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#EndSARS protests: Learning From Disaster

By Wole Oyebade

The story was once told of how polyester fabric was born. Cotton has had a long reign to make Cottona the undisputed goddess of fabrics and wears. Along came great prosperity from petroleum-based products. Side-by-side, both cotton and petroleum products exercised great importance in the economy and without conflicts. Cotton could not have suspected that petroleum would take her place and end her reign.
It all began on a steaming July day at Saran Wrap Company, a factory that recycles petroleum remains into nylon and plastics. The sun was blistering on that afternoon. Many were becoming stupid and tempers flared. Saran Wrap workers were still filing into the plastic wrap paradise, and throwing banters at colleagues at the adjacent thread company, when they heard the bang from within. The Saran Wrap plant was engulfed in flames. Workers from both companies screamed in agony in the stampede that ensued. A torrent of molten plastic from the burning factory followed fleeing workers out, pouring into the nearby thread plant. Two workers were unlucky. Polly Smith and Ester Jones were buried underneath the marriage of hot molten and laid thread. When the dust settled and tears ceased, a new fabric of nylon and threads was born. It was named polyester – from the first names and in memory of the two pioneers.

Losing two souls in the disaster was quite painful. Undeniable was the untold benefit of the discovery. Polyester products were in a different world of fabrics entirely. It soon became the in-thing in clothing. Its utility was tested in billions of clothing articles. It didn’t need ironing. In all colours, it stretched to fit all sizes and it never tore. The public soon found cotton materials to be stressful and second-best to polyester. Unlike cotton, polyester accommodates all printings and designs. It soon sent raincoats out of the markets; the polyester was waterproof. You don’t need to wash it! It accommodated all dirt into its bright colours and repelled sweats back into armpits. Cotton completely ran out of patronage as everyone adorned polyester with pride – often forgetting the pioneering accident.

Indeed, all human civilisation and innovations ride on the heels of trial and elimination of errors. Some come by experiment, others by accident. So, learning from practicals or disaster is what oils the wheels of progress and avert déjà vu. Regrettably, our local environment does not seem to be compliant with learning from disaster; making the most of our errors to make amends, prevent reoccurrence and move on. Two examples suffice here: one-too-many accidents on our roads and the aftermath of the #EndSARS tragedy.

In the early hours of last Saturday, a fuel tanker exploded its 45,000-litre content on Kara bridge session of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Official account recorded two fatalities, 10 persons injured, and 23 vehicles burnt in the avoidable accident. Crisis responders of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) were attacked by suspected Fulani-boys with machete – a tale that is about 10 years old around that bridge! It was not the first of such explosions and it would not be the last. The Otedola bridge incident in June 2018 claimed eight lives and over 50 vehicles burnt on that same axis. Another tanker fell at Festac Link Bridge this week and residents rushed in to scoop fuel at the same spot where tanker fire gutted 23 vehicles in 2017. The tale is the same nationwide. But we never seem to learn anything that can stimulate drastic policy changes in road usage and transport of petroleum products, at least to demonstrate that the government values lives and properties as provided for in the constitution. If road carnages, tanker and gas explosions cannot be stopped overnight, is there any crime in government showing genuine concern to plights of the citizenry beyond just a bland condolence message when disaster struck?

The post-mortem reactions to #EndSARS protests have shown that the government is grossly insincere about the well-being of the masses. In place of addressing the underlying issues, the government is looking for scapegoats. Lest we forget, the protests led by some of the finest Nigerian youths were peaceful for 10 days. They basically wanted police brutality to end, police should be well catered for and governance should be pro-people in policies. Their civil disobedience only turned violent when politicians started sponsoring thugs and hoodlums to attack peaceful protest and discredit noble intentions. Everything went south when soldiers hid in darkness to shoot at unarmed protesters at Lekki Toll plaza, opening the floodgate for hoodlums to reign terror on public and private properties. Instead of the presidency, northern governors and royal fathers to address the central message of a country falling apart, they are turning EndSARS logic on its head and telling lies to one another. It is a shame.

Clearly, the Buhari’s government is ill-advised in handling or comprehending the EndSARS protests. The general public is beginning to see the government in a new light of deceit that further deepens mistrust. A president, who presides over a democracy yet easily irritated by public complaints against awful and incompetent leadership, but responds by freezing bank accounts and passports of peaceful protesters, and roll out maximum force against unarmed youths is authoritarian and can hardly be trusted. And that is a clear dangerous sign for the corporate entity. Arm-twisting peaceful protesters is not the path of wisdom but sheer political folly. No serious government should discountenance youths’ agitation for better governance, well-remunerated police officers and end poverty, by demonizing protesters as separatists, regime changers and those taking Buhari’s silence for weakness.

Unlike Nigerian leaders, the management of Saran Wrap, and the community at large didn’t just move on as if the polyester disaster didn’t happen. They dealt with the casualties, treated the injured and explored the incident as a defining moment in their development. They learnt from the disaster and moved on wearing polyester materials. It didn’t end there. Before long, the price of crude oil soared to the rooftop in the global market and it took the cost of clothing along. Buying polyester became exclusive to the rich. The general public started noticing other flaws of the material. People complained of elbow and knee patches after prolonged wear; it is highly inflammable; smokers’ ashes create holes on the fabrics; parents feared their kids could go up in flames, coupled with other health hazards. Polyester lost its place under the sun; it couldn’t stand the heat or fire that created it. The people went back to cotton wears and cotton reigns again. After all, nothing lasts forever; change is the only constant thing.

The moral is that we deserve the right to keep changing, exploring alternatives and learning vital lessons at every turn to make things better. As a country, we cannot be doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Igi t’o da’ni l’ese, ko tun gbodo fo’ni l’oju (a stem that fractures a leg should not also blind the eyes). That way, we can avert déjà vu, make progress and make lives more tolerable. Ire o!

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