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EndSARS: Time for truce?
WITH reports about the military being deployed in parts of Abuja supposedly to forestall the breakdown of law and order, it is apparent that the Buhari administration’s irritation with the #EndSARS protesters has finally reached boiling point. No thanks to the administration’s penchant to deploy archaic tools even when the nature and texture of the crisis at hand is somewhat novel and mind-tasking; the Nigerian Army, ever ready to play the government’s handmaiden has since moved from mouthing barely veiled threats in the wake of the protests, to rolling out its Operation Crocodile Smile VI.
Unfortunately, whereas the military’s resort to the use of phrases like “subversive elements”, “trouble makers”, and “cyberwarfare” could be explained in the context of its martial psychology, the psychology of a regime that see its custodianship of state power as not open to question by the citizens must be seen as deeply troubling at this difficult time.
Now, recall that the #ENDSARS first gained public consciousness in 2017 and this after several social media posts about extortion, harassment, and kidnapping suffered by youths at the hands of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). That the issue finally boiled over in 2020 under similar circumstances could only mean that the government either chose to sleep on a grave matter that touches the right to life and dignity its youths, or simply wished it away.
At this time, a lot has been said of the protesters five-point demand as being straight and simple to solve. In truth, the demands appear quite straightforward – on the surface.
They demanded the release of the arrested protesters. They wanted justice for all the deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families. They demanded an independent panel to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all cases of police misconduct within 10 days. They also demanded, in line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and retraining of all the disbanded SARS officers (to be independently verified by an external body) before their re-deployment. And finally, an increase in police salary so that they can be adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens.
It is noteworthy that the government readily accepted that the issues raised by the youths were legitimate, although it would seem that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was the lone voice in what later became a babel of voices from the Federal Executive Council particularly with Information Minister Lai Mohamed and his defence counterpart, Bashir Salihi Magashi somewhat giving some hints of overreach on the part of the protesters.
Remember, the sheer number of cases collated by the protesting youths at this time were such that left the police authorities and federal government with very limited options. To me, the latter is what makes the so-called concessions by the government and with it the suggestion that the government be given the benefit of the doubt as not only laughable but tragic. The government wasn’t being called out to make any concessions; it was only being challenged to take its duties seriously. In which case, the protesters who have now taken upon themselves to play the role of the watchdog cannot in good conscience be accused of needless obduracy.
I perfectly understand the government’s frustrations with the protesters; not only is it clearly out of breath with its deployment of IT tools but the sheer sophistication in logistics that is yet to be seen in government business in these parts. Need one talk of the unrivalled patience and coordination of the protesters and with it the massive public support their actions have garnered?
We are here talking of the same youths, who were only yesterday described as ‘lazy youths” by President Muhammadu Buhari. Such is their depth of understanding and articulation of the issues that have left the government not only pathetic but utterly helpless.
I have the heard the question raised times without number: Since the government has accepted the so-called five-point demand, why can’t the protesters simply go home and wait for the government to address them. After all, we have seen a governor like Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos not only showing exemplary leadership and good faith, but a readiness to engage beyond the superficial, very much unlike the principal culprit – the federal government.
The answer would seem obvious. The protesters do not trust the government to do as it promised. Sure, the protesters perfectly understand that a good number of the issues raised will take time to address; what appears to be the matter is government’s poor understanding of the issues at stake! Imagine government offering SWAT in place of SARS – a case of old wines in new bottles; in place of the demand for a comprehensive overhaul of the policing system – from recruitment to training, from welfare to logistics, the government is talking of palliatives! Such has been the level of its cluelessness that even bystanders are left to wonder if this government actually lives on the Mars.
Take a drive to the police training school in Ikeja. It is a sorry sight – and this for an institution charged with training our law enforcement personnel. The other day, I saw recruit-trainees in their white pants and sleeves carrying plastic buckets in search of water in Ikeja neighbourhood! Does anyone still wonder how such an environment could not but breed extortionists, sadist and at the extreme, armed robbers?
Take a trip to any police barracks to see the level of dehumanization that those carrying arms are forced to put up with. Only last week, I came across a trending but unverified video said to be of Obalende Barracks, Lagos and the only thing I could do was weep!
How about the police Area Commands? Most are in a mess. No computers, no basic communication gadgets as would befit a modern crime-fighting force. By the way, what is the typical budget of a Divisional Police Office like? Not too long ago, I did a research on same only to find, to my consternation that some DPOs have barely N2,500 to run their beats for a whole month!
Nigerians, not least the protesters, have seen enough transitions in their lifetimes to know that things are not what they seem: after all, what difference did the transition of the inept power utility firm make after its baptism from NEPA to PHCN and now to Discos? In other words, they know too well that SWAT and SARS are one and the same – as of between six and half dozen.
This is where those asking the protesters to go home miss it – it is not time, yet. At least, not until government accepts the need for a comprehensive blueprint for police reforms to be authored – not by the government – but civil society groups. That would be one sure shot in the long journey to rebuild trust.
EndSARS: Time for truce?