By Ikeddy ISIGUZO
THE major surprises of the past two weeks are the unity, resilience and resourcefulness of the Nigerian youth. These traits have shown in the deft organisation of the nationwide protests that were initially about police brutality, particularly the types that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, delivered with relish.
Everywhere one turned, the youth showed exemplary leadership in the marches – no violence, no looting, empathising with the less privileged – through exceptional delivery of results in erecting infrastructure for communication, electricity, finances, logistics, legal and medical services to meet needs of the protests across Nigeria.
A new Nigerian was being birthed with global audiences as witnesses thanks to the expansive powers of digital technology that provided the ease of transition from one demand to the other in real time execution.
Older audiences can talk of the similitude to the China’s Tiananmen Square, the largest open space in the world, where millions of Chinese students revolted 31 years ago. Our youth could relate to the Arab Spring, the pelt of revolts that commenced in Tunisia, swept through a couple of North African countries, resulting in changes in government in Tunisia and Egypt, just 12 years ago. The protests on out streets were made in Nigeria by Nigerians and for Nigerians.
But for placards, the peace around the protests was such that they will pass for street carnivals. Foods, drinks, and music are in abundance. The generosity of the Nigerian spirit is evident with its spontaneity.
Protesters share their foods and drinks with the police whose mis-behaviours started the marches. The focus is on pressing their messages rather than destructions that are associated with protests.
Little wonder that the protests have resounded abroad. Marches have been organised in different countries to solidarise with Nigeria.
There is no surprise in President Muhammadu Buhari being aloft, absent, and indifferent to the country’s feelings expressed through the brutalities that SARS and the police represent. These are however only a slice of the hardships ordinary Nigerians face while a few of their compatriots, at their expense, live in obscene opulence.
Expectedly, the President and his advisers keep missing the point about the protests. SARS was a mere hangar for drawing attention to the serial neglect of the people as reflected in insecurity, poor infrastructure, unemployment, injustices, rising cost of living, and the uncertainties that are attendant to being a Nigerian.
Is the President still unaware of the intensities of burdens Nigerians bear?
Government seems surprised about the determination of the youth to seize the streets until there are concrete answers to their questions. Tokenism and insincerity line promises government has made, expecting they would clear the streets. Instead, the demands are rising. They are even being localised in a sort of inquisition of governments across the country.
Why would the President not address protesters directly? Who did the President expect to impress by asking States to manage police tactical teams without clearing obvious constitutional obstacles?
Is it impossible to have started arresting police officers against whom there have been unaddressed complaints over the years? How would governments deal with deeper issues of poor governance?
Notably, the President bore a grin while Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State briefed him on the situation. Did the President find the protests funny?
The Nigerian Army offering to crush the protests is the sort of response that confirms government is mis-judging the matter. Are we replacing police brutality with the military’s? is the Army so unbusy that its ambitions have been lowered to jumping into civil protests?
It was no surprise too that the government did not ask the Army to withdraw the statement, which was clearly provocative and insensitive to the capped, furious tempers of protesters.
Tardiness was also deployed to the perennial negotiations with the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU. Government could have acceded to ASUU’s demands to get most of the youth, assumed to be students, off the streets.
Does government also expect millions of unemployed higher institution graduates, for whom the protests mean a march for jobs, to return to school? What happens to pensioners, artisans and the unschooled who are demanding action on their own issues?
The President has to take charge immediately. Tweets from the Vice President, threats from the Army, and Lai Mohammed’s interruptions bear no scintilla of the sincerity protesters want. They are not solutions. At most, they are tentative measures that would worsen the situation.
If President Buhari is still aware of the change he unequivocally promised five years ago, he would know that the people have run out of patience contrary to the narrow narrative that the apathetic opposition was at work.
Buhari has to reach for the receding reserves of his goodwill to pull his presidency from the brink through sincere and practical answers to the agitations.
The time is now.
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