous, and more like a plot to pitch us against ourselves. I wonder who stands to gain from orchestrating more chaos and enmity? Just as the #ENDSARS Protesters come from different Nigerian tribes bound together by their common legitimate demands, so also the miscreants would have come from different tribes bound together by thievery and bitterness resulting from poverty, hunger, illiteracy, ill-treatment etc. Undoubtedly, we need to concentrate our energies on healing and rebuilding. In other countries, take South Africa, this was done via their Truth and Reconciliation Commission, because it is only with the truth that we can we start to genuinely reconcile.

For Nigerians, indeed, 2020 has truly been an ‘Annus Horribilis’.