EndSARS: A protest and a concert



Emmanuel Oladesu

 

IS Arab Spring here? Not yet. But, is the ground not been prepared?

Government now has a big issue to tackle urgently. Delay could be dangerous. The country is enveloped in anxiety and confusion.

A miniature agitation has progressed into a full blown nationwide protest against the unruly behaviour of a section of the police, the Special Anti-Robbery Squard(SARS).

The consensus is that the squard has been maiming, killing, intimidating and oppressing innocent Nigerians, instead of going after armed robbers, cultists and other criminal elements.

Definitely, not all SARS operatives are bad. But, the bad eggs, according to protesters, appear to be in the majority. The bone of contention is that those who were drafted to curtail crime are indulging  in crimes and other vices; they threaten people with guns, extort money and make illegal arrests. To underscore their lack of remorse, they even had the effontry to shoot at protesters in Lagos during the week. Is that not terrorism by the police?

The protests are being sustained, amid the ravaging pandemic. Protesters are shunning the required protocols. Yet, fears are rife about a likely upsurge in cases. It is like SARS is now bigger and more challenging than Covid-19 in Nigeria.

The protesters are also defiant. They are unwilling to dialogue with the authorities. The movement appears leaderless.  But, they have motivators and sponsors who foot the bills for food, drinks, medicine and musical bands.

The young protesters eat, drink, smoke, socialise, sing the National Anthem and pray as they intensify the march. They even sleep on the road. The bond of unity, commitment and resilience are confounding to the government. When will the apprehension fizzle out? Their five-point demands capture their yearnings. But, how can they be met quickly, judging by the time frame required for implementation? Would reform not have a gestation period?

As the protesters exercise their rights, the nation is counting its loss, the rights of other people are violated. Economic activities are disrupted. Free movement of vehicles is hampered.

To an extent, there is panic. No country can joke with a situation where its youths, who constitute 65 percent of its population, are ventilating their collective grievances against the government.

But, is there no basis for the protest? Was government sensitive to the plight of Nigerians when during Covid-19 and its attendant hardship it increased electricity tariff and the price of petroleum?

Are many youths not idle too? Even, if they are not joining protests, why would they not constitute theselves into a devil’s workshop?

The genesis of the reaction is police brutality. Like the Army, the Nigerian Police is a colonial creation dedicated to regime protection. The  police is meant to serve the political class, top businessmen and government officials. The police is not for the masses. Policemen are not friends of the common man.

The entire ‘Police Force’ is on trial. The name is even old fashioned and outdated. What Nigeria needs is a ‘Police Service,’ and not the rebranded ‘Kill and Go’ of Sunday Adewusi era.

The reality has dawned on the hierarchy. Police Inspector-General Muhammadu Adamu has responded to the massive protests by attempting to withdraw the notorious SARS boys from the streets. But, they are still in the police with their guns. They may be redeployed to other units. But, their orientation has not changed.

Adamu has announced a new unit, the Special Weapon and Tactics (SWAT) team, to replace the discredited and disbanded unit. The vacuum has to be filled for security reasons. Armed robbers and cultists can capitalise on the loopholes to wreck havoc. But, the measure has further infuriated the protesters. What do they really want now?

Although President Muhammadu Buhari has also given hints about police reforms, the protesters are still adamant. They are not eager to halt the peaceful and carnival-like protest. Musicians and veteran artists are spicing it with light performance. Then, vocal right activists give mobilisation speeches that energise the protesters. In a way, the protest is fun.

The youth networks speak volumes about a determined movement for social change. The reactions are spontaneous and surprising to the authorities. But, it is not ideological.

A unique feature of the of the protest is that the  nature of sensitisation is not premised on ethnicity and religion. The demonstrations and the motive behind the efforts seem to have national outlook, although some protesters in the North appears to the refocusing the demonstrations as dictated by regional security challenges.

The tonic is the decadence in the society. Pent-up energies are being released in aid of the fight for justice and change. The youths who are speaking with one voice know that they face a difficult future. The older generation has failed them due to their ineptitude, graft and nepotism.

Five categories of youths are answering the “EndSARS call.” The first comprise of vibrant, healthy jobless and frustrated graduates who face a bleak future in a fragile country that is almost a failed state.

The second are students of pauperised universities, polytechnics and colleges who are engulfed with the fear of the future. Their teachers are locked in a protacted battle with the government over funding and welfare.

For almost one year, academic activities have been suspended. Hope of an end to the protracted Academic Staff of Union of Universities (ASUU) strike is still dim. If the ASUU strike is called off today, one quarter of the protesters will leave for campuses.

The third category is made up of artisans and peasants. Ordinarily, they should be occupied in their shops. Power outage is their greatest problem. They rely on petroleum and diesel to power their noisy generators. The hike in the price of petrol is infuriating. They are venting their anger.

The fourth are the real societal liabilities; miscreants and hoodlums who have lost hope. They have been rejected by the society; homeless, hungry, angry and ready to always take a pound of flesh. They are threats to law and order. Some of them live under the Lagos bridges.

The fifth category is the most controversial and fearful bloc of criminals. This is the real target of SARS. The group, which may be fighting back, is  divided into four sub-groups.

The first sub-group is called the dupers’ group, the Advance Free Fraudsters. The familiar appellation is ‘419.’ They are innocent looking, well dressed, and dubious. Their victims have bitter tales to tell. They are supporting the protest against SARS to protect their nefarious trade.

The second sub-group is made of internet fraudsters. Usually, it is a gang operation. They opted for crime to make ends meet. They indulge in cyber crime or Yahoo-Yahoo business. They are manipulators of technology. They are brilliant rascals who are in a hurry to hit gold. They operate without mercy. They give Nigeria a bad name in the comity of nations.

The third sub-group is made up of the men of the underworld. In the past, armed robbers even dared the regular policemen by writing letters to their victims, informing them about their plans to rob and kill in the nrighbourhood. When they come for their operations, they subject many households to agony.

The fourth sub-group is made up of cultists. They were previously domiciled on the campus. Now, cultism is a common feature of most streets in towns and cities. When rival cult groups clash, it is always disastrous.

The fifth sub-group is made up of ordinary Nigerians; family members and friends, who take advantage of familiarity or close relationship to cheat their loved ones by obtaining money through dubious means, stealing valuables, including jewelries, and depriving them of their property. SARS was set up to tackle these endless crimes.

It is unfortunate that SARS derailed from it’s original operational mandate. On account of its excess behaviour, the baby is being thrown away with the bath water.

It is because Nigerians are assailed by a sort of collective amnesia. The circumstances that led to the setting up of the special unit are been erased from memory. Those realities still State the nation in the face.

Is Nigeria not playing into the hands of robbery kingpins who, fundamentally, are targets of SARS? Are cultists not been invited to be on the prowl? Are the licences of criminals not been inadvertently renewed in collective ignorance?

Can Nigerians cope without an alternative unit that will continue to checkmake criminal tendencies in the society?

President Muhammadu Buhari should make a broadcast to the bewildered nation on his plans for comprehensive police reforms. May be, that will assuage the grief of the protesters.

Nigeria cannot exist without an efficient policing system. Policemen are few, judging by the huge  population. The countries needs more dedicated officers.

Policemen suffer from poor salary package and they visit their frustration on citizens. It has also been alleged that top officers direct the boys to convert the roads into a sort of toll gates.

Multi-level policing is not a bad idea. But, government is not ready to decentralise the police. Yet, Nigeria is a federal state.

Nigeria is beset by a problematic policing system. The solution lies in manpower, proper recruitment, sound training, good logistics, welfare for policemen, punishment for bad egs, re-orientation and adequate funding.

A country gets the type of policemen it deserves.

Source: Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics

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