Monday, February 6, 2023

If Nigeria disintegrates, Buhari’s October 20, 2020 albatross caused it

President Buhari is on record saying that the #EndSARS protests were about removing him from office.

• October 20, 2021
Bloody Nigerian flag and Buhari used to illustrate Lekki Massacre story
Bloody Nigerian flag and Buhari used to illustrate Lekki Massacre story

A year ago today, at least 44 people were killed in nine separate incidents around the country, most infamously at least nine killed at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. One year on and justice still eludes the peaceful protesters who were brutally cut down. 

It is a bitter irony that the very security services who were the subject of the protests, and in many cases, would have been beneficiaries of the very reforms sought by the protesters, were deeply involved in perpetrating the violence on the people they are sworn to protect.

Jimoh Isiaq was shot and killed by policemen dispersing #EndSARS protesters. His crime was to stand on the pavement watching the peaceful protests tens of metres away from him. He did not join them. One year on, he has not gotten justice. 

This article is for him, and for the unnamed driver shot at Ojuelegba in Lagos. For the many others whose deaths led to the protests. It is also for Pelumi Onifade and others who died or were arrested later.

Despite the mountain of damning evidence from various panels set up in several states to investigate the atrocities, not a single arrest has been made. The best we have gotten is recommendations to pay compensation to victims or families of some of the affected persons.

In a manner of speaking, 20 October 2020 is a logical summation of Nigeria’s issues. If Nigeria never recovers from the current dark place it is in, 20 October 2020 will stand as a huge signpost on that path to perdition. It is a moment of broken trust, and for many, it proved that the #EndSARS protestors were right not to trust the government after promises had been made to reform the F-SARS unit.

The #EndSARS movement was a decentralised group of protests demanding the government disband the notorious Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad who routinely wasted innocent lives rather than going after actual robbers. F-SARS officials profiled young Nigerians based on their lifestyle choices and bullied them, to put it mildly. Evidence abound about how F-SARS officers kidnapped, murdered, raped, humiliated and unlawfully detained helpless citizens.

After the government disbanded the unit four times between 2017 to 2019, Nigerian youths rose to make their voices heard. They simply wanted less police extortion and killings, but did the government listen? No. So young people marched to the streets, and were met first with government sponsored thugs being ferried around in government vehicles to attack peaceful protesters, and then eventually, the Army. And you wonder why more people have lost faith in this government?

20 October 2020 showed that a huge part of Nigeria’s inability to solve its problems is the disdain of so-called leaders. Lekki on 20 October 2020, and Obigbo in Rivers State in the days after, were not the only case of the Nigerian State killing protesters and hiding their bodies in order to downplay the magnitude of the crime. Soldiers removed bodies from the scene of the crimes in Odi, Zaria, Nkpor, and so many other places.

The youths did not believe the government’s promises last year and one year on, no changes have happened. The government has lied some more and disregarded every promise about police reform. Instead, the EFCC has stepped in right where F-SARS left off.

Nigeria’s security forces learnt nothing from the Lekki Massacre. Just last month we saw soldiers stabbing Shiite protesters in Abuja in broad daylight. No one has been reprimanded. Just today, the police, after a “show of force”, deployed tear gas against people memorialising last year’s shooting. 

But of course ultimately, they all take their cue from the top. Nigeria’s security architecture is all about regime security. President Buhari is on record saying that the #EndSARS protests were about removing him from office. That is all that matters. Not the fact that security is demonstrably worse under him. 

Not the fact that the already high, and still rising, unemployment is feeding the army of “bandits” whom his Air Force paid a bribe to retrieve a lethal weapon. Not the fact that people are struggling to eat. All that matters to the man is remaining in power, and in that regard, he is deaf to all else.

Consider that Mohammed Adamu, the Inspector General of Police when the #EndSARS protests broke out, was about three months from retirement. Would it have cost Buhari anything to sacrifice Adamu as a concession to the protesters? Instead we got the expected tone-deafness that has radicalised various groups in various parts of the country. All at a time when it is clear that the Nigerian state has lost the monopoly of violence, and rather than introspect, it is pushing more and more of its citizens towards the belief, or is it knowledge, that might, is indeed right.

Cheta Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence

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