President Muhammadu Buhari is pained by the loss of lives which followed the protests by the youth demanding the scrap of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and an end to police brutality in the country.
The President, who recognised the constitutional rights of the people to peaceful protests, in an address to the nation yesterday, said the nationwide tragedies were uncalled for.
Buhari said that his administration had heard the voice of the protesting youths loud and clear just as he added that the government had begun to take steps to address their demands. He expressed regrets that the swift response of his government to the fivepoint demand handed to him by the protesters was being misinterpreted to mean weakness of his administration.
Buhari pleaded with the protesters to stop their demonstration even as he warned the miscreants that have hijacked the protests that his government would not allow descent into chaos. He said:
“As a democratic government, we listened to, and carefully evaluated the five-point demand of the protesters. And, having accepted them, we immediately scrapped SARS, and put measures in place to address the other demands of our youth.
“On approving the termination of SARS, I already made it clear that it was in line with our commitment to the implementation of extensive Police reforms. “Sadly, the promptness with which we have acted seemed to have been misconstrued as a sign of weakness and twisted by some for their selfish unpatriotic interests.
“The result of this is clear to all observers: human lives have been lost; acts of sexual violence have been reported; two major correctional facilities were attacked and convicts freed; public and private properties completely destroyed or vandalised; the sanctity of the Palace of a Peace Maker, the Oba of Lagos has been violated. So-called protesters have invaded an International Airport and in the process disrupted the travel plans of fellow Nigerians and our visitors.
“All these executed in the name of the #End- SARS protests. I am indeed deeply pained that innocent lives have been lost. These tragedies are uncalled for and unnecessary. Certainly, there is no way whatsoever to connect these bad acts to legitimate expression of grievance of the youth of our country.”
He appealed to the protesters to note and take advantage of the various wellthought- out initiatives of his administration designed to make their lives better and more meaningful, and resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy.
The President said doing otherwise by the youth would amount to undermining national security and the law and order situation.
“Under no circumstances will this be tolerated,” he warned. Buhari, therefore, called on the youth to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage government in finding solutions. “Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding,” he assured.
The President urged Nigerians to go about their normal businesses, and enjoined security agencies to protect lives and properties of all law abiding citizens without doing harm to those they are meant to protect.
He also used the occasion to pay tribute to officers of the Nigeria Police Force who have tragically lost their lives in the line of duty while thanking governors, traditional and religious leaders who have appealed for calm and restraint. He also thanked the youth leaders who have restrained their followers from taking the law into their hands, assuring that his government would continue to respect all the democratic rights and civil liberties of the people, but warned that it will not allow anybody or groups to disrupt the peace of the nation.
Buhari disclosed that the government has begun to take action in improving the welfare of the police and other paramilitary organisations in the country. He said: “With regard to the welfare of police personnel, the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission has been directed to expedite action on the finalization of the new salary structure of members of the Nigeria Police Force. The emoluments of other paramilitary services are also being reviewed upwards.
“In order to underscore the importance of education in preparing youths for the future, this administration has come up with a new salary structure and other incentives for our teachers.”
Responding to interventions and comments coming from Nigerian neighbours and the diaspora, Buhari said: “To our neighbours in particular, and members of the international community, many of whom have expressed concern about the ongoing development in Nigeria, we thank you and urge you all to seek to know all the facts available before taking a position or rushing to judgement and making hasty pronouncements.”
Meanwhile, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd), who briefed newsmen earlier yesterday after the National Security Council meeting chaired by the President, said Buhari expressed concerns about the Tuesday’s killing and maiming of some #End SARS protesters in Lekki, Lagos state.
According to him, Buhari was concerned about the development, adding that he did not want a situation where law and order break down and result into anarchy and lawlessness with the people taking the law into their own hands.
He said: “For one thing, if government can begin to make concessions, then it’s also logical for the protesters, those that are aggrieved also to take a step back, take stock of their activities and come to a meeting point with government and its agencies.
“It is not Mr. President’s desire to see any unwanted loss of lives and he is determined to ensure that things do not cascade into unpleasant situation.
“Therefore, he has directed all the security agencies to operate within the confines of legitimacy, the confines of legality, not to do anything that will aggravate the situation.”
Monguno disclosed that he had cautioned his colleagues in the security circles against employing unnecessary force in quelling the uprising just as he enjoined the protesting youths to sheath the sword and embrace dialogue and understanding.
“The security agencies have been asked to apply as much restraint as possible. But then again, the youth should also understand that pushing their luck might also result in an unwanted issues. “So, it is very very important for everyone to take stock of what has already happened and not give a dark impression of this country to the international community,” he said.
The Council meeting which held at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, had in attendance, aside the NSA, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha and the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari Others were the Service Chiefs led by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin; the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas and the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar.
Also present were the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu; Director General, Department of State Services (DSS), Yusuf Bichi; Director General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ahmed Rufa’i, and the Directorate of Military Intelligence.
Ministers in attendance included those of Defence, Bashir Magashi; Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; Police Affairs, Mohammad Dingyadi and Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama.