Nigeria: #EndSARS - a Look From Afar

30 October 2020

No sooner had the #EndSARS protests erupted in many cities in Nigeria than a free-for-all argument over it ensued. And from the sheer amount of emotion that characterised the argument on social media where one followed it, one could imagine its intensity in a typical joint in, say, Lagos or a typical roadside majalisa in, say, Kano.

Arguments for and against the protests were churned out right, left, and centre with many folks rightly or wrongly taking it personally, which provoked bad feelings among many and indeed caused strains in both virtual and real-life friendships. Many theories were equally speculated supposedly to explain the protests.

Though everybody claimed objectivity in his stand on the protests, opinions driven by underlying prejudices dominated the atmosphere. What's, however, clear is that regardless of the logic or otherwise of any opinion expressed or theory speculated, the incidents of the protests and its aftermath represented a clue of the implications of lawlessness in the country.

In other words, the escalation of the protests into indiscriminate vandalisation of public facilities and jail-storming, which resulted in the escape of almost 2,000 prisoners, and looting spree of private properties and businesses, among other acts of violence against individuals and communities, was a mini-picture of what the situation in the country will turn into in the event of the total breakdown of law and order.

Whether or not the masterminds of the protests and the protesters had a hidden agenda, as widely alleged, or were simply being too reckless, their actions bore the hallmarks of a subversive agenda against the already fragile corporate stability of the country. The amount of recklessness shown by the protesters was rare if not unprecedented.

In any case, they had clearly manipulated popular discontentment over the persistently worsening economic and security conditions in the country, to incite the gullible into joining the protests, which also provided violent criminals lurking around with a pretext to perpetrate their crimes after blending with the protesters.

The protesters equally won the backing of many otherwise discerning observers with many of them effectively turning into apologists for the protesters. Likewise, many others with underlying political and/or personal interests gloated over the situation under the illusion that it would only undermine the Buhari administration.

Having said that, one has to admit that the protests had set in against the backdrop of accumulated popular frustration frustrating enough to trigger not only protests but a spontaneous revolt for that matter. And if not for the passionate dissuasion against joining the protests by many northern Nigerian influential figures and Muslim scholars, who warned of a hidden agenda behind the protests, it would have swept across the region and the situation would have become far worse than what occurred in southern Nigeria.

Because SARS brutality and whatever grievances that supposedly triggered the protests in southern Nigeria cannot be compared to the situation in the particularly poverty-ravaged northern Nigeria where people have literally resigned themselves to their fate in the face of government's failure to protect them from kidnappers, bandits and terrorists unleashing death and misery across the region.

Anyway, with the particularly blatant show of insensitivity to the worsening plight of the people in the country by the very elite who have inflicted it on them over the decades, popular frustration will definitely continue to pile up towards the boiling point where no amount of dissuasion can prevent a complete and irreversible breakdown of law and order. God forbid!

The recent incidents of discovered warehouses housing tons of assorted foodstuff meant for free distribution to the poor as COVID-19 pandemic palliatives, which, however, somehow ended up hoarded to probably be misappropriated amid unprecedented unaffordability of foodstuff in the country suggest the worst form of nonviolent callousness that leaders can exhibit.

Admittedly, while following (on social media) the viral videos of people storming and looting the warehouses, I was torn between two conflicting thoughts; the illegality of their acts, on the one hand, and emotional feelings justifying the acts at least for the desperate among them, on the other. After all, out of sheer desperation, many otherwise decent people partook in the looting spree. However, storming and looting personal properties, private warehouses and businesses, which many people carried out during and in the aftermath of the protests were absolutely unjustifiable. But then again, this is what inevitably ensues whenever and wherever chaos reigns.

Nonetheless, though popular frustration in the land has understandably reached unprecedented levels, it must not be handled with emotions, for that will definitely lead to anarchy. Because given Nigeria's ever-tense atmosphere of political, ethno-religious, regional and resource control-linked tensions, a nationwide breakdown of law and order means the breakout of irreversible anarchy in the country.

Even in the event of the situation deteriorating to a point where the country's corporate existence is no longer viable, under no circumstances should anarchy be justifiably resorted to in the name of restructuring, secession or separation.

By the way, the assumption that Nigeria's collapse would give rise to viable countries in some geopolitical regions e.g. the southeast and the Niger-Delta where this assumption is more popular, is too simplistic, hence unrealistic.

Though unjustifiably fragile, Nigeria's stability remains the only guarantee for the already grossly inadequate security of life, property and dignity that we take for granted, and in no circumstances should it be jeopardised for a romanticised post-revolution Nigeria that some reckless folks are promoting.

The recent incidents should serve as a wake-up call to the country's leadership elite to get committed enough to arresting the worsening popular frustration in the land by addressing its root cause, which is bad governance driven by the culture of corruption and impunity. Because, after all, in the event of overwhelming chaos, they, their families and properties will be the first set of targets. And even those who would manage to flee the country will have to endure the humiliation of living as glorified refugees in foreign lands struggling with legal prosecutions for corruption and perhaps crimes against humanity to the end of their lives.

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