Movement of the people – The Nation

  • The loud cry of young Nigerians must not only be heard, but receive attention.

When the protests to disband the dreaded Special Anti-Robbery unit of the Nigerian police Force started in Lagos and Abuja, not many in and out of government thought much would come out it. On the few previous occasions when protests were staged in the streets against government policies, they did not last more than three days. The protests were soon tired and withdrew from the streets. On other occasions, strong-arm tactics by the security agencies soon overwhelmed the protests. Perhaps the only occasion that protests resonated so much with people was the popular rejection of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election that returned Chief M.K.O Abiola as Nigeria’s president. Even after people had been killed by bloodthirsty military men and the protesters had withdrawn from the streets, tactics merely changed as the people, in many parts of the country, stood up to the military junta of General Ibrahim Babangida until he was forced out of power.

In the instant case, young Nigerians quite uncharacteristically quickly mobilised against the government insisting that they would continue the protest until their demand for the disbandment of SARS was acceded to. They brought out the Inspector General who first offered them a reform. It was one music the protesters had heard many times, and were unwilling to entertain. As more young people, artistes and professionals, even corporate organisations joined, government thought it was a small group that would soon peter out. But it did not. At that point, the federal government bowed and announced the scrapping of the infamous security outfit carved out of the Police in 1992 for men specially trained and armed to combat and contain violent crimes.

For the second week, the small group has grown into a movement of the people, who are not satisfied with tokenism. They remembered that the Police authorities have always been quick to make token concessions that they never intended to keep. They therefore refused to vacate the streets that had turned to their duty posts. Some lives have been lost in cities in various parts of the country, but by Tuesday, they remained undeterred in seeking firm assurances that the federal government, not just the Police authorities, would ensure wide-ranging reforms. President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, have spoken, but the people are not pacified.

We agree with the people that it is time to make the government stride in the right direction. The people, some who do not even know what the Movement is all about, have since joined the street protests because of the difficult times in the country. We hope it would not be stretched beyond the level it has been established. There are social, political and economic forces in the land crying for due attention. Many young people are hungry; undergraduates who have been grounded at home for about seven months were easily available to be mobilised. We hope the government would realise that the trust deficit that had been in the country for a while now has to be closed immediately. Sincerity of purpose should be clearly seen in the negotiations, even as the initial organisers appear to be losing their hold on the protests turning into a revolt.

Already, the global attention has been turned to Nigeria for all the wrong reasons. World leaders, international human rights bodies, Nigerians in diaspora and major entertainment figures and sportsmen and women have condemned the development in Nigeria, taking sides with the protesters. The young people have cried out loud and have been heard all over the country and the world. It is therefore time that fundamental questions and contradictions are resolved in the interest of the people.

We agree with the protesters that all those involved in the killing of young people should be arrested and prosecuted. Enough of shedding the blood of innocent Nigerians. Those who were ostensibly hired to attack protesters in Abuja must be brought to book as protests is one way of holding the government to account in a democracy. We are equally in support of the rejection of the new anti-crime formation, Special Weapons and tactics unit by the Police authorities. Apart from lacking in originality, since it was copied from the United States of America where it has functioned since 1964, no one knows the contents, rules of engagement and personnel recruitment methods. It is not just about announcing a change of name. Training, structure, funding, doctrine and welfare provision are very key to performance. This requires rigorous thought and planning.

The time is ripe for the federal government to embark on wide-ranging reforms of the security outfits, starting with the Police and its various tactical formations. This could include a change of the hierarchy. Other aspects of the security architecture that have failed the people, and many of whose leaders have always looked down on the people, especially the young people, should receive shake-up, too. The Armed Forces, Office of the National Security Adviser, Department of State Security and the intelligence agencies should not be spared.

This is time for the government to reconnect with the populace. It is time to unite the various parts of the country behind the government. The outcry of manipulation and marginalization should also be addressed. At the inception of this administration, the youth and women expressed disappointment that they were largely ignored in appointments, a reform of the administration that would allow for the inclusion of some of these critical sectors should be considered. The ship of state is tottering on the high sea at a very dangerous point in our history, it is the responsibility of the President to rise to the occasion. As history has shown in other parts of the world, when protests are allowed to turn into revolt, it is difficult to recapture the soul of the society. All men and women of goodwill should join in prevailing on the President to seize the momentum and ensure real change to a decadent system.

The future beckons us. Nigeria has been allowed to twist and turn as determined by a few and in their interests for too long. Nigeria belongs to all and must be administered in the interest of all. Democracy must have meaning as it does in other countries

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