The Witness Opinion
After about two weeks of the current #EndSARS started in Nigeria, the President, Muhammadu Buhari only yesterday, October 22, 2020 addressed the nation. This is after well meaning Nigerians and groups insisted that he must speak to the nation in the thick of the crisis in order to calm roughened nerves.
It will be recalled that the protests started in Ughelli, Delta State over police brutality as some people, particularly the youths said enough is enough on the wanton killing, extortion, intimidation and day like robbery etc by operatives of the defunct Special Anti armed Robbery Squad (SARS).
What began as a murmured complaint turned into a protest and it’s now snowballing into a revolution due to poor handling? Actually, what would’ve been done at the early stage is for the chief executive of the nation; the Command-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to address the nation, condemned and detailed out the plans of his administration to put things aright in the police force.
But alas, Buhari holed himself incommunicado in Aso Rock (State House), pretending to see no evil and hear no evil. The resultant effect is that the civil society organizations saw it as act of insensitivity on his part and therefore filled the yawning gap. They started a protest to end SARS and indeed stop police brutality somewhere in Lagos. Yet, the authorities in Abuja saw it as a joke of the infants.
Ironically, the joke snowballed to major protests spreading to Abuja, the nation’s capital and other parts of the country with wanton destruction of lives and properties. This was the time the Buhari’s government came out with what they ought to have done earlier: the dissolution of the dreaded SARS. Interestingly, it was too late in the day as youths across the nation, expressing some bottled up emotions, and were already in the streets refused to be placated.
Apart from the SARS wahala (problem), the protesters made other demands which the government kept mute on. However, after about what looked like a decade, with several pressures mounting on him to talk to the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari finally came out yesterday night with a feeble speech that is in its ramification un-presidential. The key issues of the protests were not touched.
Are the plan to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years; the creation of N75 billion National Youth Investment Fund to provide opportunities for the youths and the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), Survival Fund, etc, etc, etc part of the #EndSARS part of the protesters demand? Good governance entails far higher issues than that.
He also stated that his government has put in place measures and initiatives principally targeted at youths, women and the most vulnerable groups in our society such as Farmermoni, Tradermoni, Marketmon N-Power, N-Tech and N-Agro. Such statement is not needed at point of a major crisis in the country.
Someone should tell Mr President that those programmes formed part of his campaign catalog in 2015 and 2019 general elections, and so should not be part of strategy to address a bad worsening security challenge. At this point in our national life, a President that is in charge and knows his onions should’ve dwelled on the vital issues raised by the protesters; their workability or otherwise and the way forward. Now that he had left the demands untouched, the demands raised are still in the front burner, begging for attention.
His assertion that “as a democratic government, we listened to, and carefully evaluated the five-point demands of the protesters; and, having accepted them, we immediately scrapped SARS, and put measures in place to address the other demands of our youth” is far from being enough.
Witness thinks that a committee should have been set up to convoke a round table conference that should midwife a constitutional framework to address the issues permanently. Leaving it to cake will be like leaving a wound to block. At the nick of time, it would resurface and by that time, it would’ve been infested by virus.
What are their demands: sack the security chiefs, improve security, full deregulation of the oil and gas to allow more investments in order to create jobs, immediate passage of the PIB, full deregulation of the power sector to allow investment capital flow to generate, transmit and distribute more power and create jobs.
Hands off petroleum pricing to enable free market determination of pricing, close the country’s northern borders to stop free entry of Fulani Herdsmen and bandits, inclusive government for all tribes and regions of Nigeria with 50% youths participation, full deregulation of power sector to allow investment capital flow to generate, transmit and distribute more power and create jobs, allocate more funds to education sector to provide better teaching tools and to pay better salaries to end ASUU strikes.
Change the academic curriculum to reflect modern day realities, all politicians should be placed on minimum wage to attract genuine public servants. Others include thus: Nigeria should: migrate to 100% electoral reforms with electronic voting tied to BVN and GSM, return Nigeria to regional governance structure or restructure the country and embrace true federalism; states autonomy must be paramount, disbanding of the bi-cameral legislature and adopt uni-cameral, immediately reform Nigeria police force and let every state or region create its own police service, etc, etc, etc.
Are they not what the government can handled? Nonetheless, President Buhari’s playing the ostrich on the Lekki massacre few days ago is the high form of insensitivity by any Nigerian President/Head of State, either living or dead. How would the President not made mention of the shooting of defenceless protesters by soldiers under the command of one Lt Col S.O. Bello at Lekki, Lagos Toll gate? Various video clips show the armoured personnel carrier (APC) riding soldiers shooting sporadically into a crowd of innocent protesters, many whom were bearing the national flag.
Happily, the President acknowledged the fact that the “choice to demonstrate peacefully is a fundamental right of citizens as enshrined in Section 40 of our Constitution and other enactments”.
Therefore, if this so, why not condemn the massacre and institute an enquiry to fish the called Lt Col Bello and the soldiers he led to the scene? It is not enough for the military to deny culpability, the President/Command-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces must act decisively now.
He should listen to the voices of our neighbours in particular, and members of the international community, whom he acknowledged had expressed concern about the ongoing development in Nigeria. Please, Mr President Don’t condemn them, but listen to them so that Nigeria would burn.
Uche Nwosu is a two time Shell Petroleum PLC award winner in the year 2000;
He won the Shell Award on Investigative Journalism and Environmental Cleanliness.