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Lagos, Bode George and #EndSARS
By Idowu Akinlotan
Instead of giving a statesmanlike insight into the EndSARS protest and violence that convulsed Nigeria early and middle of last month, former Ondo State governor and self-confessed Lagos opinion moulder, Bode George, chose in his October 26 statement on the crisis to fan the embers of the revolt that has cost the nation over 70 lives and trillions of naira in destruction of property. Chief George was never known for moderation and diplomacy. He, therefore, predictably chose to indulge the socialite part of his nature, completely avoiding a sensible and rational discussion of the causes and course of the EndSARS revolt. He also indicated why, like anything else, he has found it difficult to provide leadership in Lagos State and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) where he has sown so much acrimony as a party chieftain. At 74, Chief George is set in his ways. Little can be done to sway his manners, not to talk of assuage his resentment and bitterness.
The kernel of his EndSARS statement is that the protesters were reacting to one man’s provocation, and that man is his rival for the leadership and control of Lagos, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former governor and national party leader of the All Progressives Congress. That Chief George nurses a long-standing grudge against the APC leader is understandable. He is at liberty to nurse the resentment, a right that cannot be denied him. He is even free to cast his own motives for Lagos as altruistic and irreproachable, and to cast other people’s motives as base and impure. He is free to say anything and play his politics the way he deems fit. In fact, regardless of what anyone thinks, he will probably nurse his now famous and explicit grudge against his main detractor till his dying day. But to reduce an obviously multifaceted protest to just one cause, especially when the protesters themselves were clear about their cause, is to be guilty of excessive simplicity. In his view, Lagos personified the protest because the state is not working, and the APC leader is the reason the state is not working. Complete with this syllogism, Chief George brazenly imbued the protest with his own meanings.
The protesters themselves never suggested in any way that Lagos was not working, nor did they say anything about the state’s leaders, past or present. They were clear about the main reason for their action, to wit, the brutality of the police special anti-robbery squad, aka SARS. Both in the first set of demands and the second, the protesters anchored their campaign on law enforcement anomalies and paradoxes. It was, therefore, not difficult for the country to embrace the protest. It is true that for inexplicable reasons the protesters expanded their action to include good governance and other related issues, but they were neither explicit about which party exemplified bad governance nor did they speak directly or even obliquely about Lagos. They were young, but they were not irrational. They were smart enough to avoid the pitfall of becoming the noisy gong of any political party or vested interest.
But regardless of the caution exercised by the protesting youths, Chief George, without any proof, was sure that the youths meant to speak about, and draw attention, to Lagos. And it speaks to a secondary and contrived cause that at the end, with the protest hijacked, the violence and rhetoric were directed at individuals and institutions in Lagos State. It should not be too difficult for investigators to get to the bottom of the contrivances that drove the secondary cause into a major conflagration, especially given the trillions of naira lost to an inferno obviously triggered and orchestrated by vested interests. In his tortuous and unsuccessful effort to redirect the protest, Chief George also inspired many palpable untruths.
Three examples will suffice from Chief George’s tendentious statement: (a) “Our system is not working. Our ethos and norms have broken down. The structures of power are hindering merit and excellence. It is this very anomaly which is much pronounced in Lagos state than any other part of our nation that galvanized the EndSARS protests.” (b) “At the Admiralty Circle tollgate specifically where bullets rained on that black Tuesday 20- 10-2020, a monument should be erected as a permanent memorial to honour the young men and women who stood up in peaceful protests against the ills in our society.” And (c) “Questions: who ordered that the lights be switched off before the killer squads came? Who ordered the removal of all the cameras from the tollgate?”
It is not only a lie that Lagos typifies the anomaly of bad governance which Chief George spoke about, for Lagos has more than any other state emblematised development and innovation, it is also shocking that he mouths the patent untruth of tollgate massacre, and reiterates the falsehood of tollgate camera removal. It is even more sickening that anyone, let alone someone who confesses to be an original Lagosian, would justify the massive and deliberate destruction of Lagos landmarks. Clearly, the protest was not just hijacked by hoodlums, as is commonly said, but by an army of destroyers directed to both vandalise Lagos and instigate a revolt against certain individuals and the ruling party. Chief George has never been able to unite and galvanise his party, the PDP. Unable to achieve that aim using legitimate political means, and having provided appalling leadership to his incensed and obdurate party members, he has embraced the nihilistic option of using the EndSARS protest to foist a violent change. But the cost to Lagos is astronomical, a cost the PDP chieftain has seemed to gloss over, exult in and, sadly and alarmingly, justify.
The PDP has the free space and level playing field to challenge the All Progressives Congress (APC) dominance of Lagos politics. That the opposition has been unable to give teeth to that challenge is more a testament to the rancour within the opposition party and the incompetence, insularity and venality of Chief George. Rather than describe a different spirit and trajectory for Lagos, rather than take issue with those who set fire to Lagos, and rather than inspire his party to anchor and personify that legitimate and noble ambition of improving Lagos, Chief George has been maniacally and destructively obsessed with his rivals. He will not stop now or ever. Age has clearly not brought him the fine temper, reflection and moderation of a diplomat and sage; it has instead deepened his resentment, worsened his mendacity, and amplified his truculent rage. Lagos must count itself fortunate that the PDP under the bitter influence of Chief George has not had the opportunity to desecrate and truncate the state’s developmental strides. Until opposition leaders get rid of the bitter old politician, their electoral hopes will remain a mirage.
Lagos, Bode George and #EndSARS