africa

Thoughts on ugly year compounded by obstinate protesters


By Vincent Akanmode

 

An age-long aphorism says it is man’s to propose but God’s to dispose. The timeless saying found expression in
the outgoing year as the much hyped Vision 20-2020 ended in anti-climax. Conceived in 2010 by the civilian administration of the late former President Umaru Yar’Adua, it was an agenda whose ultimate aim was to see Nigeria occupy a place among the 20 largest economies in the world before the end of this year, consolidate its leadership role in Africa and establish itself as a significant player in the global economic and political arena.

Ironically, rather than being the country’s El Dorado year, 2020 turned out to be one in which Nigeria returned to the dark age, compounding the attrition of the COVID-19 pandemic with a protest that was hijacked by hoodlums and nearly brought the country to its knees. Considering their ugly experiences with the twin tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in the lockdown of social and economic activities in the country for months, and the EndSARS, a supposed peaceful protest by the youth against police brutality which culminated in one of the greatest social upheavals in the country’s political history, the outgoing year is decidedly the worst ever for the average Nigerian.  Such has been the case that a friend asked me if Christmas could be postponed while another wondered if it was possible to remove 2020 from the years he has spent on earth.

In a supposed miracle year in which the hopes and aspirations of Nigerians would be fulfilled in 20 key areas of life, they have not only had to mourn the loss of their loved ones in the deadly riot that ended the EndSARS protest championed by the youth population, they have also had to contend with finding new means of livelihood with their shops, stores, warehouses and offices looted and burnt by mindless hoodlums masquerading as protesters. It is a year in which EndSARS protest killed its thousands and the COVID-19 pandemic killed its ten thousands, and there are two entities to blame for the tragic incidents—the Coronavirus and obstinate youths who failed to quit the stage when the ovation was loudest.

For two weeks between October 7 and 21, hundreds of thousands of youths gathered at different locations around the country’s major cities to express their disavowal of the callous and inhuman ways of the unit of the Nigeria Police Force called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). As the name suggests, the unit was created in 1992 to deal with crimes associated with robbery, car snatching, kidnapping, cattle rustling, gun running and illegal possession of firearms, among other crimes. But a mess was soon made of the noble initiative as some unguided policemen turned it into machinery for extortion, extra-judicial killing, rape, torture and even kidnapping and armed robbery.

The foregoing was the basis on which thousands of young men and women around the country mobilised themselves with the help of the social media for a protest demanding an end to SARS, and the widespread endorsement of the move by the young and the old, the rich and the poor. But like sheep without a shepherd, the protesters soon lost their bearings, turning an otherwise peaceful protest into a veritable threat to the public peace. In Lagos, Abuja and elsewhere, they blocked major roads with bonfire, preventing peace-loving and law abiding Nigerians from going about their legitimate businesses. They also added to the EndSARS mantra such rebellious and outrageous chants as #EndBuhari, #EndAPC and, wait for it, #EndNigeria!

At this point, concerned Nigerians started pleading with the youths to suspend the protest and wait for government’s response to their demand, warning that hoodlums could hijack the protest with dire consequences for everyone. But the wise counsel was dismissed by the youths as the ranting of an analogue generation. Even a dusk to dawn curfew imposed by the Lagos State Government was ignored by them as they gathered in different parts of the city to continue their protests. In the process, soldiers deployed to enforce the curfew imposed by the Lagos State Government to checkmate the protest ran into the protesting youths at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos and thus began the face-off the soldiers had with them, controversially described as a massacre.

While the Nigerian Army has insisted that there were no lives lost at Lekki Toll Gate, not to talk of a massacre, and there has not been much done yet to prove anything to the contrary, Nigerians who should condemn the failure of the youth to heed the wise counsel that the protest should be suspended have all blamed the arson, killing and looting that took place around the country on everyone else except the youths that started it all, apparently for fear that they could become victims of their mob mentality. Have we as parents now bred such monsters of children that we now have to speak tongue in cheek over their condemnable acts? Are we now at the mercy of a new brand of terrorism in which the youth threaten anyone who dare challenge their position with mob attack on the social media?

Of course, the protest has come and gone. But it is not one that can be ignored just yet because of its far reaching consequences and the conspiracy of acquiescence in the mayhem the youth unwittingly unleashed on the country because of their failure to heed the counsel of mature and experienced minds. Like every past deed, the EndSARS protest and the tragedy that attended it will forever cling to us like a cloak. And like every act of history, we have the choice of recognising its unwholesome outcome and dealing with it, or ignoring it and living in bondage to it.



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