-By Simon Kolawole
How can a peaceful protest end up with killing and maiming, burning and looting in a matter of days? For those of us who have seen plenty “peaceful” protests in our lives, it is not too hard to explain. The moment you hit the streets and fail to read the road signs — so that you will know where and when to turn, reverse or park — you are at the risk of losing control of the steering wheel. You will end up carrying all kinds of passengers — thugs, hoodlums, gangsters, cultists, politicians and all manner of opportunists. In fact, you may unwittingly provide cover for state agents to target the assets and possibly the lives of perceived opponents and rivals. So it goes.
In the best of times, peaceful protests can go awry — much less in these hard times, with oil prices down, government revenue falling, the currency losing value, prices of goods and services rising, and, to add fuel to the fire, COVID-19 taking our breath away. A majority of the people are already bleeding and groaning with the removal of subsidies on petrol and electricity. And with the huge population of unemployed, underemployed and unemployable youth, we knew all along that an uprising was a strong possibility at some point. That a peaceful protest against police brutality, tagged #EndSARS, would spark off this massive carnage was what we probably did not budget for.
With the protests infiltrated by rogues, the anarchy was inevitable. My biggest fear was military involvement. Those who witnessed the massacres by soldiers during the pro-June 12 protests in 1993 and other riots under military regimes would agree with me that it was not a pretty sight. I was praying that troops would not be called in to quell the #EndSARS protests. But I was wrong. On Tuesday evening, soldiers invaded the Lekki ground and started shooting. Initial reports said there was a massacre, although there is yet no identified victim: no names, no addresses, no relatives; just grainy videos with tailored commentaries. Hopefully, we will have a much clearer picture soon.
This is my “executive summary” of the #EndSARS campaign. It started as a genuine protest on social media. It went to the streets. Government saw the danger and accepted the five demands of the protesters. Police disbanded SARS. States set up judicial panels to probe police brutality. Despite getting these concessions, protesters remained adamant. Then came the partisan and sectional dimensions — with #BuhariMustGo and #EndNigeria added to the hashtags. Mayhem started. Looting. Shooting. Lynching. Curfew. Then Lekki happened. And President Muhammadu Buhari, silent for so long, finally addressed the nation, basically declaring: “The fire next time!”
After Buhari’s broadcast, I could see defeat on the faces of the youth. Many started tweeting about relocating to Canada, declaring a total loss of faith in Nigeria. #ItIsFinished began trending. This is sad but I would like to appeal to the Nigerian youth not to give in or give up. The #EndSARS protest did not fail. For one, the protesters got the government to act on their demands — which is a major victory by any definition. SARS has been disbanded. I can bet that whatever police unit replaces SARS will come under stricter scrutiny. Judicial panels have been set up. We expect to see the murderous police officers face justice. Police reform is now an imperative. These are big wins.
Moreover, the youth have shown that they have the ability to organise. These are the same youth we condemn for voting more in Big Brother Naija than in general election. We have often described them as lazy, entitled and obsessed with Instagram, fast cars and bling. By starting a campaign against SARS and taking to the streets to protest police brutality, they brought the country to a halt and attracted international interest. Everybody started paying attention to them. We started celebrating the coming of age of our youth. Older people started scrambling to associate with the cause. Ladies and gentlemen, this is surely a positive development. Let’s not discard it.
What next? According to data from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released before the 2019 general election, the youth — described as those between ages 18 and 35 — made up about 51 percent of the 84 million registered voters. If you expand the age bracket to 50 years (to accommodate other young Nigerians like me), the figure jumps up to 81 percent. That is mind-boggling. What the youth should be thinking now is how to use these humongous figures to bring about new things in Nigeria in 2023 — rather than flee to Canada. They should realise Canada was not built in a day. Its people fought hard to build the country with their sweat and blood.
Just a brief journey into Canada’s history: there were two rebellions against “bad governance” between 1837 and 1838. The rebels were arrested after the uprisings and put on trial. Samuel Lount, one of the organisers of the Upper Canada Rebellion, was publicly hanged. He is regarded as a martyr till today. Over 100 rebels were sentenced to life imprisonment. What the rebel leaders wanted was political reform. They had a common agenda for Canada. Even though they paid the ultimate price, Canada was never the same again. Reform came. Today, Canada is one of the most developed countries in the world. But Canada was not always like this. People paid the price.
What’s my point? The youth must begin to conceive a new political order and the role they can play in birthing it. The #OccupyOjota protests of 2012 helped in building the momentum that uprooted the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from power in 2015 and installed the All Progressives Congress (APC). In 2023, the #EndSARS momentum can become a movement that will help uproot both APC and PDP from power and birth a new political culture where government officials will begin to pay less attention to the perks of office and more to their responsibilities to Nigerians. And I mean at all levels — local, state and federal. That would be the best legacy of #EndSARS.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it would be for Nigerian youth to unite in the quest for good governance! They can be more politically active. They can be more involved in choosing councillors, council chairpersons, state lawmakers, governors, federal lawmakers and the president. It does not mean only the youth will occupy these positions. In addition to contesting, the youth can engage with the aspirants and candidates, scrutinise them, advance the agenda of good governance, monitor the performances of those elected or appointed, and mobilise for recall or removal if they fail to deliver. Canada was not built in a day. Nation-building is not a sprint. It is a marathon.
I hope the youth have also learnt their lessons from the #EndSARS fiasco. One, you don’t go to war without visible leadership. You will end up creating anarchy and mob action. We can now see the consequences. Things completely went out of control and there was nobody to call the mobsters to order. Leadership is key in every life endeavour. Two, you don’t go to war without a plan. There should be Plan A, Plan B and even Plan C. I did not see any plan apart from “we no go gree o”. Three, because of lack of leadership and strategy, the protests continued when they should have been called off. Now over 70 people are dead. This is extremely disturbing and disheartening.
Four, you must take your wins and know when to retreat without surrendering. When SARS was disbanded and judicial panels set up, that was the time to retreat. That was the time to say: “We are suspending the protests. If nothing changes, we will return to the streets.” Some people were even demanding that Buhari should sign an “executive order” to show that SARS had been disbanded. It got that ridiculous. Some rejected the panels because there was no “youth” and declared a boycott. I have come to learn that boycott is not an effective strategy. Campaign for youth inclusion in the panels but mobilise to engage with the process and follow through to get justice.
Five, you must stay the message. Nigerians were united in the call to stop police brutality. It was nationwide. Contrary to the propaganda, there were #EndSARS protests in Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, Nasarawa, Adamawa and some other northern states. It was not a purely southern thing. Unfortunately, some people sneaked in their #BuhariMustGo and #EndNigeria agenda and things began to fall apart. More so, protesters started losing focus when they moved from the unifying agenda against police brutality and expanded it to an omnibus campaign for restructuring and ending corruption and bad governance. It is impossible to achieve everything at a go.
Finally, the youth must learn from their elders. As the Yoruba would say, no matter how many Gucci shirts a child has, he can never have as many rags as an elder. Some youth actually think the story of Nigeria started in 1999 or 2015. Actually, people have been fighting for a better Nigeria for 100 years. Our forefathers played their roles and left. We are still fighting for a better Nigeria. We cannot all adopt the same style and strategy. Ultimately, we need to engage constructively to change the rigged and warped system. From my little experience, starting a mass action without a strategy, without a fall-back plan, and without giving an inch can only lead to anarchy. Lessons learnt?
Why Buhari can’t forgive Fani-Kayode, by Tunde Odesola
Opinion: Nigerian embassies of shame by Tunde Odesola (2)
(Published in The PUNCH on Monday, September 20, 2021)
With a tongue roughly twice the length of its body, and a brocade of dubious colours for skin, the chameleon is the ultimate invisible animal predator.
Without premonition, small creatures like worms and insects searching for daily bread disappear suddenly into the Bermuda Triangle in the belly of the dodgy chameleon via a sticky, snappy tongue.
Like worms and insects, in June 2021 alone, 1,032 Nigerians met sudden death in the hands of gunmen and kidnappers across the country, according to a fresh security report.
Approximately, the 1,032 casualty figure translates to 34.4 wasted lives per day, excluding deaths by sicknesses, auto accidents, extrajudicial killings, ritual killings, etc in a peaceful country in pieces.
Home or abroad, the fate of the average Nigerian is mournful.
Home-based Nigerians are plagued by physical and psychological deaths just like Nigerians abroad are not spared psychological torture and humiliation in Nigerian embassies.
The overwhelming corruption yet pervading most Nigerian embassies despite numberless media reports in the last six years attests to the failure of the retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari led-regime in curbing dishonest dealings that have cemented the green passport in the hall of infamy.
Lamenting the nasty treatment she went through in the hands of officials at the Nigeria High Commission in the UK, a registered nurse, Kemi Samuel, who has lived in England for over three decades, said she suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder whenever she visited the commission.
A registered nurse with more than 30 years under her belt, Samuel recalled that every Nigerian in England, notwithstanding their locations, was required to physically come to obtain visas, renew passports or get new ones.
Samuel explained that it was ridiculous that she renewed her 10-year British passport within two hours at Her Royal Majesty Passport Office, Globe House, London, while she laboured to renew her five-year Nigerian passport after visiting the high commission on seven different occasions.
She said, “If you want your British passport to be done as an emergency, you need to visit the passport office, but if you want to follow the normal process, it will arrive in your mail within four to five days.
“The reverse is the case in the Nigeria High Commission, where officials allow applicants to shunt the queue after bribing them. The officials were nasty to young and old, and they’ve no regard for children, women and the physically challenged. I was breastfeeding my baby and I had to leave my work each time I visited, meaning that I was losing money.
“In 1997, an immigration officer wanted to steal my passport at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. He hid my passport among the documents he was clutching and he said I didn’t give him my passport, and he was trying to walk away. I raised my voice and told him to bring out my passport from among the papers in his hands.
“In 2010 when I wanted to renew my passport, they said there were no booklets from Abuja, so I had to use my British passport.
“Between February and August of 2016, my daughter and I visited the high commission over 20 times to renew our passports! Nigerians came from other European countries to renew their passports, too.
“There was the pitiable case of a female Nigerian student who needed her passport to renew her studentship. She said that was the 11th time she had come to the commission.
“When we got to Nigeria, the carousel didn’t work as there was no light at the airport, prompting passengers to use the light of the phones. All that was strange to my daughter who suddenly felt pressed to use the toilet. She ran out of the toilet when she saw heaps of maggots.”
A Nigerian resident in Houston, Texas, who doesn’t want his name in print, lamented that he was asked to pay an unreceipted $20 as car park fee at the Nigerian embassy in Atlanta, Georgia.
The 50-year-old applicant, who is from southern Nigeria, said, “The embassy won’t process applications for more than one year, and after the expiration of one year, the applicant will be required to pay a fresh $195 as passport fee. Since it was the embassy that failed to produce passports as and when due, applicants should not be made to pay twice for passports.”
Nicknamed BB, the sad Nigerian also alleged that his online application was changed and ‘sold’ by embassy officials to another applicant who had bribed them.
“I picked up my American passport that can enable me to enter about 200 countries visa-free in my mailbox. I don’t know why my Nigerian passport, which nobody wants to see, is so problematic,” he said.
Complaining about the terrible treatment meted out to visa and passport applicants at the Nigeria High Commission in London, a Nigerian, Sunday John, said applicants were never given appointment when they apply online.
He said, “They won’t give you an appointment when you apply online because they make money by giving appointments to those who have bribed them.
“Passport fee is 75 pounds but they will charge you between 300 and 700 pounds through the backdoor. I refused to pay, and I’ve since not been able to take my wife and three children to see my mum in Nigeria.
“I wanted to open a business account but because I’m not British yet, my nationality was required. The non-issuance of a passport to me has put the business I’m planning to do on hold. I’ve vowed not to bribe them because if I do so, I’ll be encouraging corruption. Sadly, other African nationals in England get their passports in a matter of days.”
Sharing his ordeal, another Nigerian, Mr Frederick Oluwole, who has lived in New York for over 30 years, said passport production at the Nigerian embassy in Manhattan was delayed because of lack of ‘nylon’ covering for passport pages.
Oluwole said, “They took my unsigned money order from me. They didn’t allow me to write my name on it. What they would later do is to write their own name on it and collect the money on the order, and pocket it.
“They talk down on you as if they’re doing you a favour. An official had to fly to Nigeria to bring common ‘nylon’ which could have been sent through courier.”
It’s the same hopeless song in Ottawa where the Nigerian embassy in Canada is located.
Narrating his nightmare, a Nigerian, Valentine Abiodun, disclosed that calls to the embassy were never picked.
“When someone eventually picked my call after weeks of calling, I told him I had been calling the embassy repeatedly, the officer said he travelled. I was shocked, and I told him the embassy wasn’t a private business that should be held up by an official.
“I told him I had sent in my passport for renewal. He told me they’ve not received it. Because I was tracking the passport, I told him who received it at the embassy.
“Then, he said I should call back. When I called back, he said he had seen it, adding that he would stamp and send it to me through mail. I said he shouldn’t. By 2am that night, I got a car and travelled down to Ottawa, getting to the embassy in the morning to pick my passport.”
A young Nigerian living in Mississauga, Ontario, Emmanuel Ogunlade, said he just received his renewed passport, which he had been processing since January 2020, two weeks ago.
Ogunlade said, “It was a terrible experience. I travelled to the Nigerian embassy, Ottawa, a journey of 427km, thrice after uncountable calls that were not answered before my passport was renewed even as I paid $23 twice for prepaid envelopes. They sent an email saying that they’ve sent my passport to me, but it was false. They later admitted they’ve not sent it.”
An anonymous female resident of Dubai said Nigerians now go to Abu Dhabi from Dubai to obtain their passports because of the hardship encountered at the Nigerian embassy in Dubai.
Uhhmm, Nigeria, under Buhari, is rich in corruption, home and abroad.
Facebook: @tunde odesola
Opinion: Nigerian embassies of shame (1) by Tunde Odesola
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