Nigeria has in the past two weeks witnessed a series of protests by its youths, who are calling for an end to police brutality in the country.
The general call for an end to impunity by the police was signposted by a direct call for the scrapping of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which had previously constituted itself as an entity to maim, torture, kill and harass Nigerians without any genuine reason.
The excesses of the now scrapped Police unit, flows from the genuine to mundane reasons that included searching of phones, laptops, cars of Nigerians on the streets to arresting youths with jerry curls and dreadlocks on their hairs.
The impunity went on for so long that it was a matter of when, not if the bubble would bust for the police unit. It did bust early in October when some men of the unit shot a young man in Delta State.
The viral video was all that was needed to set the stage for the mayhem that has been unleashed all over the country in the past two weeks, especially in the Southern part, where SARS appears to hold stronger sway.
Of course, it is trite to say that the real protests ended on October 20 when soldiers shot at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos, in the evening of that day. What followed thereafter across Lagos and many other states have been outright brigandage, arson, looting, maiming that were far detached from the initial purpose of the protests.
Indeed, so much was the destruction that various state governments had to quickly impose curfew across the states, with little or no effect on the rampaging youths.
The destructions also forced President Muhammadu Buhari, who had failed to address the nation in the two weeks that the battle raged, to address Nigerians on Thursday last week, with a call on the youth to withdraw from the protests and allow the government implement their demands, which had been accepted. In the words of Buhari: “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 youths….
“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.”
We totally align with Buhari that the purpose of the protest had been hijacked by unscrupulous elements. Otherwise, what could have warranted the mindless looting, destruction and outright lawlessness that was witnessed in many states of the federation in the past few days?
How do we justify that the youth, who were protesting police brutality, turned around and unleashed mayhem on innocent citizens, looting and destroying property at will. Many died or were killed in the process. We note however that the shooting at Lekki Toll Gate was the catalyst that triggered the mayhem.
Although the jury is still out on how many people were killed in the shooting incident, there is no doubt that the indiscretion of the soldiers, who shot at the protesters did more harm than good. It is still not clear who sent them or ordered the shooting.
But subsequent events have shown that such was not a way to deal with already angry youths. Now that the heat seems to have died down, we believe that it is now time for the government to walk the talk and reform the Police effectively. It is a given fact that the police is paid with taxpayers’ money.
It is also a fact that, just like other military and paramilitary agencies, the police were set up to protect citizens of the country. A situation, where those paid with public fund to protect the public now turn around to constitute terror to the same people they were to protect is not acceptable. That is the root cause of the crisis in the first place.
We expect President Buhari and his team to give the police a complete make-over in their conduct, welfare and their general attitude to Nigerians. We also expect that the governments at both states and federal levels would order serious investigations into what led the protests to spiral out of control and became a looting and destruction spree.
That is important in order to save the country from future incidents of such.
Most importantly, we believe that since the protests have claimed casualties and recorded significant destruction, time is now for the youth to call off the protests and allow government to effect the needed reforms.
We say so because we know that even the worst forms of wars ended on the dialogue table. Youths should give room for dialogue and actions by the government. Otherwise, the gains of the battle would be lost, as going forward, the protests now would amount to criminality.