By Simon Reef Musa
Before Thursday October 22, 2020, many Nigerians had expressed apprehension over what many described as the snubbing disposition of President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation over the #EndSARS protests, taking into consideration the rising spate of violence engulfing the protests in various state capitals.
The protests had gained world traction and were heading to the global hall of infamy after peaceful demonstrators, waving the green-white-green flags and reciting the national anthem, were reportedly shot on Tuesday at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos by gunmen suspected to be soldiers. Amidst national outrage and international condemnations, the peaceful #EndSARS protests instantly turned chaotic as several property belonging to both private citizens and public were torched and doors of prison opened as inmates escaped from their jailers. For many Nigerians, including this writer, a presidential address could have saved the situation and availed an opportunity for President Buhari to tackle issues raised by the angry youths.
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For those who predicted that the President would not address the nation, they were persuaded by the past to buttress their viewpoint. Despite the incessant murders of defenceless citizens by bandits in his home state, Katsina, they argued, Buhari has never found it expedient to embark on condolence visits to assuage victims and relations.
For those who were optimistic that the former Head of State and now democratically elected president would address the nation and commiserate with grieving citizens over the loss of relations, President Buhari, they reminded Nigerians, had visited Borno, Benue and Yobe states, among others, to sympathise with victims of attacks. This group predicted that it was just a matter of time for the Commander-in-Chief to address the nation.
As the time of the broadcast drew nearer, the heartbeats of many, including yours sincerely, waited almost breathlessly for a broadcast expected to address issues raised by the protesting youths in the last two weeks. Not even the power outage was capable of denying many the opportunity of listening to our president speak to our bleeding nation. Some, like me, resorted to using gen sets to frustrate the power outage.
Paradoxically, our president’s broadcast met the expectations of both groups. Though he indeed addressed the nation, not many were convinced that Buhari was forthcoming on the main issue: condoling with citizens who have lost loved ones and providing templates in compensating for lives lost. Wearing a stern looking face that is in tune with the mood of the nation, the president’s broadcast fell short of public expectations as a father of the nation. Instead of condoling mourning families, Buhari warned the international community to always be fully informed on facts of an issue before jumping into conclusions. He told citizens that though his government was committed to the true ideals of democracy as enshrined in our laws, he, however, cautioned against attempts by “subversive elements” to truncate Nigeria’s nascent democracy. Apart from not acknowledging the Lekki shootings described by some analysts as a national sacrilege under a democracy, his condolence to families of slain policemen amounted to a swear word on murdered protesters.
We must agree that the problem of Nigeria is not President Buhari. Without changing our laws to promote good governance and make leadership accountable to the citizens, any efforts aimed at changing the system to serve the interests of all without resorting to changing relevant laws will continue to be vanity. Our foundational problem is tied to our inability to evolve a system that has the capacity to tackle the shortcomings of our country that has turned our nation into a big cash cow for a privileged few. At the bottom of reforming the rot and cancer of our body politics is the need to forgo the old path that has never worked in enthroning justice for all.
Expecting President Buhari to be cleansed of traits normally associated with military commanders amounts to expecting too much from the ‘old soldier who never dies!’ Was this not the same military trait in 2015 that gave him an edge over former President Goodluck Jonathan whose performance against the deadly Boko Haram was deemed too ineffective? It is difficult, if not impossible, for Buhari to simply forget the old days of the military and succumb to some voices protesting violations of freedoms when dogs of war are barking and setting private/public buildings ablaze.
Not a few people are disappointed with the president’s speech, but a clear message from these rallies as re-echoed in the national broadcast reveals the essence of these street protests when Buhari told the #EndSARS protesters: “We have heard your voice loud and clear.”
To me, that is the affirmation of resilience displayed by these protesters who for many days defied elements of the weather and poured into our nation’s streets to enliven the conscience of the world on the brutality of the police. These protests affirm that with unity of minds for a common purpose, there’s no mountain too big that can stand in the way of determined citizens.
The #EndSARS protests have come to symbolise the potentials of our young populace to unite above sentiments that have always torn our country apart and cast long shadows in our march to national growth. Having staged peaceful marches for nearly 10 days to demand a new Nigeria where all iniquities of the state would find resolution, it is obvious that the intentions of these youths were far from unleashing violence on a country they insist has not opened the door to equal opportunities.
Destruction was only introduced into the rallies when hired thugs and street urchins, made possible by the failure of the police, attacked these peaceful protesters. It’s heart-rending that lives of some of these nonviolent protesters were lost, but the ultimate achievement of their protests is that the panic button has been activated on national leadership to resolve challenges bedevilling the country. The resolution of these issues may not be realised in the lifetime of the present generation of leaders, but it props up the urgency to avert the looming dangers ahead.
Now that the president has spoken, we must salute the courage and resilience of these youths. Democracy has never been a revolution but a gradual process aimed at evolving laws for human development. By what we have seen so far, the continuous neglect of these youths is capable of turning the country’s future into chaos. Our youths remain a potent force that must be engaged at all times in scaling the walls of national development and making every citizen an equal partner in deepening and sustaining democracy.
Now that it has become certain that hired hooligans found their ways into the protests to unleash terror on citizens, the security forces must not look the other way while these destructive wolfhounds set ablaze private and public property, including providing safe passage to criminal elements serving sentences or awaiting convictions in several prisons.
#EndSARS protests have provided many lessons to both the government and our youths. For those whose lives were cut short demonstrating for a just Nigeria, their blood will continue to inspire the march towards the evolvement of a just nation. For the national leadership, it should note that no whip of injustice can be too strong to endlessly lock up windows of freedoms to a dispossessed citizenry. Sooner or later, the prison doors of injustice must give way.