By Izu Edesiri
It is no longer news that #EndSARS protests have rocked Nigeria for the past two weeks. The protests, which began in Lagos State and was initially only against Police brutality especially by the notorious Special AntiRobbery Squad (SARS), quickly metamorphosed to include other burning issues such as poverty, bad roads, corruption, and other socioeconomic maladies, and consequently snowballed into a nationwide movement, with virtually every State witnessing massive but generally peaceful protests.
With the protests gaining more followers, the Federal Government took some steps to pacify the protesters. The Federal Government immediately disbanded the implicated SARS units all over the country, amongst other measures. However, this was not enough for the protesters as this was also not the first time this Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) led administration was disbanding SARS, having done so almost annually between 2016 and 2020 yet the unit persisted and even got more brutal. The protesters demanded action, not mere words as before, and also demanded to be addressed directly by the President himself.
With the febrile protesters yet to fully digest the latest disbandment of SARS and the other proposals by Government, the Inspector General of Police then announced the formation of a new unit termed Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) to replace the disbanded SARS. This further angered the protesters and widened the trust deficit with government and made the protesters even more defiant.
As the protests grew even bigger, some influential persons (including some in Government) became uncomfortable and began a social and conventional media war against the protesters, reportedly recruited some Nigerians to organize counter-protests in support of SARS, and finally physical attacks on the anti-SARS protesters who had generally been peaceful and exemplary. These unprovoked attacks became more vicious, leading to severe bodily injuries and death of some anti-SARS protesters and culminated in the deployment of Police and military officers and the subsequent brutalization, shooting and killing of unarmed anti-SARS protesters in Lagos yesterday. The effects of yesterday’s shootings of genocidal proportion by the army are still sending chills down the spine of Nigerians and international observers worldwide.
It is said that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown and no man knows it all, otherwise we would not be at this point in the first place. Thus, with the government at crossroads, we proffer some suggestions on how to resolve this quagmired impasse:
It is pertinent to note that since the protests gained massibe traction, the President has not directly addressed the nation even though the protesters demanded he does so and even the National Assembly passed a resolution two days ago calling on the President to address the nation. So in my humble opinion, the way first forward is for President Buhari to immediately address the nation as the leader, take responsibility and apologize for his handling and the use of excessive force by the army and police in this instance. He should speak as a compassionate father and show empathy to all who have suffered police brutality, suffered bodily and psychological injuries, lost their friends and loved ones, sources of livelihood, money and other valuables and others such losses these past years especially these past few days. He should then immediately set up a Trust Fund to handle all claims and make appropriate reparations as the first step in reconciliation and healing.
The President should also ensure that the reports of previous Commissions of Enquiry into human rights abuses by the Police and Armed Forces are wholesomely implemented with alacrity.
The President should use the instrumentality of Executive Orders to promptly effect the other demands of the protesters (which he is said to have previously acceded to), as resolved by the National Assembly.
The President should also suspend the implementation, training and deployment of the newly established SWAT unit, at least till the atmosphere becomes more conducive.
President Buhari should immediately retire the Chief of Army Staff (which several groups have long clamored for at various times) and the Inspector General of Police for the unprofessional handling of the protests and unwarranted use of lethal force in dispersing unarmed protesters. He should also immediately recall all the deployed army officers from the streets. In addition, a thorough investigation of the unconscionable manhandling, shooting, and killing of unarmed protesters and even bystanders at Lekki tollgate plaza and others yesterday should be conducted swiftly and all culpable actors decisively and publicly dealt with.
President Buhari should also sack all his media aides who have done nothing more than further inflame an already combustible situation with their at times unguarded utterances.
Going forwards, the President should be more proactive and timeous in future and not wait for weeks of protests or the National Assembly passing a motion for him to step in and address the nation.
Finally, while awaiting the President/Government to do the needful, we call on the aggrieved protesters, armed forces, politicians and indeed all Nigerians to sheath their swords to prevent further metastasis of this already malignant condition.