By Uchenna Nwatu
As the #EndSars protest enters its eleventh day, and with more cities across the country joining the march against police brutality, it’s doubtful there has ever been any mass movement quite like this in Nigerian history. Only, perhaps, the protest over the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and associated demonstrations of the ’90s’ decade against the military could be compared to it.
The #EndSars protest is a clear depiction of people’s anger. Tales of police brutality have been harrowing and leaves one wondering how any society could tolerate such excesses for so long. So, the issues the protest has raised are very valid. No life should be deemed expendable, particularly not extrajudicially at the whim of a police officer.
The outrage in regard to brazen rights abuse – and, indeed, outright killing of innocent civilians – by the police had long existed. But no generation had ever been as audacious as the protesting youth have been in tackling the menace. It’s their moment. They deserve all the credit and have clearly earned the right to revel in the glory. No one should begrudge that.
Yet, there is a danger of hubris seeping in, especially when self-indulgent shenanigans – such as was displayed by the musician Phyno in Saturday’s #EndSars protest in Enugu – are not curbed.
The beauty of this protest is in its collectivity; the fact it is driven by largely anonymous figures far removed from the smug and limelight-obsessed world of celebrities. The protest’s objective is clear: to end police brutality and impunity, and entrench a police force that is accountable to the public. That is exactly not a request governors can sufficiently guarantee, given the rather centralized structure of the police in Nigeria.
But it’s remarkable that where most have dithered, the Enugu State governor had gone ahead to announce a judicial panel to investigate claims of police brutality, unlawful arrest and whimsical killing of persons. The remit of the panel, which will be chaired by a High Court Judge, also includes evaluating evidence presented and drawing conclusions, recommending compensation and other remedial measures where appropriate.
Of course, no one expects an applause for that at such tense gathering as it would have dampened the protesters’ bustling ardour. It is nonetheless uncharitable to throw in self-serving questions that merely feed the heckler’s ego, even at the risk of causing a rift among protesters along partisan lines and, worse still, fuelling an unrest that could ruin the peaceful nature of the protest.
Phyno’s claim that he had been threatened is simply a puerile attempt at clout-chasing. In the crowded field of showbiz where the pecking order changes rapidly as new stars are born, dimming older ones, the temptation to steal the limelight is really strong.
But Phyno and his co-celebrities in the Enugu protest should resist the urge and borrow a leaf from celebrities in Lagos and Abuja, who understand that the moment truly belongs to the youth who had longed lived “unremarkable” lives in their larger-than-life shadows.