While we awaited the president to speak, I conjured the image of the last Romanov Czar before the monarchy fell to the Bolsheviks in the first quarter of the 20th century. Nicholas II was asked to speak to the crowd.
They panted and surged and held their breaths. All they wanted was to hear his voice and a lyric of empathy. The man was to choose between addressing his people and attending a party. An automatic decision became a Hobson’s choice. He chose vanity instead of emergency, the flattery of advisers over counsel, perdition over prosperity. His fall reminds one of the words of French philosopher Saint-Juste: “Monarchy is not a king. It is crime.”
I was relieved when President Muhammadu Buhari materialized on television and gave a broadcast. At least, he did not act like the Romanov. He heard the cry and heeded. Yet, it was a speech less than a speech. It was long on symbolism, short on content. Some may say it was also long on contempt. He did well to say work was on to revise salaries of policemen, that he heard the wailings over SARS savagery, the list of policy initiatives, the desire for youth enfranchisement.
The writer of the speech embarrassed speech writing in a time of crisis. Speeches of that sort are rallying cries, not policy papers. Policies should come across like candy to a child, in terms of endearment, not as seminar points; as persuasion, not justification. In spite of that, we hear them and even accept them. But we did not hear the president’s heartbeat, or imagine a tear drop, or the shadow of a hug in the about ten-minute delivery. It was presidential tedium couched in generalities and aloofness.
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The president may feel what we feel, but we need to know it. He may say the right things in private, we can’t hear them. He may have empathy for the people, but we can’t feel it. He has some good policies, but what of the optics?
So, why is it that he gave a speech and left out the big tragedy? Why did he not visit even a victim, or show he plans to? Why has he not done that in Abuja or come over to Lagos, the epicenter of the boil? When will he come? Time ticks.
The speech was expected on the coattails of the Lekki episode. Who were the miscreants in uniform who opened fire on the innocent? The impulse at the beginning was to push the onus on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. But within 24 hours, the yarn changed. He gave his own perspective. He did not invite the soldiers.
As Professor Wole Soyinka noted, soldiers don’t come in a federal arrangement unless the governor invites. The Nobel Laureate confirmed he did not invite them. What happened, the governor said in an Arise in interview, will be unveiled in an inquiry afoot. He imposed a curfew, but did not call in the soldiers. Who was the barbarian soldier who thought harmless youth should suffer and die when the ragtag boys of Boko Haram made mincemeat of them?
Allegations filled the social media? Some newspapers ran away with unsubstantiated body count. Some in their tens. Some alleged eyewitness accounts said it was over ten, some others said twenty.
The Governor went from hospital to hospital, and the inventory eventually confirmed a couple at the time of writing. Some said they saw the CCTV camera being removed? He said it was a camera belonging to the Lekki Concession Company and it was to monitor vehicular tags. The CCTV is intact and it will aid investigation, he said. He also added in the interview that he would ensure it is not tampered with. The panel should illuminate finally why the lights were turned off.
ome have said the soldiers evacuated the dead. That will be really sad. But the camera will have to expose that, too. The governor said he confirmed an injured person who eventually gave up, and another body with gunshot wound that they wanted to trace where he died. “One death is a tragedy,” noted Stalin. “One million deaths are a statistic.” Every single soul matters. There have been names and bodies bandied in the social media. A few have come up to deny that they died. I think the families of those who have lost their youth should show up. That is one way we can have closure on this matter. Many were injured. Not acceptable. Lekki was made to look like the land of Lecqui, the flint-hearted slave owner after whom the place was named. We need inventory of the night. We need to know who passed. We cannot speculate people into the grave. We cannot morph whims into corpses. We cannot mourn phantoms. We cannot know the truth unless the process is open, accountable and transparent.
Again, why did the president not return the governor’s calls, and promptly? How can such a sad episode occur and he is not in dialogue with the state’s chief security officer? It is still difficult to understand.
What also came out of the governor’s interview is the countervailing narrative of the army. Why would the army deny it? Who were the soldiers? The governor said plans were for police to be there about 10 pm. The incident happened hours before then. Curfew was not called to carve coffins.
There is also the narrative of the youth. Last week this essayist warned over a wasted opportunity. The raft should not capsize in the storm. The peaceful protests, in their grand gaiety, fell into the hands of goons. It was like the gecko that comes before the snake. When the snake of hoodlums came in,
They burned and looted. Even political gangsters and opportunists turned arsonists, stoked fire, took revenge, and exercised envy. For the masses, looting became a metaphor of hidden rage, a gap between predator and victim. The predator was now on the other foot. The masses stole as revenge. They burned as anger and with anger. They stole the way the political elite stole from them, without shame and with impunity. They stole as celebration of excess. It was a bazaar, if a magnificence of savagery. Hard work has rewarded indolence. But the palliative warehouses became emblems of the people taking back their own.
They also became arsonists of self-waste. Why burn the buses that you need? The rich don’t need the buses. They have their cars. Even their cars you burned they will replace. Why burn to make the army of the jobless swell?
We saw also the north-south divide? North says it wants SARS, the south says no. Both have failed to listen to each other. It calls for dialogue, not mutual condemnation. More of us in the south suffer from it than up north.
In the peaceful days, while the south youth protested against SARS, the north railed at bandits and kidnappers. About two years ago, four SARS men, gun in hand, entered my car uninvited and bullied me. But the north has fewer roadblocks than Lagos-Benin expressways. It brings up the north-south debate over state police. The state of police will make us rethink this matter. If police were a state matter, each state will decide whether or not and how they want it.
We shall still have to combat robbers, kidnappers, herdsmen, etc. The regular police cannot do it. That is why the youth protest must reinvent itself. It cannot go into silence. But they must now understand how naïve they were to not have leaders. Some posed as leaders in the comfort of their twitter and instagram pages while others sweated on the streets. Even Lagos has a panel and asked them to bring a rep, they said they wanted two. There is no revolution without its elite. The Governor consented. No one name has come up at the time of writing.
When J.P. Clark’ play, The Raft, drew some flak, Femi Osofisan recalibrated it with his play, Another raft. The youth needs a new raft, with ballast and captains against the storm ahead. And we wait. We hope, unlike a certain speech, they will rise to the occasion. We hope it will end like the words of Gbede in Osofisan’s Another Raft, “My duty is ended, which is to lead you through the hidden channel in the wave of history to the turning edge of knowledge.”
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