Nigeria: May They Not Die in Vain (I)

28 October 2020

Sonnie Ekwowusi contends that the deployment of soldiers to Lekki Tollgate was wrong

First, please join me in observing a few minutes silence in honour of our fallen young heroes and heroines of the #EndIncompetenceinGovernance protests (I won't label it #EndSARS protests because the protests transcend police brutality: The protests are responses to incompetence and corruption in governance in Nigeria) who were shot at and killed by the Nigerian soldiers at the Lekki Toll Gate Lagos and other places on Tuesday October 20. May their souls rest in peace. Amen! May God grant their parents, relatives, friends and acquaintances the fortitude to bear the irreparable loses. Amen! May they not die in vain. Amen! It is noteworthy that the killing of unarmed protesting youths is a gravest crime against humanity punishable at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, Netherlands. We look forward to seeing the trial and possible conviction of all the soldiers who shot and killed our protesting children including the civilians who were in pari delicto in committing the same crimes. Any government that kills its young is accursed.

Think about it. Unarmed youths were peaceably seated at the Lekki Toll Gate, singing, eating and dancing in the course of their protest. Date was October 20, 2020. Time was on or around 7 p.m. The youngsters weren't violent. They were not destructive either. Their presence at the Toll gate posed no danger to either national security or anybody at all. Then all of a sudden the Nigerian soldiers were dispatched to shoot and kill and injure some of them amid pitch darkness after the light was intentionally turned off to hide the crime from the civilized world. If the reason for dispatching the soldiers was to protect lives and property in the state, why have they not been dispatched to arrest and prosecute the murderous Fulani herdsmen who have been freely going about killing and maiming their victims in different Nigerian communities? What a country.

I have never seen a government committing so many faux pas as this government. One blunder begets another blunder. One evil begets another. The massive social upheaval sweeping across the length and breadth of Nigeria was avoidable. If the soldiers had not shot and killed the youths at the Lekki Toll Gate, the massive social uprising would not have erupted. In fact, the Lekki Toll Gate killing was the catalyst that triggered off the seemingly unending chains of burglary, killing, arson, brigandage, looting, thuggery, and gangsterism across Southern Nigeria last week. In other words, if the shooting and killing of our children at the Lekki Toll Gate had not occurred, no anarchy would have overtaken many parts of Nigeria as we witnessed last week.

Mind you, this is not the first time Nigerian soldiers had been deployed to shoot and kill unarmed youths embarking on peaceful protests. We have been beseeching the Buhari government to stop shooting and killing unarmed protesting youths but our supplications have gone unheeded. It seems as if killing unarmed protesters is in the DNA of this government. For instance, following the attack by the army on the Shia Muslim community ostensibly to rescue the Chief of Army Staff from alleged assassination, about 1,000 unarmed protesting civilians (most of whom were young people) were shot at and killed in Zaria on or around 12th December 2015. Till date no justice for the victims of the Zaria massacre. Then on February 9, 2016 the Nigerian soldiers were deployed to shoot and kill countless unarmed young pro-Biafra protesters who were peacefully holding prayers inside the football field of Ngwa High School, Aba in Abia State. No justice for the victims of that barbaric murder till date despite popular outcry. Then during the Biafran Day celebration on May 30 2016, the Nigerian soldiers were again dispatched to fire bullets that killed and injured over 30 unarmed civilians at Nkpor-Agu, Niger Bridge, Onitsha and Asaba respectively. I can go on and on.

So, you can see that using soldiers to kill or maim unarmed protesters is the stock-in-trade of this government. As far as President Buhari is concerned, persons staging a peaceful protest in Nigeria are enemies of the state and should be treated as such. Sad. This probably explains why Mr. President was silent on the Lekki Toll Gate shooting in his nationwide address last week. Or, maybe Mr. President was silent on the incident because he knew that the government acted illegally. The truth of the matter is that section 217(2)(c)(d) of the 1999 Constitution has in no unmistakable terms spelt out the circumstances and conditions under which the military can be invited to intervene to maintain peace in civil life in Nigeria. There are: (i) for the defence of Nigeria from external aggression. (ii) for the maintenance of the territorial integrity and securing the borders of Nigeria from violation on land, sea and air, (iii) for suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President; subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly. It is obvious that the aforesaid constitutional provision was violated when soldiers were deployed to shoot and kill young protesters at Lekki Toll Gate. Therefore the deployment of military troop to Lekki Toll Gate was clearly unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.

How will Nigeria wriggle out of the present impasse? First, we must understand that the current uprising of the Nigerian youths is a mere symptom of a deep-seated problem - lack of true fiscal federalism: inequitable resource control, inequitable revenue sharing formula; overconcentration of the power at the centre to the detriment of the units, and so forth. Therefore instead of tackling mere symptom or offering the people tokenism or palliatives, the Buhari government should be sincere enough to tackle the deep-seated problems ruining Nigeria. This is the only way the current uprising can be stopped.

A study of the nature and pattern of the current uprising indicates that the Nigerian young are demanding for good governance, social justice, equity and fair-play. That was why all manner of young people (I won't call them hoodlums because they were not all hoodlums) have unfortunately been looting/setting ablaze the Courts of Appeal, High Courts, Police Stations, Nigerian Ports Authority, Oba Akiolu's Palace, COVID-19 Warehouses and other places across the country. They believe that the aforesaid places are places where injustices are brewed up and meted out to different persons in Nigeria. They also believe some corrupt politicians have stolen our commonwealth and therefore should be brought to justice. This is why the angry youths are going from house to house in search of those corrupt politicians in order to deal with them. In sum, the uprising of the youths is prompted by the oppression and feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness that pervade the lives of many Nigerian young. The Nigerian youths crave for the reign of social justice in Nigeria.

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