There was a great awakening in Nigeria which started with the #EndSars protests across the nation, but it also almost took the nation to the precipice.
At the height of a momentary victory when we thought the teeming masses had scored a point against the rulers, the centre collapsed in the like manner of the classic book ‘Things Fall Apart’ whose title was derived from of W.B. Yeats’ The second coming;
Turning and turning in the widening gyre. Things fall apart;
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hols;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”.
To clearly cut to the chase;
The Nigerian federal government failed its citizens with its response and handling the whole situation around the protests.
The federal government failed to take serious the agitation by allowing protesters to be on the streets for about twelve days without the president visiting the major hubs of the protest or address the protesters.
Like Madeline Albright said during the Black Lives Matter protest in America when interviewed by Trevor Noah over the grievances of Americans to the handling of the situation, “Leadership makes the difference”.
I thought the government would have approached the issue more carefully as against using the military indiscriminately against its own citizens because according to Thucydides; of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses people most.
A very good communication structure and style will have made a big difference. The communication strategy of the federal government was poor and when effected, it lacked empathy and did not highlight the major concerns. This made the peaceful protesters look insignificant and inconsequential.
The military who were also drafted in showed signs of unprofessionalism and lack of patriotism. Apart from being accused of shooting live bullets into the midst of protesters, there was a video where a Hilux van branded with OP-MESA which is a joint patrol of the Army, Air force and Navy was spotted at a warehouse ransacked and the Hilux too had the supplies loaded on it though it was not ascertained if the military were also looting or recovering the loot.
The peaceful protest period brought an opportunity for the government to leverage on the clamour for restructuring because the masses used the situation to unconsciously set the agenda for government but those in government seems are attentive enough to this. This was because the North want SARS to remain, the whole of south west, south-south and south east wanted it scrapped. It is enough reason for each region to start governing their region the best way they deem fit. It will be unfair to say the north is a cog in the wheel because in fairness to them, SARS may be effective in the north and not listening to their concern will only amount to stampeding them into accepting the disbandment whereas the agitation of the entire south region is legitimate as well based on the many experiences and trauma occasioned by SARS personnel excesses.
Going forward, the mode of politics and governance of Nigeria must change.
There is so much pent up anger in the land against government and politicians, and anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind according to Robert Green Ingersoll.
The peaceful protesters have taken a back seat; irrational mobs have taken over.
People have lost their minds and seems to be ready to damn any consequences attached to their actions hence the ongoing uprising. When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.
The country has generally descended into chaos beyond the initial agitation.
What is being witnessed on the streets of Nigeria is no longer protests, it has transformed to a monster with different heads, the hitherto One-million boys who were pushed backed at various locations during the lockdown and the many gangs who have been baying for blood, arson and booties found the perfect timing and premise to unleash mayhem and they are cashing in on the opportunity.
The uprising of the past weeks has really brought out the beast in Nigerians. Apologies to Pieter Botha.
As a nation we cannot pretend that we are oblivious that a time like this will come.
We cannot be known as a nation with systemic corruption, avarice, personal aggrandisement, nepotism, high poverty rate, a population of over 180 million with a projected 60% youth population largely unemployed and pretend that all these indices are not a ticking time bomb individually or collectively. The events of the past few weeks however has over made it obvious.
The initial #EndSars protest was just a tip of the Iceberg and whoever knows what an iceberg is or have seen the movie ‘Titanic’ will understand my point that while only the tip is conspicuous, the bigger part of it is always beneath the water. So is the problem of Nigeria and want the agitation represented.
Those still reading ethnic and primordial sentiments to the whole uprising needs to think twice. The global solidarity the movement has attracted so far is enough to kill all primordial sentiments that any one may nurse. Also, the geographical spread of the attacks on facilities holding suspected CA-COVID 19 palliatives and attacks on homes of politicians across the south west, south-south and south east shows that there are no ethnic agenda or bias behind it, just a people reacting to those who have held them captive over the years. The actions of the #Endsars protesters are genuine because according to Thomas Edison; “Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress”. All they are asking for is a nation that meets their aspiration.
What we are witnessing is a renaissance. All great nations go through it in different dimensions.
It looks horrible, ill-timed and probably being led by a mixture of patriots, irredentists, ethnic jingoists, right activists and hoodlums on one part, but yet we must separate the genuine protesters who craves for a rebirth for the nation from the irrational mobs.
It has never been this bad with protests in Nigeria, even at the height of 1983 election breakdown in the South West. It was mainly political rivalry, private individuals and businesses were not torched except those belonging to rival politicians.
I have glossed over a lot videos. The extent of the breakdown of law and order is grossly worrisome.
I also saw the level of hunger and deprivation in the land, which probably explains the extent to which some people went in getting some of the palliative commodities.
I saw people dragging bags of food probably rice and garri through a marshy canal which would have contaminated the foodstuffs. I also saw a woman scooping left over rice and garri which had been trampled upon in a looted warehouse and when a news reporter asked her what she will do with it, she said she will sieve it and eat. At that point I became overwhelmed. These are clearly unhygienic food commodities dangerous to their health and when one considers the danger they put themselves through in getting it and the risk of arrest, I can only conclude that so much is wrong with our society.
Kleptomaniacs were seen bearing air-conditioners, overhead water tanks, water cistern, office cabinets, Government signposts and some even went as far as carting away medical supplies such as vaccines, preservatives such as sulphates; items which are not consumables and which cannot improvise hunger. It further revealed the anger in people which has taken a mental dimension because kleptomania is medical condition.
The disturbing scenarios if unchecked urgently will only lead Nigeria to becoming a nation without a soul.
I blame our government for all of this because it has failed to realise that people who have nothing to lose creates the most dangerous society. A raging crowd can be calmed by uniting them as a society by simply acceding to their demands promptly.
The insensitivity of the government got us to this point. Not only government but the supporters as well hence the reason the present situation got escalated. There is a feeling of division among the bourgeois since there is no more middle class. A lot of government supporters suffer from Stockholm syndrome, hence they support the government and justify the use of extreme force on its citizens nay peaceful protesters in this case. They are seen as lacking empathy for their fellow citizens with whom they are all at the receiving end of governments carrot and stick approach on issues of delivering the dividends of democracy. The more reason why some genuine agitators now support the ongoing mob actions.
Francis Quarles said; “Beware of him that is slow to anger; for when it is long coming, it is stronger when it comes and the longer kept. Abused patience turns to fury”.
The above statement is a reflection of the relationship between government and people of Nigeria overtime and what led to the fury of the masses as seen on the streets this past weeks.
A government who is not proactive in the distribution of relief materials in circumstances like the COVID-19 situation is not a government of the people, it is a simply a cabal for some of the people not all of the people as democracy demands. Even the police whom the initial riots were against are also victims of the government who are not really concerned about the welfare of the people.
The police as body has so many welfare packages which never trickles down the cadre. They are a frustrated body of people who use their legitimate appurtenances to scavenge for survival. Their conditions of service and living conditions are parlous, the psyche and morale are permanently deflated and they have resigned to fate hence the attitude with which they carry on. Their ego is permanently battered. Integrity, decorum and professionalism are not in their lexicon. If most of our policemen and women are subjected to mental health check, psychometric analysis or criminal background check, a sizeable number of them would not pass any of the three checks listed above because most of them take the job not because they are passionate or patriotic but due to joblessness and criminal tendencies. Some of them believe that it is a legitimate way to make illegitimate money. Stories are rife of how some of them especially those of them in the defunct SARS celebrate their postings to certain states because of the crime rate and expectation of illegal money making.
Nigerians are generally traumatised and they have endured the insensitivity and excuses of government over generations but the present Muhammadu Buhari administration is only unfortunate to be the government of the day and may have pushed its luck too far by handling the issue that snowballed into the present mayhem with levity.
After the dust settles down, Nigerians who are self-aware must check their mental health especially for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Things people went through and witnessed on the streets of Nigeria in the past few weeks makes it necessary.
Some eye witness accounts recounted that two police men who shoot at arsonists in Ìwọ Road, Ibadan were assailed, burnt alive, roasted and eaten to the chagrin of onlookers. It was that gruesome. Those who saw that happen really need to be mentally evaluated to get over the shock.
Justice must be served because it is the first sign of humanity.
People also need to heal because; “You are either part of the solution or part of the problem” according to Eldridge Cleaver.
I know people will be made scape goats and that is where the individual comes in.
The individual must know where he or she stands in the midst of a crowd especially an irrational mob because according to Marcus Aurelius, how much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.
In this case, the consequences of everyone’s role may catch up with them; to those who have been caught; those that will be caught later and to the owners of the burnt or stolen items and properties. Conscience and the law are two things to contend it in this regard and they always both take their due courses.
Conclusively, I am aware that Judicial Commissions of Inquiries have been set up across the country and I would be happy to see justice served to the families who lost their beloved ones, those who got injured, those who businesses were looted and burnt down, police and other military officers who were killed or injured during the crisis and the government because according to Justice Chukwudifu Oputa; “Justice is not a `one-way traffic. It is not even a two way. It is a three-way traffic. Justice for the accused, justice for the offenders and justice for society”.
Nigeria will surely rise from the ashes.