By Tope Fasua
I hear about 8 people were killed in the protests today. I saw one, and another person whose guts popped out in the open. I also saw two ladies being dragged by policemen and beaten. A friend, Reuben also sent me a video and pictures of his swollen face after policemen beat him up around APC headquarters in Abuja. Do revolutions need to be watered by the blood of martyrs? Do we need another person dead on the streets? And what will we make of all these?
#EndSARS initially sounded to me like a narrow agenda and I stated it on my Facebook page. As at then, I didn’t know who was behind it or how broad the support was. I felt we could broaden out the agenda, first by including brutality by all the police formations, and indeed all the security services that are sponsored by the Nigerian people. I was wary that the focus on SARS could be classist because I know that SARS does go after fairly well-to-do young men. Once you have a beard or a good haircut and live in parts of Lagos or the SouthWest, you are a potential SARS customer.
Young men now leave their exotic cars at home and fly uber just to be anonymous. Yet they are in trouble. The terrible thing is that these SARS boys are often intoxicated or drugged out. And that means they are sometimes trigger happy. The excuse they have for their drug habit is that they are out there to face armed robbers. And anyone who has been to a police formation will see that indeed they die like rats. But is that an excuse to kill and maim? In fact, many armed robbers have now graduated to kidnapping right under their watch.
The SARS boys (I haven’t seen a woman amongst them) also developed the habit of stripping people of their hard-earned money, often marching people to ATMs and forcing them to withdraw large amounts, because at some point, they no longer fancy small change. Some teams could rack up millions in a given night. In my August 21, 2017 article titled “Lagos Police and the Extortion Business”, I cited some news items then in the public spaces, of how police teams rob people and kill some especially in the South West of Nigeria. It is a painful issue as many have died and their killers have walked.
It is, however, pertinent to note, that it is not only SARS, but Anti-cult, CID, and many more who get up to this. I have never been lucky with police in Lagos. In fact, I tell people that if I had remained in Lagos I could probably have been killed by the police by now. I narrated my experience in the hands of CIDs from Makinde/Mafoluku Police Station in April 2017 in the article referenced above. Imagine being accosted in the middle of the road one morning and asked to come to their police station. I was just passing from the international airport to the local to catch a flight to Kaduna and needed to collect some cash in a bank in Mafoluku.
It turned nasty as I refused to go to the station, not knowing what the mission of these drugged-out plainclothes policemen (and a woman) was. In fact, after holding them off for about 30 minutes while I blocked the road and called the attention of the residents to use their phones and film what was going on as I told them ‘this will not end well’, it was a passing SARS team that intervened and escorted us to the station, at which I was then told ‘oga you are too stubborn you for just find us something and go your way’.
The truth is that most of our policemen want to make fast money like the rest of the country also aspires to. The SARS seems to have opened the pandora’s box. As we heard in a recent interview by an anonymous policewoman, the SARS boys are viewed as the superstars of the police; the boys who knew how to make big money. Every other policeman wants to be like them. I felt we should already broaden out the scope beyond SARS and speak about a general reform of the police in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, on three other occasions, I had almost been killed by the police. The first was around 1996 when I drove past this police team around First Bank Isolo Bridge on my way home one night. My passenger and colleague, Theophilus greeted the policemen and the next thing was ‘Park well!! This is stop-and-search!!”. After one hour of trauma, the policemen insisted we must head to the police station around Ire Akari Estate. It was 11.30 at night. Somewhere down the road, with a policeman sitting at the passenger’s seat now and Theo at the back, I made a U-turn and insisted on driving back to the checkpoint to speak with the superior. The policeman cocked his gun and aimed at me. I told him to shoot and drove back to the checkpoint, where I was rained with punches and hit with the butt of the gun.
My right hand was handcuffed to the steering. I just insisted on not going to any station as we had done nothing wrong. I got home after 12midnight that day, drenched in sweat. The other times I remember was near Latter Rain Assembly old auditorium at Akilo Road, and at Ojodu Berger. This was pre-2001 before I was transferred to Abuja. This is why, in my head, my first reaction was to say ‘hey, wait a minute, this is NOT a SARS matter but the entire root and branch, and we must have a clear approach of dealing with this’.
I do apologize to all who felt my take was insensitive but well, those who know me know how I think. Oftentimes, my subconscious goes ahead of me and my usually long writeups are a product of many issues coursing through my mind. The leaders of the #EndSARS movement must have their strategy about what they want to achieve, and two days after I made my comment, I saw the list of demands, which included that ALL POLICE BRUTALITY MUST END. I then commented that this is great and kudos to the team.
It is just as well that the SARS was AGAIN suspended by the Inspector General (I think for the 3rd time), but this time, the president himself made a statement on the issue and promised sweeping police reforms which will include incorporation of some of the civilian population, especially the youths who are presently protesting. The #EndSARS team has now explained that they used that hashtag to draw attention to bigger issues in Nigeria.
That is great. But still, the idea needs direction and leadership. For now, many people believe we should let the fire rage. Still, I ask, is it necessary for those 8 people to have died? How many more must die? Some of the more acerbic commentators on the issue themselves have not been seen outside. I may not be at the forefront of the #EndSARS campaign myself, but I am now no stranger to demonstrations having taken to the streets 4 times last year in protest of macroeconomic issues which still haunts us till date. I didn’t see a large crowd follow me, but I once took my 15-years old only son along as he was on holiday and interning in my office.
We carried placards concerning budget, the wellbeing of the people, and the need for a less-expensive and less-toxic government. The pictures are there in the public space. I also openly supported Sowore’s RevolutionNow and appeared in court twice because I know, and always insist that a culture of PROTEST is very important in society. For that reason, I decry the emasculation of the labour and student unions.
I must confess I am a bit wary of queuing up behind musicians. I sniggered when the Police Spokesman invited Naira Marley for a chat and wondered if he was now the face of Nigerian youths. I like some of Naira’s mad music though. I agree that musicians certainly control the crowd, I admit I am not a crowd man. I also hardly follow the crowd on issues, preferring instead to chart my own course and follow my own thoughts as they evolve. This is perhaps why the crowd hardly follows me too. I have taken this as a destiny… to lead a lonely path. So, I still urge the movement to pause and think.
It is very okay to vent our frustrations. We all need that from time to time. But note, each time there is a crowd, things happen. Can we first decide and determine, that no more deaths will occur in this campaign? How do we go about achieving such? I am afraid that in venting, we may be unable to transit from #EndSARS to #EndImpunityInGovernment or #BiggerAndBetterBudgetForNigerians.
How does the movement ensure that it is not another sorrowful affair that returns us to a worse place than we came from? I know the more vicious supporters will tell me to shut up that it is their affair, but I am very used to baring my mind on issues. I heard in some quarters that the idea is to remove the government. Now, that is tricky. How do we get a democratically elected (in spite of all the flaws) government to step down? What will fill the lacuna? Well, it is not a model I have seen before but perhaps it could happen in Nigeria. In Egypt, the youths had their efforts hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, who were later shoved aside by the Army. Today, Al-Sisi has transformed himself into a civilian president while the ‘democratic’ world looks away. It was easier in Egypt though, for Hosni Mubarak, himself a former Military man, had long overstayed his welcome.
It was therefore easy for Google Executive, Wael Ghonim, to stay on his case at Tahrir Square until something happened. As much as I admired Gaddafi and believe his removal took Africa down a dark path, he too had overstayed his welcome. I believe it will be harder to get rid of a Buhari who can plead that he became a leader through an election. Are the youths foreclosing the possibility of partaking in politics and elections? Have they seen the futility of politics? Do we intend to replace tyranny, with illegality? Is it the trouble of forming parties (which may be summarily proscribed overnight), building support bases, looking for money for campaigns, and all that, that has informed this path? I see that indeed our youths are in a hard place.
The mismanagement of the past, the sheer misgovernance, has boiled over, and indeed #EndSARS is truly the anchor for that anger. But a person cannot remain angry forever. Get angry, express yourself, get the government to bend over backwards and effect some critical policy changes which you can evaluate and monitor, but at some point, you have to pick yourself up and get productive.
So my prayer is that #EndSARS try to clearly define what is achievable and how they intend to get that done. Set your goals very high. Get your best thinkers to step forward. For me, I have given up on my own generation and had swung into the mode of encouraging Generation Z (born 1995 to date) to help us key into digital thinking because that is the kind of thinking that can jar us out of our slumber.
The problems of the world are now digital, including the problem of bad governance, poverty, disease, crimes, conflict, and so on. And the solutions are digital. The approach and mindset to fix them, must certainly not be analogue in nature.
The youths must not make the mistake of those who went before them. Selah.
Fasua is the CEO & Founder at Global Analytics Consulting Limited.
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