Some weeks ago, the youthful segment of the Nigerian population staged series of peaceful protest marches across some of the country’s major cities, calling for an end to police brutality and a comprehensive reformation of the Nigerian Police Force, which had allegedly become a law unto itself, consequent to the excesses of some of its personnel.
In what became known as the #EndSARS movement, Nigerian youths collectively demanded for a complete paradigm shift in the country’s system of policing; one that is humane, people-friendly and service oriented.
Despite the spate of violence that later marred the initially peaceful protests, following its hijack by some misguided elements, culminating in killings and destruction of both public and private property, the significance of the #EndSARS movement was loud and clear: Nigeria’s system of law enforcement is inhuman, outdated and in dire need of complete overhauling.
However, in the midst of the dram and apprehension generated by the #EndSARS protests and its violent aftermath, the underlying issues the events of the last few weeks revealed about Nigeria are quite instructive. Some of these revelations are catalogued below:
- The #EndSARS agitations and its unfortunate aftermath confirmed that the Nigerian State is a mighty laboratory waiting to explode, as demonstrated by the manner the initial call for the proscription of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police Force, quickly burgeoned into a gigantic movement for comprehensive national political, constitutional, institutional and structural reforms, exposing the fact that the Nigerian superstructure was resting on a very fragile base.
- Nigerians view the country’s security forces as instruments of oppression and intimidation, a set of lawbreakers who live above the law, hence the later attacks on police stations and correctional facilities, alongside the purported killing of some police personnel by some disgruntled elements (not #EndSARS protesters), alongside the collective resolve by the youths to see the agitations through, once and for all.
- The youthful segment of the population is an emerging social force that can be easily mobilized to agitate for reforms, contrary to the hitherto held belief in some quarters that the country’s youths lacked cohesion. The internet, especially the social media, is a crucial factor that makes this very possible.
- Nigerian authorities are reluctant in responding to demands for critical national reforms, no matter how crucial, hence their foot-dragging on the issues initially raised by the protesters, which kept the protesters on the streets for longer than was necessary, and later culminated in the unfortunate hijacking of the initially peaceful protests by violent elements, resulting in the avoidable orgy of violence that later reared its monstrous head.
- Nigerians don’t trust the government to keep to its words; a trust deficit that consequently defined the protests at their initial and later stages.
The Nigerian government and other critical stakeholders to, rather than continuing to seek revenge against the alleged organizers of the largely peaceful #EndSARS protests and their supposed sponsors, should do a detour and instead carry out a forensic appraisal of the core demands of the protesters and other visceral issues, such as the need for restructuring, grinding poverty, asphyxiating unemployment etc, brought to the fore during the protests and commence a process of national reconciliation, structural and institutional reformation and strengthening, youth engagement, alongside a general revamping of the subsisting unjust socio-economic order.
Ongoing clampdown by government on some of the conveners and sponsors of the #EndSARS protesters, are not necessary; they are pointless distractions from the underlying issues brought to light by the events of the last couple of weeks, and could increase the people’s distrust of the government and drive the agitators underground, a negative development that could result in worst case scenarios for the country in the future. Rather that adding salt to an already festering sore, what the country needs now is healing, not vindictiveness on the part of the government.
While Nigerians await the findings of the judicial panels of inquiry set up by the states, on the orders of the federal government, to probe instances of police brutality and other extrajudicial misdemeanors, those in authority must realize that the continued existence of the country as an indivisible, peaceful and prosperous political unit rests largely on the diplomatic manner they respond to the visceral issues brought to the fore by recent events. An adversarial approach could be counter-productive.