Assault on Democracy, disappointing Presidential speech

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

Signed by Akin Malaolu for Yoruba Ronu Leadership Forum

We have watched with great concern the events related to the civil protest EndSARS of the past two weeks begun by our youths. The protest, which started on a peaceful note against widespread reports of police brutality morphed into a non-violent agitation against general harsh socio-economic realities in the country with the protesters tabling their grievances.

Everything was okay until Tuesday, October 20, when the Lagos State Government imposed a curfew on the state. Unfortunately, some armed men in military fatigues arrived at the Lekki tollgate, the epicentre of the protest, to forcefully break up the gathering of youths in the evening. Live gunshots were fired. Some died. Many were injured. By the time the military men retreated, the peaceful protest had taken on a different outlook. Other disgruntled people had taken over what began as a social media-driven campaign with live entertainment to pep up the protesters’ spirit. In no time, commercial properties such as banks, shops, and stores became targets of looters.

The discontent continued the following day, October 21, with police stations, police personnel, and stores being targets of assault. While the stations were torched, many officers were injured, many citizens died. Lagos became enveloped in a climate of fear and insecurity. Nowhere was too sacred to be spared: the courts, government offices, Oba’s palace, and private homes, hospitals, and media houses.   Other townships were not spared as Abuja, Akure, Owerri, Aba, Benin City, Kano, Port Harcourt began to record violent protests.

In all of these, the law enforcement officers put up a feeble resistance. The military casually disclaimed liability for the shooting at the Lekki tollgate, raising questions if the shootings were made by rogue elements in the military. The president as the father of all, despite promptings from federal legislators and people of goodwill, maintained an eerie silence until October 22, two days after the conflagration began.

And what did he have to say? It was an arrogant speech, characterised more by subtle threats to critics, and lacking in the critically needed empathy. To say that Yoruba Ronu, like most Nigerians, was disappointed, is an understatement. As leaders of thought, we are worried at the mismanagement of a challenge that should have helped the country to redefine and strengthen its economy and identity. We are pained to admit the poor state of our internal security. It is obvious that our police are not sufficiently equipped to deal with breaches of the law in a modern and scientific manner. Too much attention is still being paid to brute force, which alienates them from the public. While we commend the promises made to reform the police, we hold that the reality of the situation demands a doubling of efforts.

We decry the role played by rogue elements in our security networks—from those who procured touts to break the ranks of civil protesters, to those operating as death squads. We urge the president to take ownership of this challenge and get to the bottom of it to preserve whatever is left of his good reputation.

We decry the burning of two leading media houses, TV News and The Nation, and the harassment of the staff of Lagos Television and Lagos Radio. We note that these organs have been professional in their output and this senseless burning represents an assault on the free flow of information.

We pray for all departed souls of the protest and wish the injured ones speedy recovery. We urge the president to lead the country in interceding with God for forgiveness on the poor treatment meted out to our youths whose only crime is speaking out to be counted as lovers of democracy and stakeholders in a better Nigeria.

We are compiling statistics on the cost of this needless assault on democracy to the people and economy of the southwest, especially Lagos. For now, we say, the protests should stop while community engagement begins to fashion a way forward. Nigeria is in stormy weather. It is time for President Muhammadu Buhari to take its future more seriously than he has done to date.

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