There are lessons for all of us in the EndSARS protest that finally ended in an endless tsunami. It is not clear even now that the protest, fueled by the relentless internet warriors, would petter out. Whatever way the denouement comes, our country would no longer be the same. We have seen now that the rich cannot sleep because the poor are hungry.
Those who started the protest were the ajebutter children of Lekki, who understood the meaning of Instagram and Facebook and all those jargons of the New Age. They brought panache to public protest and taught us the meaning of change. Then they won a battle but did not know how to plan for the war. They were not eager to disclose their leaders. Nigerians all over the world were at first excited by development at home. For once, they were hearing news from home about a protest organized by fresh youths and not the stale politicians and the over-exposed activists. It was exhilarating. The President conceded. He ordered the controversial SARS disbanded. The IG obeyed.
It is not clear now why the youths did not disband the protest on the week of Sunday October 18. They were unhappy that the IG announced the setting up of another organization. Then the free-riders took over on the Lagos Ibadan Expressway and other spots across Nigeria. Before you knew it, hordes have descended on police stations and other centres of perceived national power. In Benin, the prison was forced opened and prisoners trooped into freedom. In Yola, Adamawa State, someone drove off with the state-owned tractor. In Ekiti State, another set off with the signboard of the State House of Assembly. In Osogbo, some protesters invaded a private farm and made away with chickens and eggs. In Abuja hordes tried to attack the Orientation Camp of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, until they were persuaded by a brave military commander to abandon their mission.
It would take time for Nigeria and Nigerians to come to terms with the impact of the EndSARS protest. One, Lagos State would never be the same again. The toll plaza on the Lekki-Epe Expressway, which had been laying golden eggs for Lagos despite its controversial progeny, was the epicenter of the protest. It would be difficult to rebuild. The cozy intervention of the BRT bus may be gone for some times and the massive crowds at bus stops signpost the return of the pre-BRT era.
It was at the Lekki Toll Gate that soldiers came on Tuesday evening last week and fired at the protesters many of whom were waving the national flag. Up till now, no one has own up that he gave the order to move in. On Tuesday this week, the military issued a cloudy statement, stating that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, asked for the military to assist. But the Governor’s request was clear; help to maintain the curfew. The curfew was to come to effect by 9:00 p.m. The killers struck by 7:00 p.m. Who gave the orders?
There is no doubt that the Nigerian political establishment has responded to this crisis in innovative ways. In Osun State where some of the protesters stole chickens and bombarded some private homes of prominent politicians, Governor Gboyega Oyetola admonished them. He gave them a three-day window to return their loot. Surprisingly some of the looters complied and the Government House ground at Okefia was soon filled with liberated palliatives surrendered by the EndSARS looters. In Lagos too, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu moved round the areas of disaster like a chastised general inspecting the ruins of war. In Cross River State, the governor engaged the protesters and succeeded in persuading them not to loot.
There are questions that beg for answers and none is more urgent than the issue of palliatives for COVID-19 victims and the general public. Corporate Nigeria has supported the government to buy palliatives for the general populace. The people believe that these goods were being hoarded by wicked politicians who may release these goods to the public later for handsome profits. We need more explanations on these goods liberated across the country from government warehouses.
There is no doubt that this protest has been very expensive for Nigerians in terms of lives and property. Lagos State government said an initial estimate of damage to its property may not be less than one trillion naira. In the next 10 years, the people of Lagos State may still be paying for the damage of a few days of madness. Some private people, caught in the crisis, may be ruined forever. Foreign investors, considering Nigeria as their next destination, may find a safer harbour. EndSARS protest is actually bad news for the Nigerian economy if the truth must be told.
It is not all bad news however. That the younger ones could organize such a countrywide protest is a sign that this country has a bright future. I would expect that President Muhammadu Buhari would now invite the leaders of the protest and engage them. Those starry-eyed idealists who began the movement at the Lekki Toll Gate, need to be identified and engaged. The president should not hesitate to work with them to create a proper agenda and platform for youth development and empowerment.
That so many young people were willing to participate, sometimes at the risk of their lives, show how much disconnect the political establishment has become from the common people. There is a need for new engagements and new paradigm for citizens participation. There is also the monster of unemployment which has the potential of terrifying madness. Our country must create new avenues to keep our teaming youths gainfully employed. Keeping them on the streets as area boys and almajiri is a strategy that endangers the very existence of the republic.
One person at the centre of this crisis who could have done it differently is Mohammed Adamu, the Inspector-General of Police. It is interesting that the SARS was operating from his office as a nationwide iron rod of the police against crimes. The outfit had many bad eggs, but no doubt some of the eggs were good. He did not see the wholesale rejection of the outfit as his own failure. Instead, he used the boys as the fall-guys. One was expecting that after carrying out the directive of the president, he should then have submitted his letter of resignation. By remaining in office, despite this inclement episode, he has failed to appreciate the profound importance of what has happened to the police. He remained in office as a chastised general. By failing to resign, he did not gasp the importance of historic gesture. He missed his moment. Pity.