New Telegraph

#EndSARS protests: When labour, CSOs failed

As the Nigerian public counts its losses following weeks of protests over police brutality, ONYEKACHI EZE reports on the failure of organised labour and civil society organisations (CSOs) to stand in the gap for Nigerians against harsh government policies




The peace of the country was recently disturbed for three weeks, when Nigerian youths took to the streets to protest against police brutality. Two of these weeks were peaceful but the protests unfortunately became violent following the October 20 shooting of some of the protesters at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos.


Since the shooting by the military, a number of states, mostly in the southern part of the country had witnessed violent attacks. A number of deaths were recorded and public and private properties looted. The situation became tensed at a time, and there was fear that the situation might result to total breakdown of law and order.


Fortunately, the situation was brought under control and a number of arrests made. In Ilorin, Kwara State, about 500 persons, who allegedly looted Shoprite complex, were arrested. And in Jos, Plateau State, 30 persons were arrested for allegedly looting the property of a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.


Lagos, the epicentre of the attacks also made some arrests, likewise Abuja, the nation’s capital, where irate youths looted the orientation camp of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), among other warehouses in the city in search of hoarded COVID- 19 palliatives.


The protesters, while in search of palliatives meant to cushion the effects of the over one month lockdown due to the spike in coronavirus pandemic in the country between March and May this year, “strayed” into private properties and looted them. In Enugu State, the management and students of Queen’s College had to send a save our soul message to the authorities when hoodlums circled round the school, following the rumour that palliatives meant for the state were stored in the school com-pound. In the process, three people were allegedly shot dead by security personnel in a bid to rescue the students from attack. In Lokoja, Kogi State, four persons were trampled on during a stampede, when some people carted away hoarded palliatives.


Prisoners were set free in Edo State, but an attempt at Ikoyi Prisons was thwarted by security personnel. Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki had given the escaped prisoners a timeline to return. This has since expired and some of the escaped prisoners are yet to comply with the order. Some people suspected to have aided the escape have been arrested.


No doubt, it was a challenging period for the country. President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the country on Thursday October 22 and held a virtual National Council of State meeting with former presidents and heads of state on Friday, all in a bid to douse the tension. Some state governors, on their part, had set up judicial panels of enquiry to probe claims of police brutality.


They have also promised compensation for victims of police brutality, and those who lost their lives during the protest, while the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, in response to the demands of the protesters, disbanded the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the police force. The IGP promised to retrain members of the newly formed Special Weapon and Tactical (SWAT) unit that will replace the disbanded    SARS.


The Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Burantai, on his part, met with army commanders and General Officers Commanding (GOC) of the various army units in the country and issued a strong warning to the hoodlums to leave the streets or face the consequences. No doubt, the genuine protesters have been driven out of the streets and hoodlums dictating the pace.


The country was in near anarchy. But all this would not have happened if somebody or organisation had stood in the gap for the distraught Nigerians. Since 2015 when the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government came to office, Nigerians had endured many anti-people policies of the administration, hoping that organised labour and civil society organisations (CSOs) would fight for them as they did during previous administrations.


For instance, the fuel price was increased more than three times, from N97 to N145 and now N160 per liter; the value added tax (VAT) rose from five per cent to 7. 5 per cent while electricity tariff tripled since then. Privatisation of government agencies was carried out without regard to the welfare of the people. Amidst all this, cost of living is high; the inflation rate is in two digits. Nigeria’s economy went on recession in 2017.


Though the National Bureau is Statistics (NBS) said the economy has rebound and that Nigeria is no more in recession, there is nothing to    show for it. The country was recently declared headquarters of world poverty.


Almost all unions in the nation’s university system have declared industrial action against the government and the campuses are shut against the students for more than six months now. While other nations were cushioning the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on their citizens, the Nigerian government appears to be inflicting pains and hardship on its own people.


The people endured all this with hope that somebody or group would tell the government of their pains. A report by the NBS put the unemployment rate at 64.3 per cent, out of which 34.9 per cent are youths.


“#ENDSARS does not just represent a protest against rogue police officers; it is a symptom of the poor state of the economy, which for months has only gotten worse,” a commentator said. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Africa, noted that “the majority of those of working age do not have formal employment and there are few opportunities to get a good education.


Earlier this year, government statistics showed that 40 per cent of Nigerians lived in poverty.” The question many have asked is: Where is organised labour and civil society organisations that are supposed to speak for the youth?


The hope of the youth and Nigerians in general were dashed when organised labour suspended its planned nationwide strike in September over increase in pump price of fuel and hike in electricity tariff by the Federal Government.


The strike was suspended by the negotiating team of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) led by their respective presidents, Ayuba Waba and Quadri Olaleye, without extracting any tangible commitment from the government or recourse to the central bodies of the unions.


A member of NLC Central Working Committee (CWC) said this created crisis of confidence between labour and the Nigerian people. The general opinion is that labour leaders sold out during the negotiation. Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education, Dr. Ibrahim Zikirullahi, said the suspended strike was meant to tell government that its policies were strangulating the masses. His words: “It is apparent from the details of the agreement signed with the Federal Government that Labour has once again sold out cheaply.


It is shameful that the leaders of the two labour groups have now reduced    important and historic struggles of the Nigerian people for social and economic justice to opportunities to grab appointments in various government committees. “It is yet another grand betrayal by labour to have allowed itself to be bought over by government’s empty promises to take steps to ostensibly cushion the effects of the harsh policies it has unleashed on citizens.


As far as we can see, government has not offered any tangible roadmap to end dependence on fuel importation. Yet, labour lamely accepted the argument that price should be hiked in addition to the token of 133 buses to serve as palliatives.


“Ironically, the important question left unanswered is, if 133 buses would really cushion the multiplier effects of the hike in terms of galloping inflation, higher cost of basic necessities like food, transport, healthcare, school fees; cost of doing business and increase in the rate of unemployment as a result of the strangulating business environment.


“It is apparent that they went into negotiation with government using the workers as bargaining power for their selfish interests. And they, therefore, ended up inflicting further hardships on the Nigerian people in order to sit on the table with oppressors in government.”


Labour’s “betrayal,” perhaps, explained why the protesting youths said they had no leader, because the leaders would end up using them as bargaining chips. Labour unions the world over is for the welfare of its members and the general public. But when that fails, as was the case in Nigeria, the option is for the people to take their destiny in their own hands.


There is no doubt that failure of the NLC and TUC to extract commitment from the government to ease the sufferings of Nigerians was one of the reasons for the #EndSARS protest. In 2012, when government attempted to withdraw subsidy on petrol, organised labour alongside some members of the present administration took to the streets in a protest tagged “Occupy Nigeria,” and which forced a reversal of the action.


By agreeing to suspend the strike, labour accepted deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry. Secretary of Joint Action Front (JAF), Abiodun Aremu, described the deregulation as “a death pill on workers and the poor masses,” which according to him, was “designed to undermine the interest of workers and the poor masses.”


He added: “They are policies of hardship and underdevelopment imposed on us by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Experience has shown that if Nigeria enters into the trap of deregulation, it will be one economic crisis after another.” Akin to labour, civil society organisations have gone to sleep since the Buhari administration came to office about five years ago.


Last month, a coalition of civil society organisations made up of Grassroots Empowerment and Justice Initiative, Concerned Nigeria Youth of Nigeria, Centre for Peace, Transparency, and Accountability (CPTA), African Leadership Strategy and Transparency Development Initiative, among others, attacked former President Olusegun Obasanjo over his statement that Nigeria is more divided under Buhari, and Prof. Wole Sonyika for supporting the views of the former president. Instead, they claimed that Buhari had succeeded in fighting corruption “to a level that the international community is applauding the effort of the government.


Those that made themselves untouchable while they were neck-dip in corruption have been made to face the wrath of the law.” This was more like an arm of the government rather than watchdog of the society. The Nigerian society has lost its moral compass since the APC administration came to power.


And since the supposedly the conscience of the society, including the media, had been silenced, the protest by the youths became the only way out. Happily, government acceded to their five-point demands, which included the reform of the entire police force and setting up of panel of enquiry into the activities of the disbanded SARS unit, as well as to improve the welfare of officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force. But the promise is be an end to itself, but the fulfillment.


The protest persisted because government had been known to had reneged in its former promises, including the disbandment of SARS which had been done several times before now. This informed the advice of Conference of Civil Society of Nigeria for the Federal Government to build public trust and confidence in the Nigerians by fulfilling every promises made. The group at a press conference last week, said government should match its pledge to meet the five-demand of the #EndSARS protesters with actions.


Chairperson of group, Adams Otakwu, noted that “the best way forward now is meaningful engagement between government and citizens on pragmatic measures to end police brutality, ensure good governance, reduce poverty, create employment, tackle insecurity and end corruption.


We stand for the reform, reprofessionalisation and improved welfare of the police and other security agencies.” Good governance and welfare of the citizens are the bedrock of the #End- SARS protest, so government has the responsibility to ensure this. The other one is the growling insecurity in the country. The security agencies cannot fight crimes because their morale is low.


The service chiefs appointed since 2015 are still there, and there is no improvement in the fight against the insurgents and bandits. Kidnappers are taking people on the highways; homes are no longer safe. People were known to have been attacked at the middle of the night in their homes and take hostages. There were two of such attacks in Abuja, the seat of power

Read Previous

As nation bleeds, North also wants justice

Read Next

Zulum visits five Egyptian varsities, others for Borno’s new teaching hospital

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *