Broken system + angered youth = charged atmosphere
“If people were silent, nothing would change” – Malala Yousafzai
Freedom of expression is part of the fundamental human rights and can be achieved through peaceful protest. Nigerians started the #EndSARS protest to put an end to a unit of the Nigeria Police Force called Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Despite the achievements of SARS it has been harsh, particularly, in the south-west probably because it is the hotbed of cybercrime in the country. There is a possibility that the dent cybercrime causes to Nigeria triggers the SARS operatives to be overzealous. Nevertheless, this is not a justification for any misconduct. Amnesty International reported that not less than 82 cases of ill-treatment and extra judicial killings by SARS occurred from January 2017 to May 2020. Such report creates tension that will lead to protests and attraction of international sympathy.
The SARS unit has been disbanded and replaced with Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. Some Nigerians are still dissatisfied perceiving it as old wine in new bottle. We need reform in policing but let us not throw away the baby with the bath water. Police units are needed at tactical level to tackle crime which is for the safety of the general public. Despite the disbandment, presidential address and appeal to protesters to leave the streets the protest is still on. The numbers are even increasing and this protest has evolved with protesters demanding for reform in other areas like education, infrastructure and the constitution. These reforms are long overdue and protesters should ensure that their demands are realistic and can ameliorate the present situation.
The system is broken. Socially, there is escalation in thuggery, crime, rape and substance abuse. Economically speaking, unemployment; inflation; poverty and exchange rates are high. The political class has failed to provide political leadership and this has been worsened by our silence: voter’s apathy. Our political orientation lacks ideology or decency. Although, this protest will likely shape political consciousness and culture against 2023. The problems we face are not limited to failure of security agencies to secure lives and property; humongous payments to lawmakers; impunity and corruption. Societal ills have permeated the societies and deeply ravage the country. Access to quality healthcare is difficult. Students struggle to gain admission to schools and end up staying at home after graduating. Benefitting from dividends of democracy is not easy.
The protest keeps gaining momentum because the people of Nigeria are angry and frustrated. No thanks to hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and increase in VAT and price of petrol. Also, students staying at home due to ASUU strike increase the strength of the protests. Rather than doing nothing at home they prefer to flood the streets. Thanks to the protests the government has swung into action to resolve the strike that has been lingering for months.
The north has been badly hit in terms of insecurity with insurgency, banditry and kidnapping causing so much pain and anguish. Yet, there have never been anything close to the #EndSARS protest in northern Nigeria. The north has the numbers but lacks two things. One is the electrifying energy from food, water, music and even phone charging outlets which keeps the protest on. This energy cannot be sustained without sponsorship. The second is the media. The role of the media in keeping the protest going can never be overemphasized. The northern part of the country has been very supportive in the #EndSARS protest. As a firm believer in one Nigeria I will be glad to see the south return the favor in #SecureNorth which is the protest for improved security in the north. The problems of Nigeria do not sieve and it is time to keep differences aside and express opinions within the ambit of the law for better Nigeria.
SARS has been accused of misconduct. The Police Service Commission has announced that about 24 police officers will be either dismissed or prosecuted. The ex SARS officers are on course to be rehabilitated. These are some efforts to fix the broken system in the police. If the SARS inflict so much pain on Nigerians then we are not different from them if we block roads while protesting. By doing that we prevent people to eke out a living and people cannot go to hospitals and offices. We are worse than SARS if we keep vandalizing properties. Attacking the convoy of a governor like in Osun State is detrimental to the aim of the protest.
The timing of this protest is unfortunate considering a Nigerian, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is a hopeful of the Director General of the World Trade Organisation. A UK parliamentarian has written to the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Mr Raab, to halt financial assistance to the police. We are at the losing end if we do not fix this. The leaders and followers have to work together to set things right. The system needs improvement, we are far left behind and the earlier we get back to work the better. This is the responsibility of every Nigerian for the betterment of the nation. Our strength lies in our unity.
When you have a broken system with angered population then the atmosphere must be charged. Nigeria cannot continue like this because the consequences of a charged atmosphere can be severe. Government should swiftly restore confidence in the people and improve its integrity to pacify Nigerians. The insecurity challenge should be tackled. Basic amenities should be provided alongside jobs and the business environment should be conducive. Government must be dedicated in its commitment to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in ten years. This will help douse the tension of the charged atmosphere and boost the morale of the people.
Khalifa Musa Muhammad the Research Officer of Kaduna Youth and Community Development Volunteers (KAYCDEV).