From #EndSARS to #EndLOOTING: It’s time to heal

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My heart goes out to all the victims of the #EndSARS protest and the victims of the wanton destruction of lives and property that eventually enveloped the protest.

 

I particularly mourn the vandalisation of Oba Rilwanu Akiolu’s palace, including the theft of his staff of office (eewo!); the loss of the maternal home of the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who attended to the course of the protest,

even at the risk of his own life; and former Governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who lost invaluable business assets serving the Southwest, the nation as a whole, and the global community, not only in disseminating information but also in providing employment and livelihood to others.

RELATED NEWS:End SARS: Lagosians react as Sanwo-Olu imposes 24-hour curfew in Lagos

Before our eyes, the protest started out well on Thursday, October 8, 2020, and ended up on another note, clearly out of the protesters’ control. The protests, per se, which lasted about two weeks, demand a separate analysis from the destruction, lasting about one week, which enveloped it.

The protest had diverse participants and supporters, including various firms and startups, artistes, various professionals, Yahoo Boys, many well educated aje-butter and being-to kids, the Feminist Coalition, and Nigerians in the Diaspora.

True, the protesters claimed there were no leaders, but the Feminist Coalition, which organised the fundraising, confirmed that N147.8 million was raised by the end of two weeks of the protest.

The Coalition indicated that only about N60.4 million was disbursed on feasting and entertaining the protesters, providing first aid supplies, paying medical and legal bills, and even assisting needy protesters in other areas.

A semiotic analysis reveals two interrelated meanings in the protest. On the denotative level, the protest was a call for and end to police brutality, specifically as exhibited by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, whose disbandment was the initial sole demand. This was the initial advertised, official, message of the protest.

For the first time, President Muhammadu Buhari responded to this demand within 72 hours. SARS was disbanded. However, the communication of the government’s decision and the subsequent action of the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, became understandably controversial.

The IG and his immediate predecessor had on four previous occasions made unfulfilled promises to reform or disband SARS. To complicate matters, the IG announced the formation of SWAT as a replacement for SARS within 48 hours. The protesters viewed SWAT as SARS in new clothing and wanted the President to issue an executive order or speak directly to them about the dissolution of SARS.

Although the President spoke on the matter on Monday, October 12, 2020, during the launch of the Presidential Youth Empowerment Scheme, the protesters went ahead to extend their demands to five, all relating to police reform.

In further identifying with the protesters, Governor Sanwo-Olu took their extended demands directly to the President on October 13. The President agreed to meet those demands and set the process in motion. States began to set up Judicial Panels of Inquiry to look into the protesters’ grievances against the police and the victims of police brutality.

This is where things started growing out of hand. No leaders came forward to negotiate on the protesters’ behalf. Instead, before the tollgate incident on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, more demands had appeared on posters, followed by verbal elaboration on same during protest rallies. The stage was set for the connotative message of the protest to emerge.

It is difficult to dismiss the connotative message, which was covert at the beginning. However, as the protest went on, it became more and more evident. Salary reduction for legislators. Restructuring. Regime change, and more, had almost replaced police reform. Political thugs and other miscreants had started to infiltrate peaceful protesters.

For example, they attacked protesters and the convoy of the Osun state Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, on Saturday, October 17, 2020, at the popular Ola-Iya junction in Osogbo, where he was addressing the protesters, after taking a peaceful walk with them. The weapons wielded by the attackers and the viciousness of the attack indicated a sinister motive.

The Lekki tollgate incident on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, whose details remain shrouded in controversy, was turned into a launching pad for unleashing terror, first on Lagos, and then elsewhere in the country. Within minutes of the incident,

social media became a platform for circulating, sometimes manufacturing, information about the incident. Some claimed they saw dead bodies being carted away by soldiers, who allegedly shot at them.

A lady, who participated in the protests, displayed several bullets in a revisionist video of the incident. A woman in London claimed on social media that her son was killed in the incident. The same technology used to organize the protests was turned into a technology for fuelling destruction.

READ ALSO:BREAKING: Buratai, GOCs meet over #EndSARS protest

Even mainstream media, including some TV stations and newspapers, used words, such as “massacre” to describe the incident. It even featured in the title of the Wikipedia entry on the incident. Yet, the official figure so far is one dead, and that the person died  a day later from head trauma, rather than from gunshot wound. Hopefully, parents will appear before the Judicial Panel, now sitting in Lagos, with claims on innocent protesters killed at the Lekki tollgate incident.

It is now time for federal and state governments to work on plans for reconstruction and compensation. In Osun, looters have begun to return stolen goods to the Loots Recovery Committee, chaired by Abdullahi Binuyo, the Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Gboyega Oyetola, in response to the Governor’s 72-hour ultimatum.

The protesters must have learned that protests and strikes against the government, calling for specific changes or entitlements, must end at a negotiation table. If a protest developed spontaneously,

leaders quickly must be identified to follow up on the demands. In this particular case, protesters should have identified key leaders and demands at the beginning, rather than come up with a growing list of demands without leaders.

But even more importantly, questions must be raised about the nation’s intelligence and security architecture. Why were the State Security Service and the Nigerian Security Organisation silent in the face of what the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, described as “the determination of some unscrupulous individuals and groups (set) to destabilise Nigeria by all means”?

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