By Emma Okonji and Nosa Alekhuogie
Former Minister of External Affairs, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, has joined other Nigerians in condemning the shooting of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, saying the use of firearms on peaceful protesters was uncalled for.
He, however, commended the Lagos State Government for setting up a Panel of Inquiry to look into the alleged shooting of the youths by the military.
Akinyemi, who spoke yesterday on Arise News TV, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, said the panel would have a difficult task in its investigation, but wished that the panel had really started with the shooting at the Tollgate rather than the petitions filed by people who have issues with the Special Anti-Robbery Squard (SARS), which the youths were protesting against.
“I am not denying that people have issues with them. But given the national and international attention that is focused on Nigeria now, if I were the chairman of the panel, I would have dealt with that issue first before moving on, but the panel knows the best. I have read a letter from the first division and it is a bit conflicting, but deconstructing. I will rather wait for the panel to tell us the truth. I hope somebody will tell us the truth,” Akinyemi said.
He added: “Within the international context, Nigeria is lucky and unlucky. We are lucky in the sense that our crises came in the season of protests. There have been protests all over the world- protests in Thailand and Pakistan. This means that the world wouldn’t perceive Nigeria protest as an aberration. The bad part is that after about 12 days, there was shooting in Nigeria. In Thailand, protests have been going on for about one month without shootings; Pakistan protest has been going on for about two months nothing happened. So this has put us in an awkward position. My take about the feelings of the international community for Nigeria is that they don’t believe the protesters started the violence, and I think they are right, they believe that the protesters are victims of what happened.
“Gradually the Nigerian Government has come around in a rather conflicting way of admitting that the protesters at the Lekki Tollgate were victims.
“So I think the international community itself is probably still waiting for the Lagos panel’s decision, and I hope they are not going to take all their time about it because the America election is few days away and the world is going to move on. If we want to keep the attention of the world on this issue, the panel in Lagos should hurry up with its procedure and process it.”
According to the former diplomat, Nigeria for all its worth, was being perceived as a regional player that has sufficient capability to impose its views and will on West Africa. “Sooner or later, we are going to be involved with what is going on in Guinea,” he stated.
Akinyemi, who also blamed the lack of civility in the speech that was released by the Chief of Army Staff, Yusuf Buratai, said: “I have been dealing with military officers at the level of General since 1970, and I’m used to a kind of civility in the speech by them in the Nigerian Army, and I found the tone of the speech of Nigerian Chief of Army Staff offensive. Even if in a way, you’re trying to put the views of the military across, there are ways you could do it without offending your readers or listeners. I was put off by that speech and I really do hope that if you don’t want to lose or antagonise your audience, Nigerian should know that it is dealing with the international community as well as its domestic community, who are educated and civilized too. Let those who speak on our behalf watch their language.”
Advising on the way forward, Akinyemi said #EndSARS protest was and is more than just stomach infrastructure. “I believe that from the beginning, it was more than just the behaviour of the specialised unit of the police. If it were, the moment the Inspector General of Police and President Muhammadu Buhari said they were disbanding SARS, the boys and the girls (protesters) would have gone home.
It became a question of good governance that will yield results and address concrete issues, and not just the youths demonstrating in the streets of Lagos,” he said.