By Wale Bakare
I recognise that these are not the easiest of times and you are facing an unprecedented situation in democratic Nigeria. Never before in the history of our country have the young people, who make up the majority of the population, come together to speak so forcefully and clearly to government. The reasons for the protests are already too well known, they do not bear repeating.
The protests have been largely peaceful, even if boisterous. A few casualties have been recorded but considering the magnitude of what has been going on for over a week now, we have been very fortunate. The issue now is how to resolve this before it mutates and gets out of hand, as it surely will.
While not pretending to have the answers (you pay more intelligent people a lot of money to advise you at times like this), I will contribute this piece nevertheless. The people are disenchanted with the government. I read somewhere that Femi Adesina said there is no scientific evidence that people are unhappy with the government. It is not rocket science and he needs no science to determine that. It is loud to the deaf and clear to the blind.
How much of it is a natural outcome of the ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ phenomenon and how much of it is self-inflicted might be what Adesina needs to apply science to unravel. The fact is people are angry and justifiably so. This needs to be recognised and accepted and should shape your response to the current situation. You cannot be absent at a time like this.
While the atrocities of SARS might have been the catalyst for the uprising, the protests are actually an outcry against systemic rot and longstanding misgovernance in the country. Even though it would be greatly unfair and incorrect to lay the blame for where we are at your doorstep, the buck stops at your table. You are the man in place and saddled with the responsibility to make things right. Why has it taken so long to address the impunity of SARS? Your government cannot claim to have been unaware of what they were getting up to.
How in God’s name could policemen have had POS devices to extort money from citizens on the roads, lead people to ATMs at gunpoint, brutalise and kill citizens on camera and no action was taken? It should not have taken #endsars to curb SARS. And the same applies to impunity across board in the country. It still rages in almost all spheres. This is still the country where people get away with anything. Both in and out of government. We supported you because we believed in your ability to bring an end to the impunity. It is saddening to see that your personal moral force has been insufficient to make this happen so far. There is however still some time left. I don’t want to believe you have been defeated by Nigeria. You have done a lot. What is going on now shows that Nigerians want to see you do much more.
I did not campaign for you because of your oratory and that is not why Nigerians voted for you . You are not Obama and you are not PYO. I do not expect you to suddenly get on air and start making a grand, impassioned speech to calm the situation. You however should have made a national broadcast by now. A serious one, complete with the national anthem and all official and a 21 gun salute if necessary. Read your prepared speech acknowledging what has been going on in the country for over a week
I know you already made some commitment and we hear about all the ‘directives of the President’ but this thing has gone beyond what you address in a sidebar of a speech given at another event. You have to be seen to own the situation.
After your speech, in which a clear sequence of actions and a timeline to address reasonable grievances have been presented, the Vice President can get busy with making the TV appearances and taking questions while you ensure that what can immediately be done are done. Not knee-jerk reactions like announcing the formation of SWAT to replace SARS but serious decisions that go to the heart of reforming the Police.
All Ministers at this stage should be deployed to their States of origin to deliver your message of solidarity directly to the protesters. They must go out there and be in the line of fire. They have no right to be MIA now. They should be presenting the government’s plan of action directly to the protesters and letting them know they have been heard. If they can do it wearing #EndSARS Tshirts, all the better.
They should pour oil over troubled waters, just like the Vice President has been doing. The State Governors should also be more visible and more proactive in taking action that is constitutionally within their remit. They should all be singing from the same hymn sheet. The Northern Governors should appreciate the times. What worries the nose worries the eyes.
Their citizens might not have been as badly affected by the atrocities of SARS but insisting on keeping the unit when the rest of the country is calling for them to be disbanded is not the way to go. Some arrangements will have to be made to accommodate their needs.
Finally Sir, this situation presents an opportunity to make some grand statements. Other issues have been brought to the fore which probably cannot be resolved immediately or even at the Executive level. The salaries of the Legislators for example. You need to make it clear that this is not in your power to address but also call out those who have the power to do so. Let the people know why the issue of tackling corruption appears to be stalled. What is being done to address insecurity?
Silence at this time is not golden.
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