The looting, arson and killings that occurred in Nigeria last week as a reaction to the shooting of the peaceful #EndSARS protesters in Lekki area of Lagos were shocking, disgraceful and demoralising. Most importantly, they were avoidable. If Nigeria had a purposeful and proactive leader, they would never have happened.
Anybody who saw the way the #EndSARS protests were executed across Nigeria some two weeks ago and compared that with the violence that erupted last week would wonder if both scenarios occurred in the same country. For about two weeks, young people in Nigeria, having mobilised themselves through the social media, sustained a protest against the harassment, extortion, torture and killings visited upon young men and women by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force for many years.
The youths had complained for many years, but every time the complaint gained currency, the Federal Government would promise to reorganise SARS or disband it. However, nothing concrete happened concerning SARS. The police unit continued with its viciousness. Therefore, when the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced that SARS had been scrapped and replaced with the Special Weapons and Tactics team, the protesters continued with their protests, arguing that what happened was a mere case of rechristening.
The level of organisation and discipline displayed by the protesters elicited commendation from different quarters. They were peaceful. They ensured that their members did not molest people or destroy things or engage in any form of looting. They cleaned up the venues of their protests. They had medical, legal, security and logistics teams that took care of the needs of those who faced any form of problem during the protests. Even when hired thugs attacked them, injured some people and destroyed some vehicles, they ensured that the injured as well as vehicles damaged were taken care of.
The #EndSARS protesters belonged to the group “The Good”. They redefined the way protests should be organised in Nigeria and punctured the narrative that Nigerian youths cannot organise themselves for effective protests.
But there were those who belonged to the group, “The Bad”. Those were the thugs who were hired by agents of destabilisation to disrupt the protests. They struck in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Plateau and some other places. Rather than protest against the position of the #EndSARS group, if that was their view, they chose violence, vandalism and hooliganism. In Abuja, they were seen being dropped by police vehicles and black Toyota Landcruiser sports utility vehicles, which are used by high-ranking government officials. It fuelled suspicion that they were unleashed by the government to sabotage the protests. They attacked the #EndSARS protesters with weapons. Some of them went to the Apo Mechanic Village market to set dozens of cars on fire, in a bid to turn the protest into an ethnic one. There were also human deaths in some of the places where they unleashed violence. It was alleged that agents of the Nigerian government sponsored them to create a chaotic scenario that would give the Federal Government the justification to use maximum force to end the peaceful protest.
Then, there were those who decided to attack a correctional centre in Benin City, Edo State to set free the prisoners there. The reason for that in relationship to the focus of the #EndSARS protest was not known. It was out of character with the protests.
However, there was a third group: The Ugly. The regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was the arrowhead of this group. His lacklustre management of the protests caused the unprecedented violence across the federation. Buhari did not provide leadership on the #EndSARS protests. The reason the protesters did not budge even after the announcement of the disbandment of SARS by the IG of police was because of the inertia that has characterised Buhari’s leadership as well as the lack of faith in him. If he had addressed the protesters and taken some concrete steps to show that he was outraged by the videos of summary execution carried out by members of SARS, the protest would have ended within a week without ugly and horrific incidents that were witnessed in the last one week.
Buhari should also take the blame for the use of soldiers with guns and bullets to disperse the peaceful protesters at Lekki Tollgate Plaza. Typical of the petty lies that those in government circles love to peddle, the Nigerian military denied that its men were responsible for the shooting of protesters on October 20, 2020. However, one week after the incident, the military has not announced that it has found out those who carried out that action and that it has started prosecuting them and the person who gave them the directive. The belief among Nigerian public officers is that once one denies an action, it becomes the official position on that matter.
In Buhari’s case, he kept quiet about the shooting incident, believing that if he does not mention it, there will be no official position on it. However, it continues to point at the absence of leadership under his watch. No serious leader of a country will hear that the army was drafted to shoot at peaceful protesters and keep quiet about it. The attempts to create the impression that Buhari was not aware of the deployment of soldiers to shoot at protesters even helps to paint him in bad light. Soldiers are not police officers that can be deployed by a superior officer to attend to any emergency in the neighbourhood. For the military to be deployed to quell a protest, the President, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, will know. If he does not know, then he is not the commander-in-chief.
The second set among The Ugly was the rabble rousers, who live in the United Kingdom, but tried to exploit the protest to create ethnic crises. First is Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra, who tried to take responsibility for the spontaneous violent reaction of protesters in Lagos to the Lekki shooting. Happily, when he realised the danger in his claim, he quickly denied having anything to do with the violent reaction in Lagos, blaming the accusation against him on the UK Government and the Nigerian Government. The second person is a character called Adeyinka Grandson, a leader of an unknown separatist group, who wanted to gain traction through the protest, by giving the Igbo in the South-West region a quit notice and asking the Yoruba to attack them. There were others who tried, without success, to use the comments of Kanu and Grandson to create an ethnic crisis.
Thankfully, many groups and prominent figures, especially the pan-Igbo group, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, condemned the ethnic-tainted utterances, dissociated themselves from those behind them, and assured the public that there was no cause for alarm. They helped to blunt the arrows of mischief-makers. They were among The Good.
Then, the looters who took over the protests were part of The Ugly. The shops and warehouses of common folks, organisations and government agencies were broken into and looted across the country by those who had nothing to do with the #EndSARS protest. Some found it funny but it was a dent on our nation’s psyche and image. By that action, a bad seed was sown in our country. The argument that it was caused by hunger was lame. That is not who we are.
The mayhem across the country over a little problem that could have been better managed by an effective leader is sad and unfortunate. It buttresses Dr John C. Maxwell’s saying that everything rises and falls on leadership. May those who lost people and property heal!