EndSARS protesters at Lekki toll gate
#EndSARS

EndSARS protest: Nigeria’s greatest blessing of 2020!

In one of several outraged reactions, Rev. Fr. Benjamin Achi reflects on the Lekki Toll Gate shooting of unarmed youth and says that this is Nigeria’s greatest blessing of 2020, as it could lead the nation’s emancipation from oppression and maladministration.

It indeed sprang a surprise, that for the first time in a very long time, (or does one even say ever) in our nation’s sixty-year political history, young people of diverse backgrounds had to rise, jettisoning ethnic, cultural, religious and sundry sentiments, to speak with one voice; to point at a singular direction and sing in one choir in condemnation of a crime that was to indeed become the last straw that did the camel’s back the ultimate blow

The year 2020 hasn’t exactly been a very wonderful year for almost all countries and peoples across the world. Even countries that for a long time have enjoyed peace and economic bliss, found themselves brought literally to their knees as a result of the sudden advent of the novel coronavirus. It swept the world off her feet; it caught everyone off guard, and that includes even China from whose stead the virus launched its attack.

For us in Nigeria however, it was, to all intents and purposes, double tragedy. For a country that has been suffering for donkey years as a result of the gross ineptitude and callousness of successive brigade of brigands, who at various intervals have continued to hold the country by the jugular, making concerted efforts to outdo each other in the infamous enterprise of running the country aground, facing a pandemic was to be like the last nail to the coffin. Thankfully however, the pandemic didn’t make such a landfall in Africa as was initially predicted. We didn’t end up picking corpses on the streets, but it has taken lives and has equally taken – and still continues to take – its toll on the socio-economic and otherwise life of our people.

As dangerous and frightening as the Coronavirus is, it didn’t take long before Nigerians overcame the fear for the deadly disease and went about their normal businesses as they were doing prior to the advent of the Pandemic. And the reason is not far-fetched. Many in Nigeria have argued that whatever adverse effect it has had on the life of this nation and its citizenry is altogether a far cry from the “virus” of maladministration that has remained the unending pestilence that has bedeviled this nation since time immemorial.

For so long the Nigerian people seemed to have acquiesced with the bad situation; for so long they seemed to have gotten inured to the unending pains: pains of unemployment, of insecurity, of grand corruption, of nepotism, of tribal and religious bigotry aided and abated most often by those who manage the affairs of the country; pain of extortionate prizes of food and other basic commodities, pain of frequent hike in the prizes of petroleum products and electricity tariffs; pain of plying federal highways that have long become death traps and are only growing worse in the same strength by the day; pain of nearly total lack of basic Medicare, good learning environment in schools at all levels with students of tertiary institutions having to be out of campus for a long time as a result of frequent strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to press home their demands for better condition of service; pain of the high cost of governance where less than five percent of the citizenry appropriate over 80 percent of the nation’s resources even when many of them add no value to the life and wellbeing of the nation; pain of watching a few greedy and mindless politicians, rape the country blind and embezzle even the future of the coming generation without let nor hindrance. And for the past ten years and counting, pain of frequent loss of night sleep as a result of the terrorist exploits of the Boko Haram insurgents which more recently have been augmented by the murderous escapades of the notorious and deadly Fulani Herdsmen and armed bandits. (The ignominious list can comfortably challenge any available space, as it can go on and on).

What we have ended up with in the light of the foregoing, is a perfect picture of a country that does practically nothing for its citizenry; a country that has simply turned its back on her citizens, abandoning them to their fate; a country where it is nothing short of a miracle, to see the light of each day, still finding one’s neck on one’s shoulders. And yet, for so long, Nigerians especially the younger generation who are worst hit by the bad system, seem, for the greater part, to have been quiet. Were they quiet because they were comfortable with the criminal status quo? Certainly not. They were only being patient; they have been enduring the hurt; their pain threshold seem to be high, which is why many a Nigerian would most often be found smiling and passing with a wave of hand, a situation that would make an average person in other climes contemplate suicide. Human beings across generations are however unanimous in their agreement, that there is a limit to human endurance; patience may sometimes be elastic but would always have its limit, and the limit, in our own context seem to be what we have seen with the #EndSARS protest, that has swept across most parts of the country in recent days. For so long, Nigerians have endured endless list of pains and seemed to put up with it. But they saw themselves confronted with this last pain, which every conceivable logic could not allow them to bow to: The high handedness, brutality and in some proven cases, extra judicial killing perpetrated by the members of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police Force established by the Federal Government in 1992 when one Colonel Rindam of the Nigerian army was killed by police officers at a checkpoint in Lagos that same year. As implied in the name, the unit was established with the singular aim of securing the lives of Nigerians against armed robbery and other violent crimes in the country. In other words, the nation’s citizens were supposed to have a better life and feel more secure in a nation they call their own. But with the passage of time, the exact opposite became the case. The people who were constituted to fight armed robbery and violent crime, turned around to become the robbers and criminals themselves. It became a classic case of the proverbial dog, consuming the very bone hung around its neck.

It indeed sprang a surprise, that for the first time in a very long time, (or does one even say ever) in our nation’s sixty-year political history, young people of diverse backgrounds had to rise, jettisoning ethnic, cultural, religious and sundry sentiments, to speak with one voice; to point at a singular direction and sing in one choir in condemnation of a crime that was to indeed become the last straw that did the camel’s back the ultimate blow. Why shouldn’t the brutality of SARS be the last straw? That a young Nigerian, completely abandoned to his fate by his country of birth, would rise in faith to take his destiny in his own hands and works hard to keep head above water and make a living for himself and for his usually numerous dependents, only to be treated as a criminal and sometimes have his life cut short by the same people that are supposed to at least protect him? What could be worse than that? Isn’t that a classical example of pushing one to the wall? What do people do when they have their backs pressed against the wall except to fight back? This is simply a summary of what the almost nationwide #EndSARS protest is all about.

Many in Nigeria have argued that whatever adverse effect (Coronavirus) has had on the life of this nation and its citizenry is altogether a far cry from the “virus” of maladministration that has remained the unending pestilence that has bedeviled this nation since time immemorial.

In his remarks on the first anniversary of the Alliance for Progress, the 35th President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy dropped the now very famous saying, that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable”. Many Nigerian youths are at home with these time-honoured words of President Kennedy. Granted that situations like the one we have found ourselves in, do not usually adhere to conventional niceties neither do they follow any format in the books and could even have immediately taken the part of a violent revolution, Nigerian youths, while they poured out on the streets of Nigeria’s major cities, still conducted themselves in such a peaceful and orderly manner that shocked everyone. As pained as they were, they still stayed on the salutary track of peacefully pressing home their demands. No weapons, no attacks on anyone, just walks and words. Yet, for the first time, Buhari’s government which since it came on board, has been so terrible, deaf and insensitive, was jolted. The fact that the young people could live the comfort of their homes to be on the streets for days defying the elements, sprang a surprise on them. It sent tremors down their spine. They never saw it coming and could never have imagined it. Their heads went completely blank and they became paranoid and desperate. It was in that paranoia and desperation that they came up crudely with SWAT, believing it was going be the magic wand, and would serve as one of those analgesic-like policies which they often throw up to swindle the Nigerian people. And to their dismay, that proposal was dead on arrival and came crumbling like a park of cards. The young people refused for the first time to be deceived. Not even the hypocrisy of some of the government officials who came out in some states to address the protesters could do the magic. For the first time, Nigeria youths stood their ground, stuck to their guns and refused to throw in the towel. Against a government that from the outset has presented the image of tyranny, the young people of Nigeria seemed to have remembered and decided to give concrete expression to those words of Thomas Jefferson, that “disobedience to tyranny is obedience to God”. They refused to be deceived; they refused to be cowed; they refused to be intimidated. They remained on the streets. And contrary to the expectation of those mismanaging the country who probably had thought it was going to be over in a matter of a day or two, the tempo was sustained for many days running into weeks and kept gathering momentum as the days went by. It was a brand of Nigeria never seen. For the first time in a long time, it felt good to be a Nigerian and the sight was beautiful to behold. But that insistence to remain on the streets, became a bait to Mohammadu Buhari’s administration – which they fell for completely.

Armed troops arrived at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, one of the epicenters of the agitation, with what was obviously a categorical instruction to shoot and kill the protesters, whose basic demand, has been to be allowed to live and not be butchered by those that are detailed to protect them. That Tuesday night has probably ushered in, what is likely going to be the beginning of the end of the reign of terror and pain. The stupidity of this action on that fateful night of 20th October, is indeed felix culpa; it is indeed a pleasant mistake. It was good the mistake was made, so that those in authority could be haunted for the remaining part of their lives and when finally bones and flesh get tired from many acts of wickedness against the Nigerian people. History, which never forgets, would do us the pleasure of having the Buhari administration on that rough page, a page reserved for those who chose to book a date with infamy, while they walked the face of the earth.

The #EndSARS protest, is indeed for us, the greatest gain of this year 2020. It is a year that would go down as one of the terrible years of human history, with its harvests of death and pain, but has turned out to become for us in Nigeria, a year of greatest gain yet. The year we stood up to say NO with one voice. That one NO that may end up engendering our emancipation as a people.