“In a way, Nigeria is fascist in disposition considering that the government posturing often suggests that whatever the government does on behalf of the state is best for the people” —Ebuka Onyekwelu
One year after the end SARS campaign which started in Ikeja Lagos as a protest against police brutality in Nigeria, the level of citizens’ awareness remarkably appears to be on a steady increase. There are now efforts by some people to look critically at the end SARS protest against the backdrop of what the campaign has bequeathed Nigeria or her citizens in terms of institutional changes which are more enduring and sustainable. But, sustainable change arising from the protest is yet to be seen because; it is the norm for the people to be ignored by their government. Matter of fact, it comes naturally to the Nigerian government to disregard and altogether sideline the people not only in public policy formation but even in public policy implementation. Consequently, government and its actions run usually, in opposite direction with the people and it does not bother the government.
In a way, Nigeria is fascist in disposition considering that the government posturing often suggests that whatever the government does on behalf of the state is best for the people. In perspective, since 1999, Nigeria has never had a president who failed to warn that “Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable”. So the supremacy of the state is the preoccupation of those in government and for them, no one should question the decision or position of the government. This clearly superimposes the state and its will on the people as against the state being an expressed will of the people. Summarily, this is the principal idea behind the government’s unwillingness to take criticism or opposition, or in short democratize.
One year after the end SARS campaign which started in Ikeja Lagos as a protest against police brutality in Nigeria, the level of citizens’ awareness remarkably appears to be on a steady increase.
In many ways, it also explains why our institutions are so weak that nothing happens except by some political approval. At all levels of government across the country, the situation is the same. Therefore, it stands to reason that the Nigerian system is boldly resistant to social change. The country’s justice administration system is grossly underperforming. Government at all levels simply move at their own pace and at their own preferred direction, unchallenged. They simply expect the people to just fall into conformity with absolutely no questions. This was the order the end SARS movement was up against.
Getting a clear picture of how the country truly functions puts one in a better position to be able to properly assess the audacious end SARS campaign and how it rattled the regime, but also why it has not made significant systemic changes. At first, the regime simply dismissed the end SARS campaign as a deliberate act by opposition elements to distract the government, and then later referred to it as mere social media noise. But when thousands of Nigerian youths across the country defied the odds and joined the protests, then the government recanted and the Police Chief ordered the disbandment of SARS unit of the police force, across the country.
It was a remarkable milestone because for almost the very first time, the Nigerian government is responding to the demands of the Nigerian people. But because the end SARS campaign is something much more than putting an end to police brutality, it was difficult for the millions of protesting young people to just rescind their energies and anger against a country that is a clear threat to their present and future. Nigerian youths simply want a government that can guarantee their future of a decent and fairly comfortable life if they are willing to work. To this, the government did not know exactly how to react.
Being the first time in recent memory the government of Nigeria is acting towards the direction of the people’s demand, there was the tendency for the protesting youths to push their luck further by making other legitimate demands and in fact push for an overhaul of the country. And that was exactly what happened. Looking back, it was at this point that the government and the ruling elites saw the potential danger the newfound consciousness pose to their stronghold on the government and all the benefits of state power which they appropriate to themselves. Disbandment of SARS and institution of judicial panels of inquiry across several states were, to their minds, concessions in excess, which the protesting youths should accept, be happy for and then return home in victory. But the youths were already disenchanted and have developed particular disillusionment towards Nigeria’s ability to treat them right in their own country. The problem really, was that nearly everything is wrong with the manner and way the country works, such that most of her citizens have nothing to hold on to as proof that they should remain hopeful of a better future. Really, for the youths, it is a personal fight about their lives and future in their own country.
However, social change cannot happen all at once. No matter the intensity of our disgust for how Nigeria is presently designed to function or how the country actually works, yet, any meaningful transition to the most desirable must also be a process. Nigeria as it is now, many will agree, is worse than it was before. Hence, Nigeria was not “destroyed” in a day and assure cannot be fixed in a day. The voice of positive change raised by Nigerian youths during the end SARS campaign resonated with the aspiration of millions of well-meaning citizens of Nigeria within and outside the country. But demanding or even expecting too much change at once was a strategic error that culminated in the most horrendous Lekki Tollgate shooting scandal and corollary consequences which has further exacerbated insecurity in parts of the country, and rapidly deepened the many sufferings of ordinary Nigerians. Ever since that time till now, there has been brazen, audacious criminal activities especially in Southeast Nigeria, which until then, was the most peaceful zone in Nigeria. Attacks on security formations, setting diverse public offices ablaze, and carting away arms from burnt police stations were the hallmark of the aftermath of the Lekki shooting.
Nigeria, as predictable as it is, no one has been charged, held responsible, or dismissed from the force for the Lekki incident. The end SARS judicial panel in most states have suddenly stopped sitting. Perhaps, only the Lagos state panel has completed its mandate. Anambra state with one of the most notorious tales of SARS brutality and direct murder of several citizens who upon arrest by SARS operatives, have never been seen; nothing has been heard of the panel set up by the governor after its first or second sitting. In all, no police officer or SARS operative has been jailed or found guilty of brutality or murder. In Lagos, many people who were able to prove their case was awarded varying degrees of financial compensation and that was all. Here is Nigeria again, reinforcing her treacherously skewed conception of justice as mere monetary payoffs.
Although the error of strategy in demanding total change in one swift is easily overlooked considering the largely anomic nature and leaderless character of the end SARS movement. Yet, one year after, it is clear that Nigerian youths are not ready to give up their demands for good, responsible, and focused leadership across the country. Nigerian youths are now more defiant, fearless, and even belligerent towards the government. They are willing to risk it all while making their demands. This without a doubt is a very serious danger to the anti-democratic attitude and posturing of the government. Normally, this should give any government reason to rethink its existential relevance to the governed, and that, Nigeria must do and on time. So far, the lesson is that when the people insist on clear demands from the government, they usually get attention. But to fundamentally change the country, they only have to keep the pace of their demands and sustain the pressure on the government.
The end SARS campaign a year ago is only a successful test run of the Nigerian people’s will to make legitimate demands from their government and get results. Moving forward, the Nigerian government at all levels must adjust accordingly as the growing consciousness of the people dictates or face diverse levels of intense crisis, fundamental disruptions that will most likely include armed struggles, which can result from needless use of force on peaceful protesters.
♦ Ebuka Onyekwelu, strategic governance exponent, is a columnist with the WAP
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