Roughly a month ago, I was vilified for writing a piece titled: “Will the EndSARS protest change anything?” on October 17, in which I sounded very pessimistic on the outcome of the #EndSARS protests. For some of the people who got in touch, it was wrong for me to pre-empt the laudable attempt by the young people in Nigeria to finally rise up and attempt to make their voices heard in a peaceful manner, as they tried to explain to the ruling class that they were not finding the situation in the country very palatable.
Incidentally, unlike many previous protests, the #EndSARS movement was not violent. It was a well organised and much disciplined attempt at drawing the government’s attention to their plight.
In fact what was even more impressive was the fact that the movement never had any discernible leaders or leadership structure; but was very well organised and very disciplined agitation by whoever were the silent leaders of the group. Day after day, we were impressed with the way and manner the youngsters comported themselves – cleaning up their waste after every protest day, providing free food and medical care for the numerous activists, and even provisions were made for charging points for phones.
In fact, the peaceful manner they handle their campaign drew the attention of the world to the plight of Nigerians with many notable names, cutting across all spheres, identifying with the #EndSARS campaign. From sports stars like Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Tammy Abraham (Chelsea), world boxing champion, Anthony Joshua; actor John Boyega and musicians including Estelle, Trey Songz, Chance the Rapper, Beyoncé Knowles, Wizkid and Davido all threw their weight behind the young Nigerians, who had for once placed the nation on the world’s pedestal for the right reason.
The #EndSARS protesters showed the whole world that Nigerians are facing the same problems of bad governance, police brutality and so on and tackling them was more important than tribe and religion, which often made headlines around the world when the tensions exploded in the open in the form of ethnic and religious strife. However, during the first two weeks of the protests there was no such tension showing, as protesters of all tribes stood shoulder to shoulder, to express their displeasure with the way the nation was being governed. One of my lasting and touching memories was when non-Muslims formed a protective wall around their Muslims brothers and sisters in order to allow them hold their Friday jumat prayers in peace. Then on Sunday Christian leaders including Catholics and other faiths showed up at Lekki to hold Sunday service for those who had still kept vigil there. Sadly, the peaceful campaign went up in smoke on the night of Tuesday, October 20, when the military was used to forcibly remove the activists from what had become the epicentre of the #EndSARS protest – the Lekki Tollgate Plaza. Alas, from that night, everything went downhill as a hitherto peaceful protest became violent, after being hijacked by hoodlums and other anti-social miscreants, who unleashed wanton destruction on a scale I never believed I would be alive to see. Not even the massive nationwide ‘Ali Must Go’ riots of 1978 or the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) riots of 1989 or the June 12 protests against the military regime of General Sani Abacha produced such large scale destruction. Of course, when the looting and burning finally abated after almost a fortnight, the state governments set up panels of inquiry to look into the various grievances of the people across the land. However, while not pre-empting the outcome of the panels, the comments and actions of various parties to what happened in Lekki is an indication of how the whole saga might eventually end. First the governor of Lagos, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu initially gave the impression that the presence of the military on the night of Tuesday had even caught him by surprise. When asked pointedly who gave them (soldiers) the orders to shoot, he insinuated that it was not him because they do not take orders from him. But he had escalated a query to the “highest levels” in order to find out.
Then speaking during an interview session with a CNN’s Becky Anderson on her show, “Connect the World with Becky Anderson programme” on the Monday after the shooting he said both the Federal Government and Lagos State Government would ensure that anyone found culpable in last Tuesday’s shooting at the Lekki Toll Plaza would be held accountable for their actions. “We will be committed to a full investigation of what happened and people would be held accountable. They certainly would be held accountable. We would do everything possible to ensure that they are held accountable,” he said. He also promised that that the Closed Circuit television footage obtained from the Lekki toll plaza will be handed over to the panel of inquiry looking into the shootings. But then the narrative started changing with the military first denying that they were ever at the Toll Plaza.
Then, they owned up that they were actually there, but only at the behest of the state governor! The 65 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, the formation said to have been involved in the October 20 Lekki shooting, has said soldiers only fired blank ammunitions at protesters. In a petition submitted to the Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up by the Lagos State Government, the army insisted that no one was shot dead as soldiers only fired blank ammunition at the protesters. Then to further muddle the waters, the nation’s top law enforcement official, Abubakar Malami, Attorney- General of the Federation (AGF), said “it is likely that hoodlums wearing military fatigues — and not soldiers — shot #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos State!” Have we not noticed that the narrative has not only become very scrambled, but is even slowly receding from the front burner of the discus? Meanwhile, beyond the scrapping of the dreaded Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS), what other concrete steps have been taken by the government in addressing the complaints of the #EndSARS protesters? Even during the height of the protest, was it not telling that no member of the National Assembly threw his hat into the ring with the protesters or more importantly offered to give up any of his or her perks? The honest truth is that only time will tell if the #EndSARS protest will actually achieve any tangible change in the country and make Doubting Thomas’s’ like me eat humble pie