The events that took place in October, 2020, have been the most challenging in Nigeria’s history, particularly since its return to democratic governance in 1999.
For the benefit of hindsight, the #EndSARS protests that engulfed the country and shook its fabric and foundation were reportedly triggered by the alleged brutal killing of a young Nigerian in his SUV during a chase by the operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Delta State.
While there was (or is still) no evidence to the effect that the young man died eventually at the hospital, the unfortunate incident ignited a momentous and monumental nationwide protestation of historic proportion.
It is pertinent to state that the failure of the federal government to implement necessary recommendations from different reports submitted to it on police reforms, and in particular, its flip-flop approach at dealing with the notorious police unit codenamed SARS before it was scrapped, created a policy gap in modern policing in Nigeria for far too long.
The #EndSARS protests, like never before, have revealed the fragile state of the Nigerian state. Police brutality, especially by the disbanded SARS, is just one of the many symptoms of bad policing in our country.
In the course of my official duties over the past 10 years as co-Founder/Executive Director of Peoples Leadership Mission (PLM) – a non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting leadership and human capital development, and policy advocacy – I have taken up several cases of police brutality with different police divisions and formations in several states, bringing me to face-to-face discussions with commissioners of police, area commanders, divisional police officers, and the rank and file. And in all of those years, I have witnessed police brutality in different forms – extortions, intimidation, torture, unlawful arrests and detention, and other forms of injustice against the people they (police personnel) are paid to protect. I have also experienced, I must add, excellent and professional conduct by exemplary police officers and men.
My wonderful and interesting encounter with Mr. Ahmed Iliyasu, former commissioner of police in Ogun state, and now Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone ‘2’ Lagos, readily comes to mind.
Indeed, the effects of the #EndSARS protests have not only exposed the symptoms of bad policing, they have more than ever before revealed the unacknowledged and undeniable rot in governance system in Nigeria.
This was evident in the constant change of the protests’ narratives from, for instance, #EndSARS, to #EndPoliceBrutality, and to #EndBadGovernance.
I was opportune to participate and observe the protests on October 13, 2020 at three locations – Lekki Toll Plaza, Gbagada and CMS in Lagos Island. The experience was remarkable. For me, the greatest message or take away from the protests in Lagos and across several states in the country is that contrary to the consensus or notion before now, the Nigerian society is not an entirely a docile society, and that people will get good governance whenever they make up their minds.
More significantly, the #EndSARS protests have revealed the gap in governance in Nigeria, and sounded a strong warning to the ruling class, that they can only continue to take the people for granted at their own peril.
The protests also echoed the fact that in a working democracy, power truly belongs to the people.
However, the events that followed the protests were to damaging to be ignored. The hijack of the protests by the so-called enraged hoodlums, and the derailment of the protests message by unseen forces have set this nation back in terms of the quantum of years of development strides that have been eroded, and the amount of resources required to rebuild.
No matter the divide anyone belongs to, using the unfortunate, avoidable incident in Lekki Toll Gate on Tuesday, October 20, 2020 as a pretext or opportunity for morbid expression of dissatisfaction and disapproval of the state of governance, and the obvious deteriorating living condition of majority of Nigerians to cause carnage, is highly regrettable.
But this actually calls into question, the primary responsibilities of government. For instance, how can one explain the irony of a Nigerian state where a few who are extremely rich and influential always call for ‘patience’ and ‘sacrifice’ from vast majority who are indigent, hopeless and insecure?
This clarion call is usually heard whenever Nigeria’s corporate existence or national security is threatened by protests or revolt from its angry populace. Why is it that those in charge of governance refuse to understand that equitable distribution of national prosperity is the best form of nation security?
Many have argued, (and I am inclined to agree), that the widespread looting and destruction across the states after the unfortunate disperse of the EndSARS protesters at Lekki Toll Plaza by Army personnel even before the Lagos state curfew was to come to effect is a manifestation of the level of hunger and anger in the land, and that the only existing fault line in our country is the widening inequality gap.
The wanton destruction of public and private property; small, medium and large sized businesses in Lagos metropolis, other state capitals and major cities across several states, is condemnable. This, clearly, was never the intention of the #EndSARS protesters – it is never a Nigerian value!
That said, filling the huge gap in governance at these critical times is the greatest task before those who are in charge of Nigeria. Nigeria is in a new phase of its existence where public office holders, particularly elected officials, must rethink their approaches to governance, and embark on series of policy changes and interventions to prevent the ‘imminent.’ They must, like never before, redistribute and reapply people’s commonwealth by investing in real and sustainable social protection programmes with certainty and potential to lift poor Nigerians out of their present state of lack, into a condition of comfort and convenience.
The world’s attention was drawn to Nigeria last October when its young people decided to take their destinies in their own hands, and led a cause for the survival of millions of voiceless Nigerians. They demonstrated to those who care to listen that they must have a say in the way they would like to be governed – and their message was loud and clear.
Now, the challenge before the Nigerian youths is the need to keep the momentum and the young demographic that led the protests, and redirecting their energies for higher purposes and higher causes in future. In doing this, they must learn when to apply the brakes during agitation to allow for policy changes. They must also learn in future endeavors; how to do a critical analysis of their cause and course to take, they must do a psycho-social analysis of who to and who not to involve, and a thorough appraisal of the expected outcomes of their agitation, as this is the only way to prevent or dispel any dangerous and divisive notion like the one peddled by the Northern Elders Forum, who posited that the EndSARS agitation was an attempt to weaken the north.
More importantly, all Nigerians must form a “coalition of conscience” to push for increased funding for the police and insist that its annual statutory federal allocation be moved to first line charge, and must be 100 per cent cash backed as and when due, to guarantee effective and efficient police force that can enforce law and order in a civilized manner.
Now more than ever, the reform of the police must be holistic and all-encompassing. Nigerians cannot afford to leave these reforms, and of course, the overhaul of our governance system to the government alone. Specifically, we must take advantage of the judicial panels of enquiry set up by various state governments across the federation to participate in policy discussions and advocate policy changes.
Nigeria is a potentially great country with very smart, talented and industrious population. But it is also a country plagued by surmountable development challenges that are tied or attributed mainly to lack of evidence in policy making and weak public administration at all levels of government.
To improve governance system for the betterment of the people, Nigeria needs to improve its policy formulation and implementation process, promote politics of ideas, and build virile public institutions. This, no doubt, requires investment in its human resources, especially its teeming young population, and the involvement of the people in the policy making process.
A time like this demands actions and results, and not rhetoric that portray government as “always doing its best.” Those in charge of Nigeria must acknowledge the scared truth that a good government is not a government that is doing its best…a good government is a government whose best is good enough.
A time like this demands new approaches to governance. Nigerians must insist on a governance process that ensures public policies are formulated from people’s concerns, and public funds used for public purposes.
Moving forward, as the country embarks on “building back better” on the ruin that followed the #EndSARS protests, the sacred message of the movement must not be lost on us. We must ensure that no Nigerian or any individual for that matter is brutalised again in our land by not just the police, but all men in uniform…so that the lives lost during the needless carnage would not have died in vain.
Concerned citizens must get involved in the political space, particularly in the policy making process, as this is the only way “we the people” can combine efforts to fill the gap in governance.
Rufai, the Co-founder/Executive Director, Peoples Leadership Mission, wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org