President Muhammadu Buhari last night told the #EndSARS protesters to stop and warned those he said have hijacked and misdirected the youths from their initial and genuine agitation for reform.
President Buhari, who made the call in a national broadcast, told the youths that their voice had been heard "loud and clear" and that governments at the federal and state level were responding appropriately.
Prominent Nigerians including some former leaders, activists and international figures had called out President Buhari for refusing to talk while trouble rages across the country.
But Buhari countered the claim yesterday saying some people misconstrued the federal government's swift response of scrapping the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) unit of the police as a sign of weakness.
While some analysts described the president's speech as "empty", others said he had addressed all the salient issues and also sent a strong warning to those causing trouble.
There were, however, skirmishes on Thursday including looting and attacks on Correctional Centres in Lagos, Abia, Ebonyi, Anambra and Delta states.
'Take advantage of our initiatives'
In his broadcast, President Buhari appealed to protesters to take advantage of the various well-thought-out initiatives of his administration designed to make their lives better and more meaningful.
He further urged them to resist the temptation of being used by those he referred to as "subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy".
The president called on all Nigerians to go about their normal businesses and enjoined security agencies to protect lives and properties of all law-abiding citizens without doing harm to those they were meant to protect.
'Verify your facts'
Buhari, while reacting to the concern expressed by neighbouring countries and the international community, urged them to "seek to know all the facts available before taking a position or rushing to judgment and making hasty pronouncements."
Daily Trust recalled that on Wednesday, The United Nations, European Union, former U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden and the former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Amnesty International and many others had condemned the escalation of violence that trailed the #EndSARS protests across the country, resulting in killings and destruction of properties.
In separate statements, they urged the Nigerian authorities to investigate these incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable.
The president warned against spreading falsehood and misinformation through social media.
Buhari recalled that he had on Monday, October 12, 2020, acknowledged the genuine concerns and agitations of members of the public regarding the excessive use of force by some members of SARS.
He said "This government respects and will continue to respect all the democratic rights and civil liberties of the people, but it will not allow anybody or groups to disrupt the peace of our nation.
"The choice to demonstrate peacefully is a fundamental right of citizens as enshrined in Section 40 of our constitution and other enactments; but this right to protest also imposes on the demonstrators the responsibility to respect the rights of other citizens, and the necessity to operate within the law.
"As a democratic government, we listened to, and carefully evaluated the five-point demands of the protesters.
"And, having accepted them, we immediately scrapped SARS and put measures in place to address the other demands of our youth.
"On approving the termination of SARS, I already made it clear that it was in line with our commitment to the implementation of extensive Police reforms.
"Sadly, the promptness with which we have acted seemed to have been misconstrued as a sign of weakness and twisted by some for their selfish unpatriotic interests.
"The result of this is clear to all observers: human lives have been lost; acts of sexual violence have been reported; two major correctional facilities were attacked and convicts freed; public and private properties completely destroyed or vandalised...
"All these executed in the name of the #EndSARS protests.
"I am indeed deeply pained that innocent lives have been lost.
"These tragedies are uncalled for and unnecessary.
"Certainly, there is no way whatsoever to connect these bad acts to legitimate expression of grievance of the youth of our country," he said.
Buhari, who thanked state governors, traditional and religious leaders who had appealed for calm and restraint also appreciated youth leaders who had restrained their followers from taking the law into their hands.
It's a strong message - Prof Kari
An Associate Professor of Political Sociology and Dean of Student Affairs, University of Abuja, Dr Abubakar Umar Kari, described the president's speech as "brief but loaded with strong messages."
Professor Kari said though many Nigerians expected that the president would take a long time talking on so many things surrounding the #EndSARS protests, "the speech was brief but he used loaded words and corded terms to send a strong message.
"I think this is strategic considering the circumstances."
He said he was convinced that the president had said so much in a few words "and this is exactly what I expected because he would have said certain things that would be misconstrued; or controversial things that would heat up the polity.
"I am optimistic he would follow-up some of the things he said with concrete actions."
Asked if it was appropriate for the president not to have spoken on the alleged killings at the Lekki toll gate, Professor Kyari said what had been reported remained a subject of debate.
"There are doubts as to whether people have been killed there or not because up till now nobody said he lost someone to the shootings."
Buhari failed to address key things - Shehu Sani
However, Senator Shehu Sani said President Buhari's broadcast failed to address the two most important issues that led to the #EndSARS protest in the country.
"The speech of the president is more of a direct narrative of what happened and also what the government has been doing in terms of policy and programmes without directly addressing the two most important issues that got people to the streets," Sani, who represented Kaduna Central Senatorial district in the last senate said in a phone interview.
He said there were expectations that the president would set up a committee to open a channel for dialogue with the organisers of the #EndSARS protests and the organisers of #EndInsecurity in the northern part of the country.
The activist turned politician said there were also expectations that the president will make a pledge of compensation to people and families of those who lost their loved ones and rebuild the properties and businesses that were affected by the violence.
"For the North, the president was supposed to have announced something different, which will rejig the security architecture of the country and address the problems of banditry and insurgency in Northern Nigeria.
"There is supposed to be a serious committee that will call on the youths to present their representatives to discuss issues that will permanently address all the problems.
"All he (president) has done is to tell the country the programmes of the government - the youth empowerment, the N-Power, among others.
"All those things existed, and now we have protests across the country.
"These are not in the speech," he said.
A legal practitioner in Jos, Barrister Lawan Ishaq said the president had captured all that needed to be addressed.
"On one hand, he assured citizens of the readiness of his government to continue to respect the tenets of democracy.
"On the other hand, he gave a mild warning that the government will live up to its responsibilities of protection of lives and properties of the citizens.
"At a moment like this, we don't expect him to say much more than he said.
"Some expected some hard pronouncements on recent happenings.
"But doing so would have been unwise in view of the fact that much of what happened lately required deep and technical investigation.
"The president went ahead and reeled out some of his government's policies aimed at alleviating the hardships that are prevalent all over the country.
"What is next is for the president to swing into action especially on security issues.
"SARS and police reforms are just a single item in the myriads of security challenges facing the country especially the northern part.
"Without adequately addressing the security issues, we may not be seeing the last of these kinds of ugly demonstrations.
"I am however glad the federal government refused to play into the hands of its detractors. It shows maturity on its side," he said.
Prelude to president's broadcast
Earlier yesterday, President Buhari presided over a four-hour meeting of the National Security Council at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, over the ongoing #EndSARS protests across the country.
The meeting was attended by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, and Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the National Security Adviser (NSA), retired Major General Babagana Monguno, the Service Chiefs, including the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas and the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, among others.
The meeting was convened after the violence that trailed the alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos.
Amnesty International and other campaigners have said at least 12 people were killed by soldiers and police in two locations in Lagos on Tuesday night.
The Nigerian army has dismissed the reports as "fake news".
Following Tuesday's shooting, arsonists went on a rampage and burnt the headquarters of the Nation Newspapers and TV Continental that are linked to the National Leader of the ruling APC, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Federal and state government structures including the headquarters of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) were set ablaze by the rampaging youths who also burnt the family residence of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and that of his mother.