The Revd. Gideon Para- Mallam is a Global Mission Leader, Peace and Social Justice Advocate and President & CEO of The Para-Mallam Peace Foundation. He has also worked with young people in Nigeria, Africa and Portuguese speaking nations of the world. He respond ended to the nation wide protests by Nigerian youths in this interview with TAI ANYANWU
As some one who has worked with young people in Nigeria, Africa and around the world, what’s your reaction to the #End- SARS protest by young people?
My heart goes out to the families of those who lost their lives during this period. May God comfort their families. May they not die in vain. You will recall that in my last interview published by your good and courageous newspaper, the Telegraph on Sunday on October 11th, 2020, in which I said this period in Nigeria today, represents a moment of truth for Nigeria.
Put differently, this is what could easily be termed, a defining moment for Nigeria. What in biblical term could be called a Kairos moment for Nigeria, for her people and our leadership. Our leaders need to engage in triple listening in order to maximise this defining moment of truth for the nation. I must confess, I was oblivious to what was going on in the social media hash tag in the early hours of that morning until my daughter called to say daddy, are you aware of the #EndSARS protests going on right now?
I responded with do you mean there is an outbreak of S-Respiratory Acquired Syndrome (SARS) which broke out in Asia? Is Nigeria getting an outbreak in Lagos? She said No! Moments later, I reflected deeper and sent her a quick WhatsApp message to say: got it. SARS stands for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a Nigeria Police outfit which several people have complained about their overhanded actions which had led to the harassments and even death of several innocent people sometimes. Young people are real vanguards for social change. I salute their courage and patriotic disposition. l will encourage them without fear of contradiction to remain focused and act for the common good of all Nigerians. They have acted very peaceful from what I know and see until last week when clear attempts were made by all sorts of agents of destruction and conflict entrepreneurs to mobilize questionable characters in the name of ‘other youth’ to go and disrupt the peaceful manners in which the End SARS protesters have conducted themselves.
How did you expect the law enforcement agencies to react in that situation?
I believe the Inspector General of Police (IGP) with the support of the Federal Government acted fast in disbanding SARS and calling for the reform of the entire Police force.
However, its quick replacement with SWAT, took some of us by surprise. Careful planning is required, wide ranging consultation with the #EndSARS protesters should have taken place before the replacement of SARS with SWAT, I am not too sure if all this was done. It is important that government respects other stakeholders and engage them in policy making initiatives to achieve two principal things: get more objective input from other experts and buy in (ownership) by others.
On one occasion, I decided to take the risks of going to one of the #EndSARS protest side to reach out and engage some of the youths and found them to be very peaceful and matured in their approach in explaining what they wanted. I caution them against engaging in violent acts and challenged them to be peaceful in how they conducted themselves. Unfortunately, we had began discussions with the CAN Chairman of Plateau State, Rev Fr Polycarp Lubo, to ensure that #EndSARS does not attract violence on the Plateau.
Unfortunately, on Tuesday October 20, things were going awry based on reports which filtered in that violence had broken out on Ahmadu Bello Way, the commercial nerve centre of economic activities in the city of Jos. When I confronted some of the youths, one explained that they were not responsible for the outbreak of that violence. We now needed to act to sue for peace.
At this point, I must commend the Governor of Plateau State, His Excellency Rt. Hon Simon Bako Lalong, who immediately imposed a 24-hour curfew and called a critical meeting of key stakeholders within the State to meet and discuss the situation and seek ways to de-escalate acts that could lead to total break-down of law and order in Plateau.
The meeting held the next day Wednesday and some far-reaching suggestions were made in the collective interest of all in the State including addressing the concerns of these youths.
The need to listen to these youths can never be overemphasized. Some of us are quietly engaging with some of these youths. I found them to be intelligent, some with decent jobs, peaceful and determined to get their points across no matter any attempts at putting them down.
This is indeed a defining moment of truth and we all need to listen to ourselves. The government State and Federal need to listen to the youths even beyond what they have laid out in the 5 points they gave to government. To, the youth, l will say, you have made your point and there is need to also listen to the government and other elders in society.
How did stakeholders in Plateau State manage to calm down the escalation of violence in the state?
The challenge is that the peaceful protest by the #EndSARS movement could paradoxically be hijacked by unhelpful elements within the society who strangely are also trying to use our youth. In the case of Plateau State, if you wish to set the state on fire – turn an issue into a Christian – Muslim fight and you will define the narrative of the protest or issue. We collectively acted – all stakeholders in the state to nipped this in the bud. The #End- SARS protesters were not responsible for the violence of Tuesday in Jos.
Let’s UNITE and discourage the old approach which supports divisive narratives of ethnicity, religion; and as well as playing the North – South divide. The #EndSARS protest has become not only a national issue but a global one at this moment. The world is watching. Mr President and those who advise him closely should not be deceived. This truth must be told and let it ring out.
What’s your reaction to the President’s broadcast yesterday in response to the #EndSARS protest by young people in Nigeria?
Crises make or break leaders. Complex problems require creative problem-solving abilities on the part of leaders. This requires critical thinking and creative proactive approach to problem solving. What we are witnessing has gradually moved from a protest to a social organization type movement and situation.
This could be evolving with no one being able to predict the outcome with 100% certainty; if not well handled. What we are witnessing in part is also the fallout of COVID -19 – the long lay over due to idleness, the lack of opening of our schools and the University. The government tackled COVID- 19 face on, they should do same in addressing the concerns of these youth. Involve the Youth – those behind the #End- SARS peaceful protest in your decision and implantation processes.
MEET with them directly yourself Mr. President – My personal APPEAL. There are a few commendable aspects, but I truly must confess that I found the speech generally uninspiring. Nothing new. I wish one could have listened to Mr. President address things which touch on excessive government expenditures and allowances paid out to political office holders and National Assembly members and how this needs to be reviewed to the barest minimum while freeing funds to help the youths and the generality of Nigerians.
I wish Nigerians listened to the President talk about jobs from the stand point of assuring the youth – most of who are unemployed that when they apply for the few available jobs in government controlled agencies, they will be given fair consideration rather the present practice in which one hears that it is mostly the children of politicians in government, out of government and National Assembly members who end up getting the jobs when advertised.
Our elected officials and representatives are short-changing us on virtually all fronts and almost always corner everything to themselves and their cronies. Recruitment to the Police, Armed Forces and other security outfits isn’t radically different either. The children of ordinary Nigerians are groaning and feel neglected. I didn’t hear Mr. President on such issues. The Youths did not hear that. Nothing to show that much critical thinking went into his address. I certainly did not see any attempt in the direction of creative problem-solving capacity in critical leadership crises moments and analytics.
What is your advise to the youths and good people of Nigeria?
Good citizens of this nation must try and ensure things don’t spiral out of control. Let’s reach out to our sons and daughters on the streets, to some of the protest leaders if we could find them both locally, nationally and globally and encourage them to do the needful in promoting national cohesion.
Something the President said which I liked very much is his statement that: “I therefore call on our youths to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage government in finding solutions.
Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding.” In an address of this nature, I do not expect that Mr President will open with a warning in his second point and in his seventh point.
The address has too many veil warnings to a nation with largely frustrated citizens in their difficult hour. Mr. President needs to know that his address wasn’t just meant to speak only to the #EndSARS protesters or the hoodlums and their possible sponsors but to the whole nation.
In such moments, leadership is required to speak vision and hope. I did not see that. It’s the same revisionist visionless address – some of the Marketmoni, Tradermoni, Farmermoni, N-power, N-Agro and N-Tech, are mere campaign slogans to most young people Mr. President.
This isn’t as inclusive as you think. Some Maguzawa youths from Katsina, Mr. President’s home State have been ignored and some have complained directly to me. Inclusiveness in this government is a real concern. Such an address should inspire nationalistic ideals sadly, this was missing. Instead it was more what I see as reading the riot acts.
In keeping with Mr President’s affirmation of the fundamental right of citizens as enshrined in Section 40 of our Constitution and other enactments; citizens can engage in peaceful protests, while respecting the rights of other citizens in point 4.
I will encourage the youth to operate within the law. I will similarly appeal to the Federal Government not to unleash Security agencies to go after the leaders of the #EndSARS protests with the aim to either harass, intimidate or arrest them.