Nigeria: Column No.6 - #endsars Protests and Lost Opportunities

31 October 2020

If I expected anyone to seek for an opportunity to find something good in the whole cluster of chaos that Nigeria became in the past few weeks, it was the Federal Government. Here was an excellent time to show the populace that leaders have listening ears. A chance to swoop in and control the narrative, while absorbing the genuine grievances of the protesters. But other than President Muhammadu Buhari's speech - which was too little, too late - and the scrapping of the mostly-rogue unit SARS, everything else was just lackluster. Don't get me wrong: the president impressed me with his response. But his speed? Not so much. I mean, it's all cut-and-dried, and didn't need a Nuclear Physicist to dive in and solve it. So why drag your feet?

The delay resulted into tempers flaring, as well as a breakdown of law and order. Protesters became 'hoodlums' in mere seconds, even as criminally-minded people saw an opportunity in the peaceful protests, and began to loot and burn. Someone said at least someone in the whole drama saw an opportunity and took it, as criminal as it was. As the looting went viral - almost every single state in Nigeria, by the way - governors also lagged before addressing citizens. And even then, it was to threaten them to return looted items, or to declare the foodstuffs expired or even poisoned with chemicals. The opportunity to address them like the confused, hurting human beings they are? Wasted.

Then let's go back to the protesters. SARS was ended, and a new unit proposed. The protesters kicked against that, but didn't quite spell out what they wanted. There were leadership tussles, as well, as genuine protesters tried to sieve out the pretenders who were turning the whole thing into a veritable Tower of Babel. In the defense of genuine protesters, the introduction of armed security agents to quell the protests in Lagos made things very dire, very quickly. Speaking of which, the back-and-forth between the army, the police force, state governors, and other 'stakeholders' is looking even more ridiculous by the day. The opportunity is there now, for top brass to wade in and provide a solution that will show tact, professionalism, and empathy. Hopefully, the panels across the states will be helpful.

Then Nigerian citizens - at least some of us - lost the opportunity to show that we are good people deserving of good governance. I condemn the criminal rush for warehoused goods in its totality. Yes, some were Covid-19 palliatives. But many were private warehouses and stores and homes even, of Nigerians who worked hard for what they have. We didn't have to stoop to the level of our aggressors and become criminals. Some of the images and videos of the looted food items paint a picture of base, monumental greed on a grassroots level. But then, who will take the moral high ground, especially when the environment does not support decency? It's a conundrum, I tell you.

Then don't get me started on the Nigeria Police Force, which was the spark that lit this nasty flame that has become an inferno. They could have shown genuine remorse and true willingness to change during the protests, but they squandered that opportunity. The denials, the accusations and counter-accusations on the news every single day, do nothing to help the situation. The need for positive change can only be recognized by willing minds, something the leadership of the police force needs to have, and demonstrate having. The Nigerian Army, too, should show they are what Nigeria needs in crisis times, a force of service and protection, and not one to be called upon by politicians whenever the guano hits the fan.

I'm not leaving anyone out. Activists should take the higher ground and show they are deserving of the support of everyone, not engaging in shady movement like Twitter has revealed some of them as doing. Many of them have been leading the protests in a most honourable and admirable manner. But some of them? Not so much. The #EndSARS struggle is for all of us, for a better Nigeria. Clandestine meetings do not help, and only transparent engagement by all sides will fully support a conclusion that will be for the good of us all.

Another missed opportunity - perhaps the only comical, non-tragic one in all of this - is that ridiculous pantomime by Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Works and Housing. You know, the one in which he supposedly found a camera at the location of the protests in Lekki, a little too conveniently. Okay, maybe the convenience was a lot. Haba! Even Sherlock Holmes wouldn't display such aplomb, such élan. Instead of meaningful engagement, that show, designed to score cheap points, simply crashed and burned, as Nigerians saw it for what it was: a poorly-crafted show, and a missed opportunity of a most condescending sort.

The #EndSARS protests offered many of us opportunities to make real impact, but we all messed it up. Royally, even, in some cases. But one of the best parts of life is that there almost always is a second chance, if you don't get it right the first try. And we have to make sure we get it right, after all the sweat, tears, and blood. If not for anything, we must do it for our children, their children, and their children's children. We also have to do it for the sake of all those who lost their lives in the protests, for the protests, so that they would not have died in vain.

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