Protests: The Consequences Of Prolonged Lockdown And Bad Governance
At the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, political leadership of the World hastily took decisions to curb the spread of the virus and prevent health facilities from being overwhelmed. That hasty decisions which was based on an experimental model is what is now hurting many nations today. The lockdown period afforded people the opportunity to reflects on government relationship with her citizens. Now, eventsof the pasts days in Nigeria being ventilated by mostly the younger population in the form of protests, looting, outright vandalism and wanton destruction of public and private properties is a manifestation of bottled-up anger and leadership failure over the years.
In fact, the political leadership of the various nations were oblivious of the fact when the lockdowns weredescribed as the costliest mistake in human history No doubt, those that imposed the draconian lockdown are beginning to pay for it one way or the other as citizens of various nations are now conscious more than ever before of their rights and that reawakening is reverberating across the globe like a tsunami.
Protests is a legitimate tool to press home a demand, however, since the caging of the free citizens of the world on account of curbing the virus spreads by the political leaderships, issue of using protests as a legitimate means has exacerbated. History if objectively writing in the future shall be replete with tales of how a once noble medical profession’s credibility was seriously dented. Every one of them turn emergency experts on corona virus, thereby, advising government to subscribe to a model of non-pharmaceutical interventions not minding that the model was a faulty model. That response that was driven by hysteria and fear, which no doubt, was good for the people but the undoing of many governments.
Perhaps, governments and political leaders across the globe were naïve of the consequences of a prolonged lockdown, they adopted the measure and thereby unleashed on their citizens an unprecedented devastation and dislocation in economy and livelihoods. As witnessed and still continue, citizens of most nations revolted and challenge the various restrictions that were put in place to curb the spreads of the virus.
Unfortunately, protests erupted in many cities in different nations across the globe and these were the direct consequences of a caged and deprived people coming out to ventilate a bottled-up anger against the respective system. Systems that had repeatedly failed them and replete with broken promises. These protests in different nations were and are for different purposesand demands, however, it all have one thing in common – failure of governance at all level and lack of trust in political leadership. Protest is not new as it is a veritable tool guarantee in International statues and the constitutions of various nations. Nigeria was not the only country where citizens embarked on protests to press home a demand on government amidst this pandemic. In fact, within the period of this pandemic, the United States of America’s Black Live Matter protests was unprecedented. Hong Kong remains a hot belt of protests till this day. Belarus protests over disputed presidential election is still ongoing. Protestsover inequality in Chile is so massive to imagineArgentina and Bulgaria are not left out. The United Kingdom, France, Bolivia and Brazil including Columbia equally had a fair share of protests during the period while that of the Iraqis is ongoing. It took an explosion in the port of Beirut to sparked a massive protest in Lebanon which resulted in the resignation of the government. Protests in Mali prompted the military to bring about a regime change. Currently, protests is ongoing in Guinea over disputed Presidential election while the people of Thailand are on the streets. These and many more are the few examples of protests across the world.
Here in Nigeria, being a member of the global community, we were not immune nor shielded from the wave of protests sweeping across different nations, hence, protests erupted on our shore and within days, its spreads and attracted sympathy from within and outside the country. That was the birth of the#ENDSARS and END POLICE BRUTALITY protestswhich later snowballed to #END BAD GOVERNANCE.
During the intervening period of lockdowns in the country before the phase easing of it and now the gradual reopening of the economy and society, the Nigerian government unlike other nations could not adequately cater for the needs of her citizens. People were thrown out of jobs, people became hungry, businesses and companies had no choice but to closed shop. The government itself slammed all manners of taxes and increment on the people while the stimulus packages its introduced does not actually reach the targeted population. The palliatives distribution was a huge disaster and monumental failure. Consequence upon all of these, the people had nowhere to seek succour or turn for help.
The use of brute force against harmless and peacefulprotesters was very cruel and the least of our debasement. In Abuja and across the country, politically sponsored thugs were unleashed on the protesters while men in military camouflage, though, denied by the military high command, openly shots at protesters at the Lekki toll plaza. The incident at Lekki toll plaza sent shiver down the spine of many across the world. Most surprising is that this very government itself is a product of protest. The same government is busy rehabilitating and reintegrating Boko haram members into the society and not only that, they openly negotiate with bandits that are ravaging parts of north-western Nigeria while no serious effort is put in place to curb the rampaging Fulani marauders that havemade farming unattractive across the north-central part of the country.
The protests right from the onset was all about an end to police brutality which SARS represents and goodgovernance which has eluded the country far too long. Rather than genuinely addressing the demands, state sponsored mayhem were unleashed on the protesters. Equally, the government of the day was looking for whom to blame as according to a serving Minister, they were too pre-occupied looking for sponsors of these movement as if it was a taboo for one to besympathetic to a cause. But it should be noted that the #ENDSARS movement was a resort to self-help by the people in view of the fact, that we do not have a system that protect the weak. The situation could best be described as hopelessness and that may account spate of looting going on. The government itself is yet to admits that its handling of the protests was bungled. The most worrisome and inexplicably aspect is the setting up of Judicial Panel of Inquiries by states on the directive of the Federal government to investigate alleged crimes and complaints against the disbanded SARS and other police brutality, when the Police isindeed a Federal institution or was it a strategic evasive tactics by the Federal government? The government equally seem to be aggravating the situation as uproars greeted the imposing of fines on the trio of Channels, AIT and Arise TV by the NBC for an alleged broadcastof unverified visuals of the Lekki toll gate shooting. This unwarranted sanction is tantamount to muzzling of free press and it is ironic, because the same government is relying heavily on unverified visuals to pursue those engaging in looting and wanton destruction. This singular action speaks volume and further underscore government sincerity in all of this, considering the fact that they have repeatedly in the pasts promised the reformed of SARS which never came to fruition
The cowardly act at Lekki further reinforce the value we place on human life as a people. So sadden that theNigerian flag, which is the country’s national symbol was stained with the blood of the Nigerian youths on the street of Nigeria, yet the political leadership of the country was apparently unperturbed by it. At first, there was a conspiracy of silence and counter denials from all quarters. And until this moment, it is rather appalling that we are still arguing about Lekki shooting and who did what. Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army went to sambisa forest (the den of the dreaded Bokoharam), captured the terrorists flag, washed and properly ironed it after which the flag was presented to the president in a colourful gathering in the nation’s seat of power (Aso Rock). Still, the President repeatedly alluded to the fact that subversive elements hijacked the protests but failed to point out that the attendant chaos and widespread violence we have witnessed in Lagos and across the country which resulted in the destruction of both public and private properties were triggered by the Lekki shooting. Again, citizens going on rampage to express anger over excessive use of force by a government and a president that surreptitiously grant insurgency amnesty and take a snap shot with a terrorist’s flag in the seat power,which of these two offends that very constitution whom the President sworn to protect and uphold.
Still on the subject, the President in the council of statemeeting, noted that the #ENDSARS protests was hijacked and misdirected by unpatriotic elements. This statement was not only unfortunate but unbecoming of a President that was to be a father and the embodiment of a nation. Less. He should be reminded that the protests were largely peaceful across the country until elements within the government as captured on camera unleashed sponsored thugs on the harmless and flag waving protesters. The terror unleashed on the protesters reaches its climax with the cowardly act of Lekki shooting and while all of these were ongoing, the President as usual was shielded away in Aso Rock. Is it not a misnomer for a President that traverses the country vast landscape soliciting for votes to be waiting to be prompted by the people before he would find it expedient to address his people. It got to a point where the Senate practically begged the President to address the nation. Mind you, we knew that a broadcastby the President was definitely not going to solve anything but just a symbolic gesture to reflect the humanity in him. It took over 48hours after the Lekki shooting before the President gave a belated national broadcast that was even devoid of emotions and empathy. In fact, the slowness of the President this time around was a lost opportunity to forge a national cohesion, considering the fact that just fortnight ago, the President in his October 1, independent day broadcasts, charged that we, ‘’begin sincere process of national healing, eliminate old and outworn perception that are always put to test in the lie they are,’’ but again, he failed to provide any modality upon which that will work.
Furthermore, what started as a genuine concerns and agitations against the excesses and highhandedness of the special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police by a wide majority of the youths, soon escalated, resulting in the destruction of both public and private properties including looting. The most disturbing and worrisome aspect which further lend credence to the already visceral mistrust in government are the discoveries of hoarded COVID-19 palliatives meant for distributions in warehouses across the country. And sadly, The Nigeria Governors Forum in a statement noted that the foodstuffs found in warehouses were not hoarded but stored in anticipation of a second wave of the wuhan coronavirus. The argument does not fly in the face of logic and was simply to safe face.
As a nation and as a people, happenings in the pasts two weeks call for reflection. Our failure of yesterday is here today to hunt us. It pays to do good and be kind to mankind. The Nigeria Ruling Class and her political elites over the years engages in the manipulation of her people without being mindful of the repercussions. Now, the image of all our former misdeeds of yesterday have arising from the abyss and are here to mock our present. Rather than making concerted efforts, cease the opportunity of the moment to address all the identifiable ills, we are calling the youths all sort of names, forgetting that the one lazy youth have and feel nothing for the political elites than contempt for their deprivation and utter neglect. The youths now know the extent to which they have been victims of their political elites and would no longer want to be bossed around by a crop of people with a sleaze history. We collectively, with our action and inaction, reduced our country to a nation of hopelessness. The system is already overburden with deep rooted and entrenched corruption. What do you call a nation that intentionally allowed her people to go hungry? From all indications, the majority of the people are merely existing but not living a life of their choice because they are deprived of the basic necessities of life. If the essence of government is for security and welfare of the people, has the Nigeria state in the real sense being fair to her citizens?
It does not take a century to make a change but it takesthe right choice. The Asian tigers are a good example.
James Davies wrote in the American Sociological Review in 1962 that ‘’what provoke a people to take down its government is not simply deprivation or misery, but an intolerable gap between what people want and what they get.
Therefore, the Federal government should make concerted efforts aim at forging a national cohesion and refrain from tokenism, denial and threats. Deliberate steps should be taken to put in place measures to work towards genuine and sincere process of national healing as alluded to by the President in his October 1, independent day broadcast and to equally embark on reconciliation of the people with one another owing to the inherent deep animosity. Also, the perpetrators of the Lekki shooting and any conspirators be fully held accountable while thugs that unleashedmayhem on peaceful protesters should be brought to book, as we make efforts to assuaged the aggrieved and forestall further destruction across the land. Anunconditional release of everyone arrested during the protests should be ordered. Equally, we must halt further destruction of properties while people should be compensated to mitigate the lost suffered.
Going forward, the President should draw up a sustainable development plans aim at addressing all the concerns of the people, societal ills and things plaguing developments in the country. We should look up to our youths as the future of our nation upon whose strength lies our greatness because, unarguably and fundamentally, the structure of power base has shifted from the political elites to the people. And above all, the President should self-evaluate all his pasts action and inaction with a view to correct mistakes made and at least, try as much as possible to be the President of all.
COM. MSIGEKII NWI-AERA NACY Write from Abuja