Do Black Lives Really Matter?

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Introduction

The tragedy of the events that occurred last week on Tuesday, the 20th of October, 2020 at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos now dubbed ‘Black Tuesday’ which resulted in the death of several Nigerian youths killed in cold blood by the Nigerian Army, has placed Nigeria firmly in the World spotlight and negates the impact of the Black Lives Matter Movement which has attracted so much attention in recent months, in different countries of the World. The Nigerian Youths were peacefully protesting and demanding the disbandment of a unit of the Nigerian Police Force known as the Special Armed Robbery Squad (SARS), for acts of brutality and extra-judicial killing. Nigeria is the most populous country in Black Africa, and the general feeling particularly amongst the militant far right after this fatal incident is that, if Blacks as a race have scant regard for their own lives in their own countries where nationals are predominantly Black, why should they be unduly bothered or concerned about the sanctity of Black lives, in countries where they live and reside as minorities?
The tragic incidents of the past few days further reaffirms the the general belief that, although we are part and parcel of the international community, we remain detached in many respects. It’s unfortunate that after 60 years of independence, Nigeria is yet to come to terms with how it ought to project itself as a country, and the role it should be seen as playing in the comity of Nations. Many Nigerians having grown up under military rule, and have mentally adopted and self-internalised this way of life. The problem with Nigeria therefore, is not just one of leadership, but also one of followership. Last week’s killings have, without doubt, become a setback for the Black Lives Movement, and Nigeria as a Nation ought to have been more conscious of this fact.

Purpose of the Protest

The #ENDSARS movement first began as a simple protest against police excesses, but before long, became a wider platform to seek demands for good governance, justice, fairness and the restructuring of the country into a true Federation. After a few days of protests by the Youths, the Federal Government was forced into disbanding SARS. This however, did not bring the protests to an immediate end. The Youths argued that the Federal Government had made several promises in the past, without any effective reform measures. As a consequence, the protest soon widened to include reforms across the entire spectrum of the Nigerian Police System. The protesters came up with a 5-point agenda which included the following:

•The immediate release of all arrested protesters

• Justice for all deceased victims of Police brutality, and appropriate compensation for their families.

•The setting up of an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all those reported for Police misconduct within 10days.

•The carrying out of psychological evaluation and retraining of all disbanded SARS operatives, before they can be redeployed

• An increase in Police salary and adequate compensation

The Federal Government soon set up a new unit tagged SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics). The Youths weren’t pacified, and refused to leave the streets, thereby frustrating the Federal Government. Despite the peaceful protests and the continued frustration of the Federal Government, by an large the protests remained peaceful although disrupting the general movement of people to their various destinations across the country. The first hint of the fact that something sinister might happen, was when the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) warned that the Federal Government were considering using the Army to quell the protests. The Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Adewale Martins, immediately issued a communique warning of the consequences of such a rash action, and advised the Government to continue embracing dialogue, but many were still left wondering how the BBC became privy to such information. Was it from intelligence reports? The inevitable conclusion was that, this was being planned.

Even at that, the question still remained as to how the Federal Government could possibly deploy the Army in a constitutional democracy, without a specific request by a State Government for this to happen, or without the President first declaring a State of Emergency under Section 305 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

Denials

The Nigerian Army are now denying any involvement by them in the Black Tuesday killings, and the President in his broadcast to the Nation following the events of last Tuesday coupled with the riots and property destruction in its aftermath, didn’t confirm this fact either. Nevertheless, the question as to how the Army got invited into Lagos requires an answer from the authorities, either at Federal or State level.

It has generally been presumed that the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu knew the Army were coming. This is because, how else can the government explain the short notice of 3-4 hours the Governor gave Lagosians to prepare for a hastily imposed curfew? There was complete mayhem in the wake of that announcement. The 3rd Mainland Bridge which is undergoing repairs, was not thrown open to allow commuters to return to their homes. Many were trapped on the bridge, and the Governor was forced to extend the time before the curfew kicked in beyond 4pm to 9pm, but the Army, oblivious to all this, struck regardless and carried out their dastardly act of killing innocent youths at the Lekki Toll Gate in cold blood before the 9pm curfew came into effect. The lights at the Tollgate were even switched off when the Army opened fire. Who ordered the switching off of the lights? Why was it necessary to switch off the lights? Why were the infrared cameras also switched off? Would it not have been better for the protesters to see the Army advancing, so that even the most stubborn amongst the protesters could flee and protect themselves? Was it known to the Lagos State Authorities what was about to happen?

In the wake of the bloodshed and the curfew, all the security forces and other essential services like the fire brigade, were nowhere to be found the next day. Lagos State simply failed a security and crisis management test. The Lagos State Government needs to further explain where the Security Services attached to Lagos were between Wednesday and Saturday last week.

Destruction of Landmarks and Properties

(1) If the Army that still denies involvement did not massacre protesters, would Lagos have burned or get looted and leave the treasury with a bill of over One trillion? (2) The High Court Igbosere, The Oba of Lagos’ Palace, Oriental Hotel Victoria Island and other monuments are all predictable targets for thugs and thieves, so why weren’t the Police deployed in advance to protect these landmarks? (3) Where is the same clamour for accountability from the Army, as is ongoing for the protesters to have observed the curfew? In any case, should they have opened fire on young innocent youths? (4) How come the Army were able to open fire on protesters, but could not open fire on brigands and miscreants looting Lagos?

Violation of the Judiciary

For Lawyers, there was no greater humiliation than the burning and almost total destruction of the Lagos State High Court by thugs, vandals brigands and miscreants. The Judiciary is regarded as the 3rd arm of government, and the torching of the Lagos State High Court, the Mediation Centre which it houses and the Magistrate Court Igbosere round the corner, is indicative of how low we have sunk. The Custodian of law and order in all civilised societies, or should I say the symbol of the rule of law is the Judiciary, and the headquarters of the Lagos State High Court Judiciary, was completely blighted.
Can the Presidency or the Governor’s office be easily attacked and destroyed like this? Is it possible for the Lagos State House of Assembly to be easily invaded and violated, knowing that there are well armed guards by the entrance of its gates? How disrespectful can you get to the Judiciary as a institution and our Judges, who work round the clock to uphold the rule of law and dispense justice?

The Igbosere High Court, is akin to a listed building. It was bequeathed to us by the departing colonial authorities. Several documents and materials that have been archived such as Wills and other probate documents, were lost forever in the fires that engulfed the building. Did government even bother to digitise these documents, like it’s done to the Lands Registry at Alausa? This only heightens the calls for the complete financial independence of the Judiciary.
One particular hoodlum was even filmed, holding a long knife and adorning a wig and gown. That made a complete mockery of the noble profession and perhaps, its now time to do away with the wig and gown, as in other countries of the Commonwealth. That however, is an argument for another day and not one to be tabled in the wake of this crisis.

Conclusion

Our Youths who were killed in cold blood last week, must not be allowed to die in vain. They are Martyrs who were bold enough to initiate a movement, which many in my generation could not and cannot possibly contemplate. We have already been dubbed the comfort generation because we accepted everything our fathers bequeathed to us, whether right or wrong. We were not bold enough to question the flaws of the system we met, and that’s why we are now stuck in a systematic rot. The youth of today are not prepared to accept a system that is not fit for purpose, and I doubt whether their voices will be drowned out by what happened last Tuesday. They have not been crushed, far from it! They have simply gone to regroup, and come back with more determination and vigour.

What is clear is that, the present structure of government is not fit for purpose. We need a new Constitution that will restructure the country, and turn us into a true federation and democracy. We need to be seen to fulfil our role in the comity of Nations, and portray to our Black brethren around the World, that our lives truly matter. Let us begin this process, by making a request to the National Assembly for a referendum. A referendum if passed, would provide the platform for our youths to build the country of their dreams. Nigeria cannot continue on its present trajectory, and our youths have made that clear. The establishment need not fear a referendum. It merely sets in motion, the process which will enable us build a better and stronger Nigeria, a country that will at last fulfil its potential. The mechanism for a referendum is hidden in the 1999 Constitution as amended. It is there.

Let’s embrace our youths, and give them the society they crave. Let us show them that, we genuinely believe that their lives do matter.