STOP PERSECUTING #ENDSARS PROTESTERS

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The clampdown on EndSARS protesters is ill-advised, argues Sonnie Ekwowusi

It is unfortunate that since the abatement of the #EndSARS protests the government has been unlawfully arresting, torturing and detaining some #EndSARS protesters and promoters. This is unfortunate. Why? Because it could provoke the youths to stage another round of protests. We are yet to recover from the damaging effects of the last spate of protests yet the government is not softening the ground for peace to reign. This is the time to sheath the sword. Let’s give peace a chance. Unfortunately instead of giving peace a chance the government is persecuting the #EndSARS promoters and protesters: the government has been unlawfully arresting, detaining, torturing, confiscating the passports and freezing the bank accounts of some of the #EndSARS protesters and their allies. This is sad. As I was saying here last week, during the #EndSARS protests the government pleaded with the protesters to end the protests on the mutual understanding that it would meet all the demands of the protesters. The ‘five-point’ demand includes the immediate release of all protesters arrested, justice for all deceased victims of police brutality, psychological evaluation of all security officers, setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation of all reports of police misconduct and the increase of the salaries of police officers so that they are adequately compensated for their jobs.

But instead of fulfilling its own part of the understanding with #EndSARS protesters, the government is now resorting to arresting some #EndSARS promoters, confiscating their passports and freezing their bank accounts. Over the years the government has developed a certain proclivity for reneging from mutual agreements (Remember government/ASUU lingering feud over botched agreements?). The government should abide by agreements with second parties. To renege from a binding agreement smack off insincerity and fraud. So, if the government has agreed to the aforesaid ‘five-point’ demand of the protesters, it must not turn around to be arresting and confiscating the passports of the promoters of the #EndSARS protests. For example, #EndSARS promoter Modupe Odele was not only prevented from travelling abroad but her passport has been seized by the state. As at the time of writing, her passport had not been returned to her. This kind of attitude is capable of provoking the youths to stage another uprising. In Director of SSS V Olisa Agbakoba, the court held that an international passport is a private property (not state property) and that by confiscating the passport of Agbakoba the SSS was in contravention of his right to freedom of movement as guaranteed by section 38 (1) of the 1979 Constitution which was then in force in Nigeria. Government is also freezing the bank accounts of the #EndSARS protesters, promoters and their friends. This again can provoke the restive youths to stage another uprising. Freezing the bank account of a customer without an order of court is a flagrant disregard and violation of the right of the customer. Neither the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) nor the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has statutory power to freeze the bank account of a suspect without a court order. And any bank that freezes the account of any customer without a court order is heavily liable to the customer. The purported ex-parte order allegedly obtained by the CBN in Abuja in order to freeze the accounts of some #EndSARS protesters is fraught with suspicion. Small wonder some of the persons whose bank accounts had been frozen have dragged the banks to court.

Another foreseeable government action capable of provoking the youths to start another uprising is the “regulation” of social media. Before now, the government had been threatening to “regulate’ the social media in Nigeria. Now it appears the “regulation” is imminent. First: the intended “regulation” amounts to violation of the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed in our 1999 Constitution and the African Charter of Human and People’s rights. Second: assuming the “regulation” is warranted (which is denied), the time is not auspicious. I can’t understand why this government is always looking for trouble. Was it not the same government that was begging the #EndSARS protesters to call off the protests? They called off the protests. Now instead of giving peace a chance, the government is thinking of dislodging the young people from social media.

To avert further loss of human lives, arson, property damage, looting, brigandage and stealing, government should please bury the hatchet. Nothing is gained by bearing grudges. Nothing is gained by revenging against the #EndSARS protesters. After all, they are our children. So, rather than wage war against our children the government should, in the forthcoming weeks, work out packages, scholarships schemes and others that would help the Nigerian young to grow up physically, mentally, morally, spiritually, socially in a healthy environment and in conditions of freedom and dignity. This is the only way the government can nurture the future leaders of tomorrow.

The truth of the matter is that young people in this country, or, those in the age bracket of, say, 18 to 45 who technically could be categorized as the younger generation, are angry, perhaps more now than before, over the way they are constantly being shortchanged. They are angry about the degenerating country’s politics; about the increasing youth unemployment; about the failed education system, in short, about everything. The paradox is that the Nigerian young constitute the bulk of our population, yet they are completely marginalized in the scheme of things. Therefore it is suicidal to keep on shortchanging the young people, the leaders of tomorrow. Instead of shortchanging them, the government should be concerned about the uncountable number of youth roaming the streets. Idleness breeds violence, immorality, criminality and other vices. Unless something is done urgently to stem the tide of youth unemployment we may be heading for a final showdown.

Unfortunately the apparent solution seems to lie in the scandalizing number of Nigerian young queuing up at the country’s airports to flee the country in order to seek succour in Ghana, Togo, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, name them. These fleeing youngsters are unhappy to be forcibly uprooted from their fatherland. Many years ago I ran into a young Nigerian in Washington D.C. No sooner had I tried to start a conversation with him than he started hurling insults at Nigerian political leaders for misgoverning the country and consequently making it difficult for young Nigerians like him to maximize their potential.