By Lekan Sote
One hopes that the #EndSARS protests won’t lead to Sahel Spring, sub-Saharan Africa’s equivalent of the Arab Spring, a wave of spontaneous anti-government protests, uprisings and rebellion, which sparked off in December 2010 in Tunis, Tunisia, and spread across the Arab world.
The Arab Spring led to the fall of governments of Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and some other Arab countries, ouster of leaders, like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and death of others, like Muammar Gadaffi of Libya.
Another consequence is the renegade Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The insurgent Islamic State of West Africa Province that operates in North-East Nigeria is reported to be an ISIS affiliate.
Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunis vegetable vendor, whose wares were confiscated by city officials, started the protest by setting himself ablaze. He won a post-houmous Sahharov Prize for his contribution to “historic changes in the Arab World.”
#EndSARS protests started after Joshua Ambrose was reportedly thrown to his death out of a moving vehicle by men of the Special Anti Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police in Ughelli, Delta State of Nigeria.
Because it is not too clear who is leading, or even funding the protests that political analysts are beginning to think may be a citizens’ movement, government should simply go ahead and meet the legitimate issues raised.
And it doesn’t look as if replacing the dismantled SARS, accused of profiling youths, with the Special Weapons and Tactics Team, which the Nigerian Governors’ Forum rejects, is the appropriate response.
Though the Coalition of Northern Groups, who legitimately want government to address insecurity in Northern Nigeria, and the Northern governors, who want SARS retained, seem like they want only to cut some slacks for the Federal Government, they are also unwittingly advancing a case for state policing.
The way to relate with these protesters, who are mostly young, articulate, tech savvy and financially independent, is to respond to their demands without stonewalling. The “lazy Nigerian youths” don’t want tokenism, the stock-in-trade of Nigeria’s ruling class.
It is commendable that the armed forces, that “observed with dismay some violence-related protests across the country; particularly the increasing number of attacks on peaceful protesters by thugs,” pledged to protect protesters.
One hopes the rider, “Any attempt to undermine the democracy of our beloved nation under any cover will not be allowed,” is not a subtle threat to discourage the protesters. Military men recently blocked the movement of protesters in Abuja and Ekiti State capital city, Ado-Ekiti.
This scepticism comes in the face of the unnecessary declaration that “The Armed Forces of Nigeria remain subordinated to the civil authorities of the country with unflinching loyalty to the President, Commander-in-Chief (of the Armed Forces).”
“Operation Crocodile Smile,” which the army carefully pointed out is an annual event, and will run from October 20 to December 31, 2020, should not be a show of force to frighten the protesters off the streets.
So far, these youths that form 65 per cent of Nigeria’s population, have not done anything to warrant an invocation of military might to put down their legitimate protests. Anyway, the military have said Operation Crocodile Smile has nothing to do with the protests.
Though Section 217(2,c) of Nigeria’s Constitution allows the use of the military “in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President,” if acceptable to the National Assembly, a Federal High Court has issued a perpetual order restraining Operation Crocodile Smile.
And throwing the curve of COVID-19 social distancing against the protesters is not too clever. Those who massed up at the Eagle Square in Abuja to celebrate Nigeria’s 60th Independence Anniversary on October 1 were not sanctioned.
And using the argument of money laundering to lean on Tunde Lemo, a former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, to make the services of his Flutterwave unavailable for remittance of the Diaspora funding to the protesters, only migrated the children to bitcoin cryptocurrency.
It’s going to be difficult to “cage” these youths, masters of the Information and Communication Technology. They are too savvy to be ignored, treated with disdain, cajoled or bullied. They came prepared.
They come to the protest grounds with adequate logistics of music, food, water, drinks, medical care, umbrellas, raincoats, telephone charging galleries, even bouncers and guard dogs. They pick up the litter after they are done with their protests every day.
They also have lawyers to post bail for protesters pulled in by the police. The more daring of them stood their grounds to repel anti-protest miscreants who attacked them with clubs and machetes.
They are the natives of the social media and they mobilise, for good or ill, in a matter of nanoseconds. Evidence of their speed and shared values is evident in the tip of the iceberg that Nigeria has just seen.
As you know, the demands have gone beyond proscribing SARS. They added other demands, like prosecution of SARS officers who may have harmed or killed defenceless Nigerians. They want the state to pay adequate remunerations, and review the working condition, of police officers.
If you see some of the barracks where police officers live in, you will have sympathy for the harassed members of the Nigeria Police Force. You will also understand why they react with inferiority complex when they see young men with expensive cars and phones.
The protesters want government to improve on the recruitment, training, orientation, deployment of police personnel, and the modus operandi of the force, so that the public can receive more humane, but effective, policing service.
They also ask for a review of the jumbo remuneration of legislators and the excessive pensions of former governors. Rumours indicate that Nigeria has the highest paid senators in the world. Some mischievous people have adapted the #EndSARS acronym to End Senators And Reps Salaries.
Of the initial checklist compiled by the protesters –release of arrested protesters, independent panel to look into the conduct of disbanded SARS officers, psychological evaluation of the officers, justice and compensation for the families of victims, and increase in police salaries– only Lagos State has implemented the first two so far.
They promise to disband and go home immediately government meets all their demands. Government should look into that with the intention of acting in the swiftest manner. This generation, the state actors must know, operate in the instant, electric, mode.
Also, they insist that all of them form a common leadership, asked activist Omoyele Sowore to “Off his mic,” excused him from their Abuja protest ground, and rebuked some of their rank who met with state actors.
They are wary of having a leadership that may be compromised. Carter Kufre is struggling to explain that he got N500, 000, and not N4m, on behalf of protesters from the Akwa Ibom State Government.
A group whose leadership is difficult to identify and engage is essentially hydraheaded. And Nigerian leaders should remember that the hydraheaded monster of the Greek mythology replaced each of its head that Hercules cut off with two others.
Though some dissent is rearing within its rank, this hydraheaded group must not be pushed into thinking it is screaming to a void; the protest must also not degenerate into anarchy.