In the sober light of day we are coming to terms with another dark moment in our history when there was no method to madness. The fallout is so embarrassing everyone is scrambling to distance themselves. Typically, no one wants to take responsibility.
Let’s all – protest organisers, demonstrators, sympathisers, clerics, celebrities, human rights activists, traditional/social media, CSOs, hoodlums, politicians and the government – own our part in creating the catastrophic events of the past two weeks as we discuss immediate causes.
Attempting to delink the #EndSARS protest from its violent denouement is futile. They are forever joined together at the hip because the extreme, inflexible strategy of its organisers created the environment which arsonists, vandals and looters took advantage of.
If you say the protests weren’t initially violent, you can’t claim they weren’t disruptive. They were massively so, to the extent that many cities became ungovernable, shut down by unruly mobs, engendering an atmosphere of fear and insecurity.
It’s not as if we didn’t know things would turn out this way. Anyone with slight familiarity with recent Nigerian history knows that the longer these sorts of street agitations last, the more likely they would spiral out of control.
The activist, Segun Awosanya aka Segalink, who has been the face of the #EndSARS campaign since 2017, pulled out of the protests once government disbanded the notorious police unit, warning that those pressing ahead with the agitation were seeking youth insurrection.
His voice was drowned out by power drunk agitators who thought they were in control. They may have controlled the Twittersphere, but not the streets and cities of Nigeria where youths had been roused with unpredictable consequences.
Their tactic of bullying and intimidation forced many to embrace their cause. Celebrities and other public figures were pointedly warned to speak up or face the consequences of their silence later. Those who dared hold contrary views were vilified and quickly recanted.
Phone numbers of office holders were shared for irate youths to call and hurl abuse, or send hateful messages. Notable figures who should have condemned what was developing, clammed up for fear of harassment.
Suddenly, social media was free of every other narrative save that which painted the protesters as knights in shining armour come to deliver Nigeria from decades of bad governance. No lie was too small to share, no misinformation too evil to be magnified.
Lies were told about CCTV cameras being spirited away from the Lekki Toll Gate by the authorities; it turned out they were just laser scanners used in reading vehicle license plates.
On the night of the shooting, even without facts, pictures of Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, with the word ‘Murderer’ branded across his chest, were widely shared. Family photos of military officers were posted without evidence or confirmation of their involvement.
People could have acted malevolently against them and their families on the basis of such claims.
I shudder to think what people who promoted such sinister manipulation would be capable of if they wielded political power.
People want to build heaven on earth by foul means. They want to establish an era of truth, justice and equity on a foundation of lies, manipulation and intimidation. You quickly become the very things you so self-righteously condemn.
The shooting incident at Lekki certainly aggravated violence. Things exploded with reports that scores had been killed by soldiers. But suggesting the destruction only began thereafter doesn’t stand up to factual scrutiny or timelines.
By early last week parts of the country had been grounded. Protesters blocked entry into Abuja via the airport road for several days. It was the same in Lagos where they barricaded the expressway to Ibadan at Berger Bus Stop and the Lekki Toll Gate, creating monster logjams. For commuters it was nightmarish entering or exiting many suburbs.
The Benin-Lagos expressway in front of the University of Benin was cut off, with youths cooking on this major inter-state highway. Early last week airlines cancelled flights into Lagos.
By Tuesday morning a major police station at Orile-Iganmu, Lagos was burnt down. The death toll across the country was already on the uptick by Monday, October 19, when Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, declared a 24-hour curfew after a correctional facility was attacked and inmates freed. Next day, Sanwo-Olu and some other governors announced his own restrictions.
A few questions are germane at this point. Were protesters right to block major roads and inter-state highways? Is the right to protest superior to that which allows other Nigerians to freely move and access their homes and workplace? Did protesters in their holy anger consider that people with medical emergencies were endangered by the lockdown they created?
Unfortunately, celebrities and activists turned a blind eye to such excesses.
Some preachers, in their rush to be associated with a popular movement, ignored its warts. But the God of justice is not the author of confusion. Those who were quick to jump on the protest bandwagon and even administer Holy Communion at Lekki forgot to tell their new ‘congregants’ about scripture that enjoins obedience to constituted authority. Obviously, it wasn’t politically correct to do so.
Days after the bloody cost of their hardline position had become clear, even the Feminist Coalition – a key financial backer of the protests – was advising people to obey the curfew. Talk of medicine after death!
All over the world – including Western countries who are great defenders of civil liberties – once a curfew is declared you expect enforcement. Anyone found outside in violation risks arrest or confrontation with security agents. Protesters in Lekki and many others places were fired up on social media to defy the restrictions. Those who egged them on set the stage for violent confrontation.
There’s a time for everything. The protesters and their backers didn’t know when they had won and didn’t know when to stop.
All lives matter. We cannot cloak one set of casualties with the toga of martyrdom and dismiss others killed in anonymous corners of Nigeria as expendables.
Those who pulled the trigger at Lekki should face justice, just as those whose acts of incitement on social media and elsewhere resulted in deaths of many and destruction of property. After all, the law on incitement is still on our books.
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