Chief Willy Ezugwu is the Secretary General of Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP). In this interview, he speaks on the protests across the country, which have turned violent in some states. FELIX NWANERI reports
What is your take on the #EndSARS protests that started on a peaceful note but has turned violent in some states?
There will be catastrophic consequences if the police and the military allow themselves to be pushed into using force to suppress the ongoing #EndSARS protesters. Nigeria will burn if the police and military authorities allow themselves to be used by selfish government officials, who have demonstrated unprecedented level of insensitivity and shielded President Buhari from knowing the reality of things. The situation is worsening because our President has locked up himself in the Presidential Villa, while those who elected him are on the streets protesting against bad governance and police reform.
You will recall that during the build up to the planned labour strike and after the eventual disappointment by the labour unions, we continued to reach out to civil society groups across the country on the need to arrest the continued maladministration in the country. But at the peak of the consultations and mobilisation, the SARS attack that sparked the rise of the #EndSARS Movement occurred. Today, the Federal Government, through its intelligence networks, should have known that young people across the country, on their own accord, opted to take their own destiny in their own hands after obvious sellout and betrayal by labour unions in the country.
As the labour unions lost the trust of citizens, the youths are raising their funds to support each other while the protests lasts, with some Nigerian celebrities supporting them with food and water. At the momentum of the widespread protests, any attempt to use force to disperse these demonstrators will be disastrous for the country and may lead to a total collapse of the already collapsing Nigerian economy.
Unfortunately, the presidency and the ruling APC did not, as expected, heed earlier advice that there was urgent need for President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation to calm ruffled nerves of the protesting youths. As usual, the presidency saw such advice as an attack from the opposition, even though it was based on intelligence of impending total shutdown of the country, which fatherly words of assurances from Mr. President would have prevented.
We saw it coming and today, we are all living witnesses to the growing agitations against bad governance both at home and abroad. The APC and the presidency should know that the worst is yet to come. It’s not the time to be adamant and insensitive. #EndSARS is a movement of the people which no Pharaoh can stop.
No government is above the people; the people gives power to those in government and all government officials at all levels, including security operatives, must immediately realise that the Nigerian people are their employers and treat them as such. Nobody can tell his or her employer to go to hell without dire consequences. For the umpteenth time Mr. President, it’s time to address Nigerians.
How would you react to the killing of some of the protesters in Lagos by security operatives?
The adamant Federal Government and the APC are currently reaping the fruits of stubborn impunity and lack of attention to the basic needs of the Nigerian people in the last five years. In their characteristics, the warning that attempting to use force on the #EndSARS protesters would be catastrophic was ignored and the result is obvious.
But again, we must warn that the ongoing crackdown on young people across the country would aggravate the anger in the land just as the shooting of peaceful protesters in Lagos was ill-thought, counterproductive, inhumane, and above all wicked by those who planned and executed it.
But government has absolved itself of any involvement in the crackdown?
We are aware that both the federal and Lagos state government have denied involvement in the shooting. However, there is a need for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to tell Nigerians who turned off the lights and removed CCTV cameras at the Lekki Toll Gate before the shooting.
How come that men in military uniforms showed up and opened fire on the unarmed peaceful protesters holding the national flag, while singing the national anthem. If indeed the APC-led government that controls the security architecture of the country never ordered the shooting and never got intelligence ahead of the gruesome attack, then it’s time for President Buhari, the Chief of Army Staff and other security chiefs in the country to resign.
Will their resignation resolve the issues on ground?
This has become imperative as it is becoming clear that nobody is safe in the country. The government must know that the ‘unknown soldier’ theory cannot work in this digital age. Any government that consistently fails to listen to sincere advice from the people, the opposition, and civil societies will definitely lead the country to nowhere.
The people are the sovereign from whom the Nigerian government derives its existence and it is for them that the government exists. They must be listened to, not killed. The APC government which is a product of protests must know that peace is always impossible where injustice reigns.
What exactly do you want the government over the killings?
If the Federal Government can arrest a hooded soldier it earlier described as fake, it should immediately arrest the Lekki Toll Gate shooters who killed #EndSARS protesters or immediately throw in the towel. The continued arrest and killing of young people by government armed forces will ignite more fire in the country.