As the nation seeks a solution to the impasse generated by the protest against police violence by #EndSARS, President Muhammadu Buhari should take his portion of the blame for failing to address the protesters in a timely manner before the protest degenerated into crisis. His failure in this regard is not only contradictory to the wishes of Nigerians who wanted the stand-off to be resolved quickly, but it is also an indication of a high degree of disrespect for young people, and indeed for Nigerians.
On October 12, 2020, just as the # EndSARS Campaign was gathering momentum across the country, President Buhari declared the disbandment, the subject of the protest, of the infamous police Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Afraid that the disbandment will count for nothing, justifiably because of the past official behavior, the youth escalated their fight against police brutality and for good governance from the next day.
Notably, until a week later, precisely on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, the protest was largely peaceful and orderly, aptly tagged ‘Gory Tuesday,’ when security men opened gunfire on defenseless and armless young protesters at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos. Afterward, hell was set loose when violent crowds took over the rally. Although all of these were envisaged because of the circumstances, the apparent absence of a government that followed for about three days was what could not be contemplated. In a democracy, this is curious.
It is true that some state governors went around begging for relief from the rampage, but their voices drowned in Abuja’s very loud silence, which dominates the law-and-order apparatus. At a critical time, Nigerians craved presidential intervention, provided again that last week’s public disorder was unprecedented in its manner of conduct, and by a party, the youth, who were least reckoned with by the government. The President, in particular, once tagged them as ‘lazy young people.’
But oddly, just a week into the protest, when the President wanted to talk, what he didn’t say was much louder than what he had said. He did not commiserate with the families of young people who were killed in the storm on different fronts, nor did he try to justify why armed uniform men shot ordained demonstrators recklessly. No reference at all to the ghastly incident at the Lekki tollgate in the 26-minute broadcast of the President to the nation on edge!
Clearly, the protest that took place in some states almost two weeks before the imposition of the curfew was important enough to draw the President’s attention, beyond his pronouncement, more than a week earlier when the Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was allowed to be disbanded. Yeah, President Buhari vowed to reform the police comprehensively at that time. Yet he needed to try to cool the frustration of the demonstrators afterward.
Therefore, it is also curious why our President chose the demonstrators to be ignored. In our view, this omission is tantamount to a direct slap on Nigerians who are touched by the protest, one way or the other. This presidential gaffe is antithetical to the ethos of democracy that he governs in the most populous nation in Africa. Democracy is literally a people’s government for the people by the people. There is nothing in the President’s silence on the protest as a public officer who is supposed to serve all Nigerians and pander to their interests, to indicate that he is the man the protesting children addressed as ‘our father’ when they raised the country’s flag with the rendition of the national anthem of the country.
In addition, it is on record that the leadership of the National Assembly met physically, having studied the situation of the protest, and appealed to Buhari to address the country. The Senate urged President Buhari to address the nation after the meeting on Sunday, October 18 and set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate suspected extra-judicial killings by the disbanded SARS.
As part of its resolution, the Senate actually adopted the appeal, following their ‘Motion on EndSARS: Need for Substantive and Holistic Reforms,’ moved by a former minority Senate leader, Senator Biodun Olujimi. In the resolution, the Senate stressed the need for the President to be concerned about the country’s recent developments, especially the ongoing youth protests. The Senate thought that one of the ways to stop the protest was for the President to approach the crisis frontally with the government.
Furthermore, the Senate urged all levels of government to put in place and maintain socio-economic development policies and programs that could increase the standard and quality of life of Nigerians. The members of the upper house also advised that all five points of demand from the # EndSARS Movement and protestors should be enforced by the federal government, with necessary timelines to rekindle confidence in the government.
In the same vein, it is also reported that, among other prominent people, former President Olusegun Obasanjo appealed to Buhari, “as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, as well as a parent of the protesting youth, to prevent the use of brute force by the military and other security agencies as a way of ending the crisis.”
It is, in the end, disheartening that the President rejected all the appeals for restraint. And now, in crisis time, the result of failing to listen to wise advice is that the commander-in-chief and his armed forces are now looking for a plan to handle a catastrophe of public relations, caused by ‘we-were-not-there’ rejection of ‘we-were-there-but-on-the-invitation-of-the-Lagos-State-governor confession.’ In the most populated black nation on earth, this is certainly not how to get the armed forces interested in nurturing democracy. Finally, it is time to focus on the explanation for this season of lamentation: the dispossession of the police department, which, also in a global sense, should usually be the focal point of internal security. Therefore, let’s turn to how to restore the Nigeria Police Service as a means of regret for the 20-10-2020 October fiasco.