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#ENDSARS: What did our leaders learn?

Written by Niran Adedokun

It is unfortunate that some members of Nigeria’s power elite still make a joke of the unfortunate uprising the country faced last week. On Monday, Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, in what appears like a low-key admission of the presence of his men at the Lekki tollgate plaza where peaceful protesters came under gun-fire last Tuesday, equated the entire situation with attempts by certain unnamed people to destabilise the country.

Admittedly, the army chief made a lame attempt to recognise the peaceful nature of #EndSARS protests, but a statement issued by the acting Director of Army Public Relations, Col. Sagir Musa, after Buratai’s meeting with some top military personnel, suggested that the protests had sponsors who wanted to drag the Army “into the crisis.” He said the Army ignored these attempts and that certain undesirable elements hijacked the protests thereby holding the nation to spells of violence and destruction. This, according to him, led to the imposition of“curfew in several states of the federation.”

And then came, the unwitting and concealed reversal of the initial denial that men of the army were at Lekki that Tuesday night: “Now, the detractors alongside their local and international collaborators have mischievously and deliberately misrepresented TROOPS’ EFFORTS TO ENSURE COMPLIANCE (emphasis mine) with the curfew imposed by legitimate civil authorities in Lagos and other states.” In other words, whatever men of the Nigerian Army did at the Lekki tollgate that evening was to ensure compliance with the curfew.

The day after, acting Deputy Director, Nigerian Army Public Relations, 81 Division, Major Osoba Olaniyi, toed the line of his chief and owned up that soldiers from this division were indeed at Lekki! He clarified though that it was at the invitation of the Governor of Lagos State (another wonder) and that rather than fire bullets at the protesters, the soldiers “dined” with them. The fact that the army has been telling Nigerians one story after the other is so pathetic and inconceivable that you wonder what manner of people run these institutions. But we shall return to this point presently.

Before Buratai spoke, governors of the southwestern states paid a solidarity visit to their colleague in Lagos. At the end of an assessment of damage tour alongside ministers from the region, Chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum and Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, offered the laughable and escapist comment that these incidents were planned and targeted at weakening the economy of South-West states. And who did this? Some unnamed “divisive elements bent on annihilating the region’s economic prosperity and destroying its common heritage.” Really?

And then, their colleague in Kogi, Yahaya Bello, ever enthusiastic in his legendary capacity to play to the gallery told Channels Television Sunrise Daily that the protests were politically motivated. Hear him: “Dear Nigerians, let me tell you, what is happening today, this so-called #EndSARS is politically motivated. Whether anybody says it or not, I am saying it once again and you can quote me anywhere, anyway and I will prove it to you…”

Each of these reactions, bordering on the refusal or failure of leaders in different aspects of national life to accept responsibility and undermine Nigerians is the very reason this country is where it is today.

Look at the Nigerian Army, that institution of pride and discipline, amending its position on the matter of the Lekki shooting serially. It started by denying that its men were deployed to that location and described reports about the same as fake news. It then claimed it was investigating video images that emerged from the scene only to finally accept that its men were at the scene without firing shots at the protesters. The army would probably come back in a few days to tell Nigerians that only blank shots were fired! Yet, this regime is complaining about false news when leaders of institutions of state are unable to stick to one position. This is not just disgraceful, it is also an incentive for speculations and even the fabrication of news.

There is even more: apart from derogating from the not too sparkling image of the army, it is an unacceptable testimony to the disrespect that this institution has for the citizens. Despite whatever might and power the army may claim, the people of Nigeria are the basis for its existence and it owes Nigerians and not the incumbent leader its loyalty. Like many other national institutions, the Nigerian Army is still unable to grasp the essence of loyalty.

Then, the governors! Even though these men represent the interest of the South-West, it is unbelievable that they would say anything that may fuel speculations that the carnage Lagos witnessed last week was perpetrated by people beyond the region. This is more so because governors are not elected to cater to the indigenes of their states alone but to all residents who would have been part of their elections and contribute to the development of the states.

Unless these men have solid proofs that people were “imported” from outside of the region to commit these crimes, such inflammatory comments should not be heard from leaders. While all these governors claim to identify with the young men and women who championed the #EndSARS protests, they fail to imbibe the selfless and universal spirit displayed by these heroes who stood in brotherhood regardless of tribe and religion.

More importantly however, Nigerian leaders must accept that the brigandage of these past few days is a result of nothing but a failure of governance at all levels. Rather than offer diversionary and escapist arguments, they should also accept the enormous responsibility of their offices and how much opportunity is available for them to write their names in gold. The truth, as bitter as it feels, is that the carnage of the past few days is nothing near what may happen in future unless Nigerian leaders start to pay particular attention to the children and youth of this country.

For instance, stakeholders have tried to draw the attention of Nigeria to the dangers inherent in the inability of millions of children to access basic education for years; state governments, which oversee primary and secondary education, only pay lip service to this all-important responsibility such that even in the South-West states today, you find three-year-old boys and girls begging for alms. What do Nigerians imagine that the estimated more than 13 million out-of-school children would become in future?

But there is no need to go too far in search of an answer since the last three weeks gave a reflection. While the original #EndSARS protesters, (most of whose parents would have struggled to train), handled their mission with enviable sophistication signified by a unity of purpose; compassion for others; physical cleanliness and well-advertised aversion to violence for two weeks, another set of young people took over and wreaked untold havoc on the nation’s psyche within two days! The difference is the margin between the two ends. On the one hand, you have people whose minds have been expanded and given hope by education and another set with broken spirits, held in the bondage of despair and deprivation amid plenty. It is significant to also recognise that this last set of people are the same ones that politicians invite and equip to do the dirty work of violence during elections. Disowning the monsters that have been made of this disempowered and unfortunate set of youths is therefore a disappointment.

Rather than whine, Nigeria needs to declare a state of emergency in its education sector. From the lack of access to the quality of teaching, to pedagogy, to determination of its goal, Nigeria needs a rethink of the sector.

There is also the issue of unbridled access to psychotropic drugs. A little over two years ago, the BBC did an expose on the abuse of codeine and other substances in Nigeria and the authorities went into an overdrive shutting down companies and issuing impulsive statements. Now, the country has gone back to slumber and you can bet that a lot of the destruction witnessed last week was carried out under the influence of substances that are commonplace and regulated.

The most tragic error Nigerian leaders would commit however is to carry on as if the massive looting currently going on in Nigeria is by the “hoodlums” they have created. Video clips from across the country show a mass revolution of people who are displeased and fed up with self-centred, unconscionable and disconnected leaders. These images show widespread hunger, unemployment, disillusionment and the zenith of distrust in and anger against government.