#EndSARS protest a fundamental lesson in democratic governance

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I heavily grieve for those who have lost their lives or been injured during the period of these protests. My deepest sympathies go to their families and loved ones for none should have been made to pay such a dear price.

 

My career as an active politician spans nearly three decades. In that time, I have seen many things as Nigeria has struggled, sometimes against itself, to undertake the often painful yet inexorable push toward democratic government accountable to, and protective of, the people.

Through this journey, I have traversed the landscape of human experience. Having been as a political prisoner during our struggle for democracy but also having the singular honour of serving this state and its people as governor, I have known highs and lows, seen both the good and the bad of things.

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But the events of the past few days have been extraordinary in a most dire sense. Only time will tell if we have the collective wisdom and requisite compassion to learn the proper lessons from these events that we may yet steer toward a better, more just Nigeria. Despite the tumult we now see, I believe with all my heart that we will meet the current challenge.

Here, let me directly address the sharp point aimed against me. I have been falsely accused of ordering the reported deployment of soldiers against peaceful protesters that took place at Lekki on 20 October 2020. This allegation is a complete and terrible lie. I did not order this or any assault against anybody. I would never want such a vile thing to happen nor did I have any prior knowledge about this sad event. It is my firm belief that no one should be harassed, injured or possibly killed for doing what they have the constitutional right to do in making their contribution to a better, more equitable society.

 

As a political figure, I am accustomed to people attributing to me all manner of indiscretions of which I have no knowledge and in which I played no role. I have usually ignored such falsities as the cost of being in the public eye.

This time, it is different. The allegation now levied against me is that I called on soldiers to kill my own people. This allegation is the foulest of lies.

The use of strong force against any peaceful protesters is indefensible, completely outside the norms of a democratic society and progressive political culture to which I aspire and have devoted my public life. That people were angered by the reports of violence and death is acutely understandable.

Understandably outraged, people sought to hold someone accountable. For various reasons, I became the most available scapegoat. Some people don’t like me because they believe the false rumours uttered about me over the years. Some maligned my name because they hide ulterior motives and harbour unrequited political scores they intend to settle.

A week ago, such people tried to bring enmity between me and the state and federal governments by contending I was sponsoring the protests. When that did not work, they then sought to sow enmity between me and the people by saying I ordered soldiers to quash the very same protests they first accused me of organising.

My opponents have every right to oppose me politically but let them have the courage to do so in the open, above board and to employ facts not evil fiction in their efforts against me. They have no right to slander and defame anyone with the terrible and vile fabrications now cast at my feet.

Those who have decided to hate me will hate me regardless of the truth. Again, they have the right to think as they may and I am not troubled by their unfounded animus. Today, I speak not to them. I leave them to the workings of their own conscience.

Today, I speak to those who believe in the importance of and want to know the truth.

The slander aimed at me is based on the untruth that I own the toll gate concession. The hate mongers prevaricate that I ordered the Lekki assault because the protests had caused me to lose money due to the interruption of toll gate activity.

Minus this alleged ownership, the slander employed against me falls to the ground as a heavy untruth. I ask people to thoroughly investigate the matter of my alleged ownership of the toll gate. By seeking facts, instead of being swayed by gossip, you will find I have no ownership interest or involvement in the toll gate. Having no business interests in the operation, my income remains unchanged whether one or 100,000 vehicles pass through that gate.

At the bottom, the toll gate is a public asset. Given what has happened, I would like to propose to the government that the toll gate be left closed for an indefinite period. If it is reopened, revenues should be donated to the confirmed victims of the Lekki attack as well as to other identifiable victims of police brutality in Lagos. Let government use the money to compensate and take care of those who have lost life or limb in the struggle for all citizens to go about the quiet, peaceful enjoyment of life without fear of undue harassment at this or that checkpoint.

On the other hand, I am, indeed, a promoter and financial investor in The Nation newspaper and TVC. It was widely known and circulated through social media that certain malevolent elements were going to take advantage of the situation to attack The Nation newspaper facilities and TVC in Lagos.

The attackers came. Both facilities were significantly damaged. Although equipped with prior notice of the imminent trespass, I did not call anyone to seek or request for the army or police to deploy let alone attack, kill, or injure those who razed and vandalised these properties. I did not want any bloodshed. These elements, mostly hirelings of my political opponents, wreaked their havoc and destroyed those buildings and facilities and I thank God that the employees of these two media institutions managed to escape largely unharmed.

READ ALSO:#EndSARS: 25 Lagos police formations burnt, five vandalised

There is a deeper truth involved here. Burned buildings and damaged equipment can be rebuilt or replaced. There is no adequate substitute for the loss of even a single human life. I am not one to encourage violence. I abhor it. Thus I did nothing that might endanger lives, even the lives of those who destroyed my properties.

Now, those who claim I ordered violence in Lekki must face the sheer illogic of their assertions. There is no rationale that can adequately explain why I would order soldiers to repel peaceful protesters from the toll gate where I have no financial interest, yet, choose to do nothing to protect my investments in The Nation and TVC.

Why would I be so moved as to instigate the army to attack peaceful, law-abiding people at the toll gate where I have no pecuniary stake, yet lift not a single finger to stop hired miscreants bent on setting fire to these important media investments?

The allegations against me make no sense because they are untrue. They are parented by those seeking to stoke and manipulate the people’s anger in order to advance political objectives that have nothing to do with the subject matter of the protests.

The good and creative people of Lagos have worked hard over the years to build it into the dynamic economic and cultural focal point it has become. Lagos has enjoyed over two decades of sustained, uninterrupted growth. No other place in Nigeria can stake that claim. Some people are unhappy with this. They seek to tear down what we have worked hard to build that they may reshape Lagos to fit their own more destructive image. Such people have taken advantage of the current situation and of the public’s passions to set in motion a plan the people would never support if they only knew what the destructive schemers actually had in mind.

Not only lives have been lost in Lagos and throughout Nigeria, but livelihoods have also been impaired. I have seen the destruction to businesses, shops and homes.

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