Nigeria

#EndSARS Movement and Nigeria need leadership

IT is perplexing when you try to understand Nigeria. The country is one bundle of mystery and confusion. It is even more so when we try to fix into a definite frame the current protests across the country and pinpoint a direction it would go next! Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson said “for economists, Argentina is a perplexing country.” Somehow, I feel that the duo didn’t study Nigeria before arriving at their conclusion, especially after listening to President Muhammadu Buhari’s Thursday address to the nation on the protests.

In their book, “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty”, Acemoglu and Robinson are happy that the 1971 Nobel Prize-winning economist, Simon Kuznets, also supports their contention. “Kuznets once famously remarked that there were four sorts of countries: developed, underdeveloped, Japan and Argentina,” the authors state. Okay, let’s say that by the time Kuznets made his observations, Frederick Lugard had not been brought up to speed, allegedly by Lord Harcourt, on what he could do with the vast British playground. But since that famous, and now infamous amalgamation, we all, including Acemoglu and Robinson, but with the exception of Kuznets, now know better which country is more perplexing.

It is commonsensical that when a tree falls on another tree, the upper tree becomes the first to be removed. For the better part of October 2020, only a handful of Nigerians overtly remember issues of coronavirus. Since the beginning of the #EndSARS protests, there hasn’t been any seriously engaging talk about the COVID-19 and what it has been doing elsewhere around the world. We are taking care of our immediate problems. Everyone and everything has been reeling in the most popular hashtag that has changed the way many of us think about ourselves  as citizens of this country.

In early October, the brutality of some of the special units of the Nigeria Police Force sparked the protests that have gained a worldwide attention. The flagship of the protests was the daily convergence of young people on the Lekki Toll Gate, where food, drinks and music were served. Top Nigerian celebrities, including music and movie stars gave the Lekki protest its international verve. Then the Alausa arm of the #EndSARS literally brought it home to the Lagos State government. The protesters in these two places in Lagos were organised so well that many people recognised their acuity and industry. Ibadan was gaining ascendancy while other cities were also gathering momentum.

In Abuja, the seat of Nigerian power, the protests swung between threats and potential degeneration. It was obvious that the powers that be, to whom the protests speak directly, would not want to have a Lagos-like scenario. Soon, there were anti-EndSARS sentiments and protests. There was also a laughable ban on protests announced by the FCT Minister, who curiously cited social distancing due to COVID-19 protocols.

With the Abuja counter-protests came ugly attacks on the hitherto organised protesters. There were other hoodlums ferried in gleaming, expensive SUVs. There was also a man who called out Jack Dorsey, and sued him and his Twitter for $10billion for causing security breach in Nigeria. Then there were attacks

Events just went south. The Edo protests was about the first to lose traction, and the Edo governor was the first to impose a 24-hour curfew. Ekiti was the first to deploy soldiers. Hoodlums seemed to have gained the streets all around, and became emboldened. We soon began to see videos of the destruction of life and property of both civilians and policemen. Then the cap was the horror show at Lekki, performed by “unknown” soldiers. Of course there are whimpers of deadly attacks in other parts of the country, including but not limited to Umuahia.

It’s just shameful and sad that the Nigerian government didn’t take control of the situation early enough. The states had reacted accordingly to their citizens’ anger but don’t have the constitutional powers to make requisite pronouncements on their demands. The ignis faatus was police brutality, and the government’s bland promise to do something about it was unconvincing because of antecedents. Of course when thoughts connect with previous ugly events, they spark the urge to renew bitter weeping.

However, when we give a crude stutter his blame, we should also give the impatient listener his own blame too. The #EndSARS Movement in all its activities insisted that it didn’t have a leader. Initially, that was understandable because it might be tagged and given all sorts of names. But as the movement spread and gained popularity, it was expected that a leadership would have evolved from among its popular leaders. This is because, as they say “after war war, there is jaw jaw”; and it is not possible to address everyone at the same time. Thus, point men and women should have been selected and given a clear mandate when demands are sought by the government.

An example of this kind of leadership was demonstrated on Sunday, October 18 by the Catholic Church on the occasion of the 2020 World Mission Day (WMD). On WMD, Pope Francis’ message was read in the place of the homily at masses throughout the world. The Pope was the messenger but his representatives everywhere delivered the message where they were.  Ever catholic queued behind the Pontiff and the same message went round, with impact. This kind of leadership or messenger is what I think the movement needs for a direction.

But it’s not just the #EndSARS movement that needs a dependable leadership, Nigeria too needs one at this time. The country is not happy with a president seen to be aloof and unfeeling. Indeed, we must #EndBadGovernance, which is the metaphor the #EndSARS has come to be. When the protesters come back, since they said they had only stepped back, we need to know a direction.

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