By Jonathan Nda-Isaiah, Abuja |
Former Nigerian leaders yesterday condemned what they described as divisive and inciting pronouncements of separatists in respect of the #EndSARS protest, saying such acts should be stopped.
At a virtual meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, each of the former heads of state and presidents commended the actions taken by state governors to address the demands of the protesters and their efforts to check the excesses of those who perpetrated violent acts and conduct.
They commended President Buhari for the efforts made so far to restore calm and order to the country.
They applauded the presidential broadcast of Thursday as detailed and soothing to the country.
The meeting also had the country’s security chiefs and top government officials in attendance.
Those present at the Council Chambers with President Buhari included Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; secretary to government of the federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha; chief of staff to the president, Professor Ibrahim Gambari and national security adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno(rtd).
Others were the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olanisakin; Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu; director-general of Department of State Services (DSS), Yusuf Bichi and director-general of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ahmed Rufai.
The past leaders who attended the meeting included Gen Yakubu Gowon (rtd), President Olusegun Obasanjo, Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd), Chief Ernest Shonekan, Gen Abulsalami Abubakar (rtd) and Goodluck Jonathan.
Specifically, former President Obasanjo lauded President Buhari for addressing the nation in a nationwide broadcast, saying the president was on point in his speech.
‘’I commend the speech of last night. The nation had been waiting. You made points that I believe need to be commended. Peaceful demonstration is part of democratic practice. The demands of the genuine protesters were accepted, and you are working on implementation. We commend you,’’ a statement by presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, quoted Obasanjo as saying.
The former heads of state and presidents were also unanimous in their view that generation of employment and growing the economy including through direct foreign investments were critical to checking youth restiveness.
They also expressed their condolences to the bereaved families of civilians, policemen and soldiers killed as a result of the violent protest, and reaffirmed the commitment to respect the fundamental rights of citizens, including for peaceful protest as enshrined in the Constitution.
They called on the youths to pursue peaceful means in seeking redress through engagement with Government and encouraged further conversation with the youths and other stakeholders in the country.
Speaking earlier, President Buhari told the former leaders that the initial genuine and well-intended protest of youths in parts of the country against the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was hijacked and misdirected.
President Buhari reiterated that the government would not fold its arms and allow miscreants and criminals continue to perpetrate acts of hooliganism in the country.
The president recounted the initial concessions made by his administration on the demands of youths protesting against the excesses of some members of the SARS.
He recalled that the youths had demanded that the squad be disbanded and further articulated additional demands.
He listed the demands to include: ‘’The immediate release of all arrested protesters. Justice for deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.
‘’Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days. Psychological evaluation and re-training of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be re-deployed; and increase in police salary.’’
The president said, ‘’We accepted all the demands and proceeded immediately to scrap SARS and started the process of addressing the other demands.
‘’Unfortunately, the protesters refused to call off the protest and engage the government to address their grievances. Instead, they became emboldened and gradually turned violent.’’
President Buhari expressed concern that in the mayhem that ensued, many lives were lost, a number of public and private properties completely destroyed or vandalized.
Reiterating his pledge to Nigerians from the nationwide broadcast Thursday, the President reaffirmed: ‘’We will continue to improve good governance through our democratic process including through sustained engagement.
‘’We shall also continue to ensure that liberty and freedom, as well as the fundamental rights of all citizens are protected. Here, I want to also reaffirm our commitment to preserving the unity of this country.”
The president thanked the former heads of state for attending the meeting and their invaluable comments, observations and advice, adding that ‘’Nigerians expect nothing less from responsible statesmen.’’