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Column / Opinion

#EndSARS protests and the tales of two nations, by Umar Faruk Said




The Nigeria Police Force, its officers and men cannot be said to have public confidence and goodwill, due to their reputation for infamy and viciousness. More dreadful (as maligning rented the air in the southern part of the country) was the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the force. A lot of acts of human rights violations have been attributed to this unit. For a long time there have been grunts over the disproportionate manhandling of Nigerians by the SARS operatives.

Last week the #EndSARS protesters succeeded in pressing their demands for its disbandment. The alleged SARS’ brutality that led to the protests has been a compartmentalized issue between the North and the South. In the South, where the protests gained momentum, it was championed by activists and celebrities, while in the North a kind of pro-SARS march was staged in some states. This development has created a binary world.

While the South might have seen the North as reactionary, the later has not seen any reason whatsoever to join the demonizing campaign against the SARS. Obviously, the issue was being viewed from different perspectives. Most people of Northern extraction advanced the reason that if the respect for the human rights, the sanctity of human lives, and the general safety of the people were the motivating factors behind the #End SARS agitation, it should be a surprise that ever since the North got enmeshed in security challenges (Boko Haram, kidnapping and banditry) that is ravaging the region, not once have the South lent their voice to call on either the Federal or on state governments to take decisive actions to end the reign of terror on the people.

Another reason for the North’s aloofness is that the alleged SARS’ brutality was a matter for the South, and therefore even the protests no less so. In fact, the protests even bore a feeling among Northerners that it was a cryptic ploy by political jobbers sponsored by some unpatriotic citizens to undermine efforts of Buhari administration, and to cause havoc in the country. This, of course, is the peculiar attitude of both parts of Nigeria, of not responding to national issues with collective will due to our mutual suspicion.

Having sampled opinions from both sides of the event, the following issues have to be reckoned with. In the face of the insecurity in the North, the last thing the people there would think to oppose is the SARS, while in the South contempt for the dreadful police unit was as old as its disregard for the dignity of Nigerian citizens, as its antagonists want us to believe. However, the consensus is that all Nigerians, regardless of their regional footing, are not happy with the Nigeria Police. All things considered, my take is that the disbandment of the SARS and the set-up of the Special weapon and Tactics Team (SWAT), the rechristened version of SARS, is akin to putting old wine in a new bottle. And indeed this has left the anti-SARS crusaders still in a sullen mood. There is gross unprofessionalism in the Nigeria Police Force, which will never end until the whole force, rotten as it has been, is holistically reformed. Policing in Nigeria is synonymous with extortion, short changing justice, and complicity to commit crimes, no apology!

It is rather unsettling to a large portion of the citizenry, that more shitty things than the SARS’ atrocities have happened in the country, such as fuel price increase, electricity tariff increase, and reckless foreign debt accumulation by the Federal Government, which have added to the sufferings of the common man, and should have been protested against with all vehemence, but they so came to pass with nobody raising eyebrows. This calls to question the motive behind the #EndSARS agitation. It is believed by many Nigerians, myself included, to be the headache of only the city punks, not of the downtrodden Nigerians who are grappling with hard life occasioned by cost of all consumables―the apparent impact of the increase in the price of petrol, and electricity tariff. It could not be that of the poor rural dwellers whose safety is left at the mercy of bandits and kidnappers. I have not seen how disbandment of the SARS would address the problem of poor governance in the country! Anyway, it is a good development that Nigerians are beginning to use the potent power of their mass actions. But caution must be exercised, especially given our vulnerability to falling victims of foreign conspiracy theories. Egypt and Libya are good case studies.
Governments at all levels must do something to restore hope of the youth, otherwise a bigger scale of what is currently happening is in sight. There has been the bottled-up fury of those youth denied jobs after their schooling, those whose graduation is cruelly being frustrated, and those to whom life proves nothing but suffering. If we examine the socio-economic conditions of the Nigerian youth who took the protests to the streets, most of them live with aspirations to travel abroad in search of greener pasture because their governments have failed them at home. They can therefore make themselves a willing tool to act any script, provided they get paid for that. I doubt much how the Nigerian youth would toy with the idea of selling their conscience, and fomenting trouble in their fatherland if their leaders made life joyous and rosy for them! Even though the Nigerian youth of the Northern and Southern divides are not united on this #EndSARS insurrection, it can be seen that certain social and political dynamics have conjoined them together to demand for restructuring the country. The current realities faced by the Nigerian youth are of dystopia, and they all want to escape it.

Now that Governors of Northern States kick against scrapping of the maligned police unit, there seems to be a stalemate between supporters and opponents. It appears that the so much desired restructuring is setting in by default. More so, the recent formation of Amotekun by Governors of the South-West zone of the country is their demonstration of what is more befitting and suiting police structure in the country. Buhari administration should quickly weigh options as to whether the restructuring should happen by default or by design. If fortunately for us the administration favours a procedural one, then the only possible solution to the problem of policing in Nigeria is borrowing a leaf from the United States of America. If states get the power to have their own separate police force, those who desire to maintain the SARS initiative would be at liberty to do so without any fuss from those who abhor it.

With the reported attack on convoy of Osun State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, and shutting down of school in Benin City, the capital of Edo State, the continued presence of the irate youth on the streets is a gathering storm of probable uprising wave to shake the country, with undesirable cost. The reported prison break by a fully armed group that set inmates free also in the capital of Edo State, has added a criminal dimension to the situation. To douse this tension, the Federal Government should open more ways for dialogue with the aggrieved protesting youth. As for the protesters, they should exercise restraint, and they should not blackmail government. No good citizens would wish uprising in their own country, if other constitutional and political frameworks can bring burning issues to table.

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