Sonnie Ekwowusi urges the authorities to address the serious issues thrown up by the protesters
The pertinent question: can social justice reign under our present lopsided federal structure? The answer is No. Something must give way before social justice begins to reign in Nigeria. We have to rearrange, repackage, retool, re-adjust our present imbalanced federal structure that prompted the #EndSARS uprising reminiscent of the French Revolution of 1789 and other revolutions. For example, if we had had true federalism which allowed state policing, our unarmed youth protesters probably would not have been murdered at the Lekki Toll Gate by the federal army, which, funny enough, is now denying that it committed the heinous crime. So, we cannot shy away from retooling Nigeria.
In response to the uprising, the government has set up Judicial Panels of Inquiry across the states of the federation to investigate cases of brutality and submit reports to the government. This again testifies that the government is not serious. Can you name one report of a Judicial Panel of Inquiry or Commission of Inquiry that hadn’t been aborted in Nigeria? None. So, why set up Judicial Panels of Inquiry that would not yield anything? The worrisome aspect is that state security operatives are rounding up hundreds of alleged young looters and brutalizing them in the glare of the public without granting them bail or charging them to court as enshrined in our Constitution. Government should have itself to blame if its illegality sparks off another spate of protests across Nigeria. I am yet to fathom how Nigerian government operates. If the immediate cause of the last protests was police brutality, why provoke the youths by brutalizing alleged young looters? It is obvious that the government hasn’t leant any lessons from the last uprising. Before now, the government was begging the protesting youths to end the protests. The youths did. Now, the same government is provoking the restive youths to start another round of peaceful protests by arresting and brutalizing alleged young looters. The government should understand that it is dealing with recalcitrant, intelligent and sophisticated Nigerian youth freedom fighters, who, unlike the current cowardly and pliable Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), will never accept tokens, cosmetics, palliatives, white-washed tombs, monetary bribes or Greek gifts in exchange to freeing Nigerian citizens from the stranglehold of incompetent and corrupt totalitarian government. Already a group of young protesters have given President Buhari and Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai 15 days (with effect from 29 October 2020) to fish out the soldiers who murdered the peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate failure which the group will organize the mother of all protests in order to prove to the world that Nigeria is not a banana republic. So, the government cannot afford to play its dirty politics with the embattled young millennial whose ideals and potential have been emboldened by social media.
Nollywood actor-turned-politician Desmond Elliot fears that Nigeria may cease to exist in five years if the strength of the Nigeria youths on social media is not whittled down in earnest. The Buhari government has also spoken in the same fashion. Sorry. It is no longer feasible for any government to regulate the activities of the young on social media and online. And, if I may ask Desmond, which comes first in terms of priority; the survival of the Nigerian youths or the survival of the contraption called Nigeria? Obviously the former comes first because without the former the latter cannot exist: without the youths to replenish the dead or dying oldies Nigeria as an entity cannot survive: it will become extinct. So, instead of worrying about the future of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s geographical expression, Desmond and the Buhari government should worry about the well-being and future of the Nigerian youths who are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but the potential replacers of dead or dying Nigerian oldies.
Talks about re-building the public infrastructure and public utilities which were destroyed during the last protests have begun. For example, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu says it will cost his government about N1 trillion to re-build the damaged public infrastructure and property in Lagos which include the Lagos State High Court building, Police Stations, BRT Bus stations and buses and others. Prima facie, this is laudable and praise-worthy. I really sympathize with the Lagos State government. Why, for God’s sake, should any group of protesters set ablaze the BRT buses? But the government needs to tackle first things first. The first thing is to remedy the grievances of the protesting youths otherwise the rebuilt infrastructure and property will be destroyed again. An eye witness who lives on Igbosere Street, Lagos narrates that the protesters did not just set the High Court of Lagos, Igbosere, ablaze but took their time to desecrate the temple of justice and to humiliate lawyers and judges as well. How? By disparagingly mimicking what they believe transpires in Nigerian courts. First, one of the protesters chosen to play the role of a “judge” adorned the wig and gown looted from one of the Judge’s Chambers. Thereafter, he sat down to “preside” over the day’s “proceedings”. “Registrar! call the next case”, he bellows out. The case is called. In the theatric uncountable court files were burnt to ashes. My deduction from the above is that the protesters were simply venting their spleen against the collapse of the justice system in Nigeria especially the criminal justice system.
So, beyond rebuilding the damaged Lagos High Court it is imperative to rebuild confidence in the judiciary. Let the dispensation of justice be fast-tracked. A court case cannot be pending in court for 10, 12, 14 or 15 years. Hardest hit is the criminal justice system. I visit some prisons (correctional centres) from time to time. Not less than 75% of our prison inmates are in the category of what is termed the awaiting trial inmates (ATM). The other day Osaro Eghobamien SAN and I shared some thoughts on this and came up with the idea of a Mobile Criminal Court (An air-conditioned bus occupied by the presiding judge, court personnel and prosecutor and defence attorney) that could sit in prisons and hear the cases of the ATM. By the way, Eghobamien is one of the exemplary Senior Advocates of Nigeria. Presently he is executing a personal project aimed at fast-tracking the dispensation of justice in our courts. This is the spirit. It is doable. Let’s not be afraid of doing what has not been done before. Fixation in doing the same old things or cosmetic treatment of serious matters is a sign of failure. In my view, the cosmetic change of the name of SARS, setting up of Judicial Panels of Inquiry, arresting and brutalization of alleged looters and plan to re-build the destroyed public infrastructure have not addressed the serious issue-uprising of the Nigerian youths in demand for justice, equity and fair-play. To achieve this, we must first rearrange the federal structure in order to make it work otherwise we should be prepared to witness another uprising of the Nigerian young.