Although the movement had actually begun as a twitter campaign in 2017; the #EndSARS movement had a phenomenal rebirth on Thursday, October 8 when nationwide protests kicked off. The fresh movement against the nowscrapped Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was unwittingly started on October 4 when operatives of the police unit allegedly shot a young man in front of Wetland Hotel, in Ughelli, Delta State. Although the police tried to brush it away in their usual manner by saying “it was the handiwork of mischief makers”, however, like the proverbial saying, it was the last straw that finally broke the camel’s back, leading to the “rise up” by youngsters against SARS operatives and all forms of police brutality.
Of course it was only natural that along the way they would realise that SARS and police brutality were not the only problems they were facing in the country. And thus their initial five-point demands, which included: Immediate release of all arrested protesters; Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families amongst others, got increased to include calls for jobs and good governance etc. And, impressively, for the first time that I recall, within a few days of their demands being made public (i.e. the original five), the Federal Government had acceded to all of them.
Perhaps now with the benefit of hindsight, maybe the #EndSARS protesters should have “grabbed” these concessions first and taken a step backwards to allow government work things out, but instead, they pressed ahead with other demands.
Thus by the time some sounds of ‘regime change’ started filtering into the narrative, it was clear that it would be only a matter of time before the government would decide that enough was enough because of the direction the demands were heading. Matters sadly came to ahead on the night of Tuesday, October 20, when in the cover of darkness, the action was taken against the Lekki Toll Plaza protesters, which had hitherto been the beacon of the #EndSARS protests with a peaceful manner, it had been held for close to two weeks.
Unfortunately “Black Tuesday”, as the incident has been called, proved to be the spark that was to ignite a sequence of events that will live long in the memories of Nigerians as the hitherto peaceful protest turned violent leaving sorrow, tears and blood in its wake. Hoodlums took over and brandished their own form of “protest” which came in the form of looting, arson and general vandalisation.
Sadly, unlike the original #EndSARS activists, these new “protesters” were driven more by their primordial instincts which ensured they were not ready to distinguish between the aims of the #EndSARS group and their beastly instincts leading them to “destroy” everything in sight. Unfortunately many private individuals whose businesses employed a lot of these classes of people saw their life’s work trashed meaning that the employment rate is undoubtedly going to increase.
I am sure many of us know a friend or a family member that is still struggling to come to grips with the fact that his or her investment has been wiped from the face of the earth, in a few hours of madness last week!
A friend told me of his in-law who had a shop located along Bode Thomas in Surulere. She had just invested some millions in stocking up ahead of the forthcoming Christmas festival season. “She told me that not even a pin was left behind by the looters,” he told me, adding that she had to be put on medication in order to keep her blood pressure under control. This will be the same story in many places across the country, from people counting their loses from the looting frenzy that took place.
While hopefully, the majority will show the true Nigerian spirit and bounce back like the phoenix to restart their businesses; unfortunately, some will never truly ever be able to recover. We should share a thought for such people and pray to the Almighty to comfort them and give them good health to see out the rest of their lives in whatever new endeavour that He gives them.
However, amongst the midst of all this, we should also spare a thought for the men and women of the much-maligned Nigeria Police Force, which the action of one of their units kicked off all of this. One thing that has been lost in all of this is the fact that not all police officers are bad. There are more good ones than bad ones and they were on the receiving end of some horrific treatment during the orgy of the violent protest. How can one easily forget the gory video of someone holding the head of a police officer who had been decapitated after having his body burnt or the Orile Iganmu.
Or the Lagos footage of a policeman being brutally beaten to death surrounded by a bloodthirsty mob with nobody offering to help him. I have also been on the receiving end of some not too pleasant police encounter – first in May of 1991 when I and three of my Guardian colleagues spent roughly two weeks in Kirikiri Prison (now Correctional Centre) for writing a story that did not sit well with then the military governor of Lagos State, Brig-Gen. Raji Rasaki and then six later lightning struck again.
It was on the morning of October 4, 1997, and I was preparing for my son’s first birthday when operatives from the then federal anti-robbery squad swooped on our house and whisked all the men away. My appeals to allow me to handle my son’s birthday fell on deaf ears, as they insisted that I must follow them and after taking my statement, they would release me on time to attend the birthday.
It was later that we found out that we had been roped in a phantom armed robbery case by l Anti-robbery operatives in connivance with a neighbour who wrote a phoney petition against other members of the compound, with a promise that they would split whatever money they were able to get out of us. For this one, I spent close to one month at Alagbon with the police officers insisting that we should bring money for them to drop the case, or we would be taken to court as suspected armed robbers.
At the end of the day, it was a senior police officer from the legal department, who called for our case file, and let us off the hook, after determining that we had no case to answer! But in spite of this, there is no way I will condole some of the videos and images we saw of how the policemen were brutalised.
At the end of the day, they are still human beings and deserve all our respect. According to reports 51 civilians, 28 police officers and seven soldiers were killed in the unrest a sad ending to what had started out as a peaceful exercise for close to two weeks. Please let’s spare a thought for all those who lost their lives and those who lost their livelihoods through the destruction of their businesses and pray that at the end of the day their pains and sacrifices would not have been in vain with genuine reforms achieved.