Politics

#EndSARS protests: How Reps reacted to ensuing violence

The House of Representatives, in the last two weeks, joined other Nigerians and individuals across the globe to respond to attacks on the #EndSARS protesters, destruction and looting of public and private property by hoodlums across some states of the country. PHILIP NYAM reports

The #EndSARS protests took the nation by storm, prompting the Federal Government to announce the proscription of the dreaded police Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) outfit and immediate formation of the Special Weapons and Tactical (SWAT) team.

Unfortunately, disbandment of SARS by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, could not calm down frayed nerves of the protesting youths as the protests continued unabated. Although there were pockets of violence in different places across the country leading to the death of some policemen as well as the protesters, however, it was the shooting and alleged killing of some protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos State by soldiers that finally broke the camel’s back.

Following this event, some youths went berserk and descended on security men, government properties and private businesses, destroying, looting and maiming people in some instances. Reacting to the turn of events in the protests, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, described the Lekki Toll Gate incident as disturbing and not a reflective of the nation’s growing democracy.

Gbajabiamila, who expressed grief over the sad event and the consequent civil disturbances around the state, called for a quick and thorough investigation into the incident that led to the avoidable incident.

He said: “After sixty years, our democracy should have grown beyond the point, where conflicting visions of nationhood result in violence on the streets and blood on the ground. It is unavoidably and painfully clear that there were a number of casualties as a result of gunfire at the Lekki Toll Gate.

“Therefore, there needs to be a quick and thorough investigation to determine the facts of what happened. Our nation urgently needs and the Nigerian people deserve an accounting of the acts that led to the events.” While urging Nigerians to remain calm and law-abiding, Gbajabiamila noted that no blood needed to be spilled any more, saying: “I urge for calm whilst we get a truer picture of events.

In Lagos and everywhere else, too much blood has already been spilled in our country, let there be no more.” The minority caucus in the House, on its part, picked holes in the nation-wide broadcast by President Muhammadu Buhari on the protests, saying it left much to be desired.

The House Minority leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, on behalf of the caucus, said: “As representatives of the people, our caucus is particularly surprised that Mr. President’s speech did not find a space to address the killing of innocent and unarmed Nigerian youths at the Lekki Toll Gate; the very development that sparked off violent restiveness across the nation and consequent widespread demand for a presidential address.

“The minority caucus expected that the address by the President to come with some empathy for victims of the killings and other acts of brutality by unscrupulous security operatives, particularly at this time when a soothing words from the President would have gone a long way to calm frayed nerves.

“Indeed, the expectation across Nigeria was for Mr. President to reassure Nigerians, especially the youths by forcefully condemning the killing and brutalization of our young ones, announcing an accelerated independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the gruesome acts and setting a clear pathway for the much-needed overhaul of our security system.” Elumelu further noted that the much desired national healing, peace, unity and stability of the nation anchor on such show of concern and commitment by leaders.

His words: “As lawmakers, our caucus therefore urges President Buhari, as the father of the nation, to take further steps to realign with the expectations of the people and reassure the nation by immediately setting up an independent inquiry into these killings with a view to prosecuting and bringing the perpetrators to book.

“This is in addition to an inquiry into videos and reports that unscrupulous security operatives mobilized thugs to attack peaceful protesters and unleash violence on innocent Nigerians. Those behind such shameful act that escalated sectional hostilities and pitched citizens against one another should be brought to book.

“The minority caucus once more urges President Buhari to urgently rejig the nation’s security architecture by replacing his service chiefs with more competent and professional hands to assist in effectively handling the security challenges confronting the nation. Mr. President is further urged to take urgent steps to accelerate action on his economic reforms so as to provide ample opportunities for our youths to gainfully participate in our productive sectors and ameliorate the hardship, hunger and frustration in the land.

“The minority caucus notes that history beckons and that the unity, stability, peaceful co-existence and general wellbeing of citizens in our country should be paramount at this point in our national life.” Also, some members of the House under the auspices of Young Parliamentarians Forum, in their reaction, called on President Buhari to immediately inaugurate the Nigeria Police Council and the governing council of the National Human Rights Commission, which should include youth representation.

Chairman of the forum and member representing Zuru/Fakai/Danko-Wasagu/ Sakaba federal constituency of Kebbi State, Hon. Kabir Tukura, who spoke on behalf of the group called on the Federal Government to demonstrate genuine commitment to reforming the police and ensure the protection of youth and citizens from police brutality to forestall preventable deaths.

He said: “The National Assembly should as a matter of urgency reconvene for an emergency session to discuss the alleged killings of peaceful protesters. In addition, an investigative public hearing on the loss of lives and human rights violation resulting from police brutality is highly recommended.

“The past few days have been the toughest time in our democracy, especially the horrendous loss of lives of unarmed protesters at Lekki Toll Gate. We have observed unpleasant developments across major cities in Nigeria, with scores of young people killed and many injured as a result of the ongoing #EndSARS# peaceful protest led by young people. These extrajudicial killings and violence are highly condemnable and unacceptable.

“We have observed with dismay the recruitment and deployment of hoodlums and thugs to disrupt and hijack the protest by unpatriotic Nigerians. These have occasioned the death of innocent citizens, the destruction of government and private property and the disruption of economic activities in some cities around the country.

“Our sincere sympathy goes to the families of people who lost their lives in the process and we pray the almighty consoles them in this moment of grief. We urge the Federal Government to ensure adequate and immediate compensation to the victims of police brutality, bandintry and terrorism.

“As a matter of urgency, the Nigerian Army should identify the armed men in military uniform, who attacked innocent protesters at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos. We also urge the Nigeria Police Force to identify officers, who attacked peaceful protesters in cities across the states. Similarly, the sponsors of the human rights violations and violence perpetrated by thugs across the Federation must be made to face the full wrath of the law.

“We urge the federal government to accede to the demands of the youth and ensure comprehensive reforms in the security sector. As Young Parliamentarians, we are committed to the yeamings of Nigerian youths and to this end, we will be taking all necessary actions within our purview to ensure justice and accountability.”

The lawmakers also called on the federal government to expedite action on the negotiation with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in order to resolve the imbroglio. Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase, who also added his voice, appealed to youths to be calm over the #EndSARS protests and not to take laws into their hands, saying the federal and state governments as well as the National Assembly will do everything within their powers to ensure that their demands are met. The deputy speaker further urged the youth to give the government the opportunity to effect the long expected police reforms.

Members of the House from the South- West also condemned the attack on critical infrastructure and other investments in Lagos and other locations in the zone. Chairman of the South-West caucus, Hon. Femi Fakeye, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, said the caucus affirms the inalienable rights of citizens to a peaceful protest.

He said: “We condemn in very strong and unequivocal terms, the desecration of the cultural heritage of the South-West through the unnecessary and unprovoked attacks on the palaces of the Oba of Lagos, the Soun of Ogbomosho and other eminent Yoruba cultural leaders.

“We appeal to all Nigerians not to turn the South-West into a battle ground. We admonish our youths to eschew violence an further civil unrest. We also appeal to the Federal Government to fast track implementation of all outlined programmes for youth employment, empowerment and those for the most vulnerable citizens of the country.” The Lagos State caucus in the House of Representatives, on its part, called for compensation for victims of police brutality and human rights abuses.

The caucus also appealed to the youths protesting against SARS to sheathe their swords and withdraw from the streets to give peace a chance. Chairman of the caucus, Hon. Dolapo Badru, said: “We, members of the Lagos caucus of House of Representatives note with concerns the unfortunate incidence in our state in the last two weeks and align with concern and agitation for good governance as presented by the youth.

“Issues raised by the youth have been extensively discussed at plenary session and we align with the position of the House of Representatives as enunciated by the Speaker. We align ourselves with the position of the House of Representatives as enumerated by the Speaker, one of which is that all victims must be compensated.” “We urge the youth that as their legitimate requests are being attended to; they should support the governor to restore peace in the state.

We therefore appeal to the youth to stop all protest because their actions have been hijacked by others with premeditated agenda, using social media to misrepresent and spread fake news to incite violence, looting. vandalisation of private and public assets.

“We condemn in its entirety the attacks on our critical infrastructure. As at today over 100 buses, fire stations, council secretariat, ambulances, fire fighting vehicles and banks have been reportedly burnt and private shops/stores looted. We also condemn in very strong terms, the invasion of the palace of the Oba of Lagos as we view this as an attack on our heritage and a sacrilege. “We appreciate and thank the governor of Lagos State for his tireless, humane and responsive leadership at this critical time in our country as he has constantly played. We commiserate with all the families of all victims and pray that they be comforted.”

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