By Constance Meju
A worried Nigerian elder once advised Nigerian youths not to not to allow anyone steal their future. The occasion was the presentation of award winners for a creative writing competition organized by a Niger Deltan focused non-governmental organization based in Port Harcourt, Moving Earth Foundation.
The adviser was the chairman of Moving earth. I have forgotten his name but not his charge. He was speaking at the height of the wave of militancy and the resultant upsurge in cultism in the Niger Delta with the accompanying killings, kidnapping, in the region against which the competition tried to refocus the mindset of our youth on the positives which can be nurtured to re-write the region’s narrative. The chief told them that a destroyed youth portends a doomed nation and so, they must rise above the ashes of violence to identify and nurture their God-given talents for the good of the region and country.
Since he gave that advice, it has been like rather than improve, things have moved from bad to worse with our youth being mainly at the receiving end. Suddenly, from being quality agitators for progress, our youth became mere instruments of destruction at the whims and caprices of politicians used to engage in all forms of electoral malpractices, killing and maiming political opponents of their sponsors, silencing dissenting voices, snatching ballot boxes, etc., while their voices as future leaders dimmed.
Having pushed politicians up, the youth became abandoned, only called upon in times of election. Thus, unemployment soared high but their masters swam in wealth, celebrating impunity and total disregard for good governance.
As society screamed over the mounting insecurity that ensued in the country, government unleashed its own apparatus of control in the form of tactical security formations of which the now notorious SARS, Joint Military Force, Operation Python Dance, Crocodile Smile, etc.With these,life became a horror, hell on earth for all youth in the country. Youth became a market for unscrupulous police and other security outfits, especially SARS. The law of innocent until proven guilty became history as SARS arbitrarily arrested, tried and maimed, killed youths unchallenged; SARS took upon itself the role of accuser and judge, terrorizing both the innocent and guilty, raping, maiming, killing at will .
Life became a huge burden and the youth found it difficult to breathe. Young persons were daily harassed, dehumanized and robbed under uniform. Power drunk, they began to hound every successful looking youth charging him for imagined cyber crime or other crimes blinded by greed. Homes were willfully broken into and woe betide you if you have a laptop or smart phone, especially an i-pad. Soon too, SARS personnel began to roam our streets with POS devices.
“Na wa for SARSoo! Them no dey let us breathe. I dey my shop de hustle na im SARS badge in. Who are you? What are you doing? What is your name? Where is your phone?Na so SARS take begin harass me,one of the EndSARS protesters in Port Harcourt narrated Monday October 19 as mothers joined the fray to seek relief for their sons from SARS and other SARS related oppression and abuse.
“Ahaa, it has become too much. If you are a youth and you see SARS you have to start running otherwise you will end up being arrested and forced to cough out huge cash-N300,000-N500,000 otherwise they can slam robbery, money laundering on you and who knows, death may be the end. We are tired. This has to end and all associated ills. We have been calling for change but nobody listened”, another youth added.
In the midst of the harassment, governance took a tumble adding to the grieve of an already traumatized youth-universities became a perennial strike center with ASUU and the federal government in an unending battle over some issues that a few billions easily shared among politicians in government could have addressed, provision of basic amenities also became seriously neglected as infrastructures like roads fell shamefully apart.
The health system also collapsed as our public officers embraced medical tourism with every of them heading out for treatment of even a headache while the little comfort the youth managed to engage in by way of online marketing soon caught the eye of the Buhari government, a government that has been most negligent of their needs, for taxation. Not even power supply to help them pursue venture to engage their energy was steady nor was there room for those ready to contribute their service in helping shape Nigeria. In short, before their very eyes, their future was being swollen and they being ran over by a careless government.
Pushed to the wall, they had no other option but to fight back and SARS in its power-drunken carelessness, provided needed opportunity for this fight.By the time the aggrieved youth hit the streets of Nigerian an unprecedented very well organized peaceful protest, 84 persons had been mulled to death by the SARS men. And rather than skillfully trace the crisis to its root and adequately address the matter, government treated the soaring anger as a light matter as usual. The IGP quickly announced the disbandment of SARS, a major demand but immediately announced the setting up of another unit, SWAT to fill in the gap to be created. The protesters were not convinced as records have shown the IGP to be inconsistent.
In 2017, the IGP disbanded SARS following serious campaigns from Lagos State but recalled the unit in 2018. The IGP again disbanded SARS in 2019 as condemnation of its atrocities spread following the killing of more innocent citizens. A panel of investigation headed by Vice President Yemi Osibanjo even came up with a Government White Paper recommending reforms of the SARS but like everything Nigerian, this report like the Report of the National Confab, was kept in the cooler until disgust with SARS kicked up the on-going national mass protest that has caught Nigeria like a storm.
Federal and state governments have acknowledged that the Nigeria youth have a legitimate case demanding liberty to breathe in a country that is supposed to belong to them-the youth are the future of every nation.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State while addressing ENDSARS protesters in Asaba, the state capital days before things went haywire, said the youth have a right to demand relief for what he identified as, “the collective pain of the youth”. Governor Sonwolu of Lagos State who even jetted out to Abuja to meet with President Buhari for needed urgent solution to the brewing problem told the protesters,
His moves produced no response from the presidency.
The #ENDSARS protest called for a complete overhaul of the police and security system as well as an end to bad governance. Fighting their cause peacefully both physically and via social media, the youth who refused to be distracted and intimidated, took their cry to the governance centers-state government houses, the National Assembly, Police Headquarters, etc. and they made their demands clear:
A twitter posting stated, “What Nigerian Youth Want From Government Are:
2. Sack Security Chiefs
- Improve Security
- Reduce Petroleum Pump Price
- Reduce PHCN Bill
- CREATE JOBS
- Stop Banditary and Herdsmen
- Give us inclusive government with 50per cent as Youth
- End ASUU Strike
- Electoral Reform-migrate to complete electronic voting
Giving a simple summary of the demands, another posting on WhatsApp reads:
The True Meaning of ENDSARS
E- Education and Economy Reform
N-National Constitution Reform
D- Debt Accountability
A-Anti-People Policies Cancellation
S-Save Cost of Governance
In totality therefore, the protest is demanding an end to bad governance.
And Nigerian leadership had been severally warned of the consequence of bad governance in the past.
-Mr Babashola Chrisma, former UNDP representative in Nigeria, stressed many years ago,
“If we fail to break the circle of poverty, isolation and exclusion that derives from lack of participation, social discontent and political unrest simply increase and there would be heightened disaffection among the young people who are faced with reduced opportunities for employment and training.
“Economic development/growth is meaningful only if it eliminates poverty and provides people with jobs, options and opportunities for sustainable livelihood”.
And worried that growing disparity between our political leaders and the populace was getting wider and likely to erupt into violence, a Catholic cleric, -Rev Fr. George Ehusani warned that “we are heading for a violent revolution” as our leaders are doing nothing but protecting self-interest.
“We are failing in our responsibilities, classification and segregation make it easier when the revolution will come –the poor know where to go.”
Now that the anger over long neglect and impunity has burst, everybody is running around to assuage the burning rage. They all acknowledge that the youth have a legitimate case; a sad testimony to the Nigerian leadership.
Accepting this leadership failure to the youths, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State accepted this failure of the leadership to the youth as he pleaded for calm and time for governments work out the way to go with the demanded police reform. He announced that the Delta State was setting up a Police Complaints Committee, a five-man that would have two youth as representatives. At the national level, the highest law making body, the National Assembly,called on the president to address the nation. Recall that the National Assembly has repeatedly called for the sack of all the security chiefs in the face of their failure to stem the risk of unrest in the country.
The IGP has meanwhile, ordered all in the infamous SARS Unit to report to the Nigeria Police Force headquarters, Abuja for debriefing, psychological and medical examination. It is however not clear why while a state like Enugu has disbanded its SARS Unit, some still function. In Port Harcourt on Thursday, there were reports of a face-off between SARS officers and some youth who went to confirm whether or not they were still in Port Harcourt and in Lagos, there is a report of SARS officers allegedly arresting suspected looters of the Oba’s palace.
In further response to the crisis, the IGP, National Human Rights Commission and other stakeholders recently held a meeting on the #ENDSARS protest, Both the IGP and Ojukwu, the Nigerian Human Rights Commission executive secretary addressed the forum and at the end of deliberations, the forum upheld the legitimacy of the action of the youth as well as the role of the police in upholding the right to life of all Nigerians.
It recommended follow-up actions to the announced ban of SARS by the IGP and recommended that proposed reforms should be anchored on the outcome of the Osibanjo led investigation on SARS, noting that the dissolution of SARS provides opportunity to embark on comprehensive reforms and reposition the Nigeria Police as a modern, responsive and citizen-interest law enforcement organization.
Part of the communiqué read:
“Forum affirmed the sanctity of life of every Nigeria and the role of the police in policing us right; affirms that the five demands of the protesters and the ENDSARS movement are genuine and will be addressed by the government.
“The Forum further notes that the proposed reforms should be anchored under the basis of the White Paper on the Report of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of Special Anti-Robbery Squad which was jointly authored by the National Human Rights Commission, Federal Ministry of Justice and the Nigeria Police Force.
“The Forum affirms that reform proposals for the NPF will be based on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and existing legislations such as the Nigeria Police Act 2020, the Nigeria police Trust Fund Act 2019 and the Administration of Justice Act”.
Collectively, state governors supported the ENDSARS protest for reforms in the police. After a meeting, the Nigeria Governors Forum speaking through their chairman, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State stated:
“Governors were unequivocal that all police officers who participated in the abuse or actions that might have led to injury be found out and brought to book while other actions that were injurious to them or their loved ones should be compensated”.
The governors further urged that planned reforms should align with the demands of the protesting youth.
The Lagos State government which, had become the epicenter of the protest, also announced the setting up of a seven-man committee to look into police brutality, especially those committed by SARS to be headed by Retired Justice Doris Okwuobi with Ebun Olubunwo as member, one youth and one human rights activist.
Part of the Forum communiqué read:
“Forum re-affirmed the sanctity of life of every Nigerian and the role of the police in protecting this right; affirms that the 5-Point demand of the protesters and the ENDSARS Movement are genuine concerns and will be addressed by the government.
“The Forum further notes that the proposed reforms should be anchored under the basis of the White Paper on the Report of the Presidential Panelon the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad which was jointly authored by the National Human Rights Commission, the FederalMinistry of Justice and the Nigeria Police Force
“The Forum affirms that reform proposals for the NPF will be based on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and existing legislations such as the Nigeria Police Act, 2020, The Nigeria Police Trust FundAct 2019 and the Administration of Justice Act”.
Nigerians are united in the demand that the police the people want is one that is people-oriented, one that respects individual rights and builds trust and not the enemy of the people which the NPF has become. The current police have so deviated from protecting the people to protection of mainly political figures and selves.
Former IG of police Kwajaffa put the present state of affairs in better perspective.
Although he was instrumental to the formation of SARS to stem insecurity in the 80s, the former IG has told Nigerians he is ashamed to be identified with what SARS has turned into. According to him, SARS derailed from the objectives for which it was established.
Nigerians want a police force that cares and a government that equally cares,for in management practice, the failure of SARS underpins a governance system failure.
Vice President Osibanjo recognizes and acknowledges this. As tempers ran high over the bungling in the management of the ENDSARS peaceful protests culminating in the Lekki Tollgate Massacre and the destructions in its wake, the number two man in the country apologized to the youth admitting that government was too slow in responding to calls to stop the SARS madness. And see where that has led us! Over 70 lives have been lost, properties worth billions vandalized and razed, businesses destroyed and faith in the country dashed.
The ongoing looting especially of food stuff from government warehouses amplify the utter neglect, underemployment and the attendant poverty Nigerians, especially the youth have been forced to face. The insecurity created is now causing calls from all corners of the globe for change.
Still suggesting a way out, Francis Esemuede said, “Nigerian leaders need good orientation to take the masses first in their political agenda. When plans and budgets are executed to the fullest, Nigeria will move forward in a good direction.”
A stich in time would have saved the more than 60 lives so far lost to the protest in addition to the already identified 84 citizens killed by a power drunk, and uncontrolled SARS. The needed checks to help SARS work in accordance with its mandate were clearly missing, and top police officers were too happy to have their bank accounts swollen to respond to complaints from members of the public.
Modern technology has produced facilities for carrying out effective monitoring and tracking of insecurity. Also, education and retraining of police officers in all formations is more important than dumping terrorists and cultists in a government organ charged with security. History has proven that people rarely change from evil. Otherwise, Nigeria would have made more progress in the battle with Boko Haram. Consistently, people have asked for an upgrade in the entry qualifications of police personnel to help improve the mindset of those engaged to serve as frontline protectors of lives and properties in the country. What we see in the Nigeria Police Force are mainly a bunch of unhappy and greedy individuals in uniform who treat any perceived promising youth as an enemy, and filled with hatred, applies cave man tactics of killing at will in dealing with them guilty or not.
In a sane society, the sack of the service chiefs, long overdue, which many Nigerians including the National Assembly and civil society organizations coalitions is imperative especially as the origin and escalation of the current crisis is a product of their direct failure. The appointment of new security heads reflective of the shape of Nigeria, will bring onboard fresh thinking and a broad spectrum of solutions.
The National Executive Council, NEC has set up a committee headed by VP Osibanjo to look into fundamental underlining issues relating to the #ENDSARS Protest but trust in the government is so down that until something is seen done, anger way still be there and some suggest the implementation of the 2014 National Conference Recommendations put aside by President Buhari. Failure to do the needful portends serious danger for this country as we are witnessing because, the Nigerian youth say they have woken up from laziness and are now ready to reclaim their country and rightly too.