The protesters used police brutality as a cover to expose corruption in the system, argues Okello Oculi
A researcher on illegal miners of gold in the KARAMOJA region of North-Eastern Uganda discovered that giving guns to ‘’child soldiers’’ destroyed traditional respect for elders. The kids realised that pulling a trigger makes a bullet crumbles the physical frame of a symbol of community authority.
Several looters shouting into television cameras justified their ransacking and ‘’looting’’ storage sites with claims of liberating food items meant for starving persons from corrupt officials hoarding them. A climate of corruption has eroded the sanctity of official spaces and officers.
Corruption blocks roads to development for millions of youths for the benefit of several thousands of children of corrupt officials whose children attend primary, secondary schools and colleges in Canada, Britain, Turkey, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Singapore, Malaysia, China and beyond.
In 2015 when Buhari’s victory was announced, AIT television showed an elated young man in Kano City’s roundabout accusing leaders of sending their children outside while leaving local schools to decay. For him, Buhari was a window for redemption. Behind that joy was the lurking anger and potential violence which current arson and looting indicate.
It is interesting that the planners of ENDSARS demonstrations chose to focus on police brutality and extortion for mobilising public support. Condemning corruption would have sounded like a cliché. Calling out police brutality lifted an ‘’ozone layer’’ over an ‘’old normal’’ of the public hearing about police violence. The Nigerian Bar Association, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Civil Society organisations that are dependent on funds from foreign sources, had grown largely indifferent and silent over this malaise.
A television report about a notorious extorter of millions of Naira as ransom and still killing his captives in Port Harcourt, including police officers showed that he had been severely beaten in captivity. He could not sit up without being propped up. He died shortly thereafter. No voices of outrage were raised.
The ENDSARS show of ‘’people power’’ occupying public space along streets may well have made the error of adopting the model of an ‘’amoeba’’, namely, hiding a leadership structure. The very evident capacity for feeding, defending and providing medical services to huge rallies in Lagos had hints of sinister intent. When both President Buhari and the Governor of Lagos State hurriedly withdrew support from ‘’SARS’’, the movement began to openly declare that their goals included the less specific and infinite achievement of ‘’good governance’’. That horizon held the prospect of the more contentious prize of ‘’regime change’’.
Amilcar Cabral, the brilliant agronomist who led the war for liberation of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, warned that people will not die for some elegant theories in heads of revolutionaries. They want what will fill the hunger in their stomachs. What ENDSARS’ hidden leadership did not openly offer exploded from the ‘’pandora box’’ of stores holding ‘’palliatives’’. Huge crowds of animated youths ransacking and ‘’liberating’’ consumer goods gave testimony to Bob Marley’s assertion that a ‘’hungry man is an angry man’’. Large dams of alienation of youths from public authorities were exposed.
One vital issue which ENDSARS leaders would have usefully dramatized was the practice of state governments awarding contracts for ‘’capital intensive’’ projects. In Rivers State, Akwa Ibom State, Ekiti State, Lagos State, the Federal Capital Territory, as examples, billions of dollars are exported out of Nigeria’s economy as payments to mainly foreign contractors who use huge bulldozers, caterpillars, trucks, graders while creative labour-power in millions of under-employed and unemployed are left to waste and wilt from hunger. Bulldozers never buy fried yam or moi-moi from local women.
A documentary on China’s industrialization shows hundreds of thousands of labourers using raw muscle power to dredge swamps, lay rail lines, plant and harvest rice and other foodstuffs on huge farmlands. In contrast, the 200 million Nigeria’s population is proclaimed in speeches declaring Nigeria as a power in world affairs but not as receivers of huge sums of money for construction works.
A film from China’s Embassy in Lagos shows students of policy making the use of Tanzanian, Zambian and Chinese labourers in clearing the route for the TAZARA railway line from the port of Dar es Salaam to Ndola town in Zambia’s copper mining area. The sight is a striking contrast to a single driver directing an earth-mover and lifting soil or ore into a truck to be hauled away.
State governors cut tapes to ‘’commission’’ finished construction projects while hungry youths look on. It should now be clear that when hungry youths set such projects on fire it is a criticism of this policy of financial haemorrhage; and treating Nigeria’s population as mere ‘’paper tigers’’. The ENDSARS demonstrators know that such contracts serve corrupt officials while youths choke with rage.