BY now, all those who have been living a lie, believing that our president, Muhammadu, can be anything but a Buhari, must have realised how naïve they were. The president’s reaction to the audacity of Nigerian youths clamouring for an end to police brutality and enthronement of responsible and responsive governance has been true to form – exactly as expected.
Even when he pretends that he is listening to the youths and addressing their genuine demands, it has become obvious even to the most undiscerning person that he is not.
Rather than empathising with the youths who are holding the wrong end of every social welfare stick in the country, he is angry and fuming that they had the temerity to demand, as of right, for a country that accommodates all. Buhari is deploying bullying, militaristic and authoritarian measures to dissuade youths from ever raising their voices again.
How else can one explain the reaction of the president since the #EndSARS protests erupted across the country? He has not only been threatening fire and brimstone, he has also been walking his talk on his threats, even as he claims that the youths have every reason to be aggrieved.
On Tuesday, November 17, Buhari summoned a meeting of the National Security Council attended by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, relevant ministers, and all heads of the nation’s security agencies, and the message was unambiguous. “Mr. President assured Nigerians that he will do whatever it takes to ensure that a repeat of #EndSARS protests does not occur in Nigeria again,” Minister of Police Affairs, Muhammad Dingyadi, told journalists after the meeting. No threat can be more ominous.
The message the president is sending across to Nigerian youths, his children, is that even if what it takes to stop them from ever raising their voices again under his watch is an encore of the Lekki Toll Gate tragedy, he will not blink an eye.
And what is the nature of this protest that Buhari is vowing will never happen again under his watch? Thousands of young Nigerians mostly under the age of 30, after years of humiliation, took it upon themselves to protest against police brutality. The protest got traction and burst onto the streets of cities across Nigeria.
There were peaceful marches, candlelight vigils, multi-faith prayer sessions and disc jockey performances that attracted the support and solidarity of celebrities and Nigerians in the Diaspora. In fact, the protest, particularly at the Lekki Toll Gate plaza, which became the de facto headquarters, became a carnival.
And the funds with which the wheels of the protest were oiled were neither illicit nor the sources unknown. At the onset of the protests on October 8, a civil society group known as the Feminist Coalition began receiving donations to support the protesters through a fund set up by a Nigerian online payment processing company, Flutterwave. It has been variously reported that in the early days of the protest, the fund had raised about N25 million and these were freewill donations by Nigerians who genuinely believe that there must be a fundamental shift in the country’s leadership paradigm.
It was because the government knew about the payment platform that they were able to successfully render it inoperative on October 13, only five days after it was set up.
It was not because of the intelligence wizardry of the security forces or the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. If it were, why have they not been able to effectively deal with the sources of funds flowing into the coffers of Book Haram? After the Feminist Coalition’s online donation link became inoperative, it began raising funds through bitcoin, an effort which the Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, threw his weight behind the formidable mass movement.
As at October 22 when it stopped receiving donations, the coalition had raised almost N148 million. According to a Human Rights Watch report, these funds were used to provide food, water, health kits, ambulances and private security, among other support to the protesters.
The coalition also covered the medical bills of injured protesters and organised legal services for those arrested. The funds were not used in buying arms and ammunition. So, it is uncharitable to link it to terrorism. The sophistication of the protesters embarrassed the government. They didn’t realise that they were dealing with a different generation of youths – educated, technology savvy and selfless.
If Buhari had flown to Lagos and driven straight to the Lekki Toll Gate plaza, he would have automatically taken the wind off the sail of the protesters. That is what modern leadership requires – engagement. But he hid behind Ask Rock and did what he knew best – use of brute force. Fifth columnists were deliberately injected into the protests which had been peaceful for 13 days and mere anarchy was let loose. Government then turned round to use the mayhem as a pretext to bloodily quell the protests.
Blaming the assumed leaders and promoters of the #EndSARS protests for the mayhem that ensued after the military shot live bullets at protesters who were sitting down, waving the National Flag as a sign of their devotion to fatherland and singing the National Anthem is atrocious. The youths were seeking for direction. No more, no less!
It is only an army of occupation that can shoot at such a crowd. Buhari knew about the Lekki Toll Gate catastrophe because as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, he is the only authority that can deploy the troops.
Yet, he chose not to even mention that bloodcurdling episode in his October 22 national broadcast where he warned, instead, that the promptness with which he acted in approving the termination of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, “seemed to have been misconstrued as a sign of weakness and twisted by some for their selfish unpatriotic interests.”
So, Tuesday’s message to the security top brass is unambiguous: henceforth, take no prisoners. Truth be told, Nigerian youths are in for a hard time. It will be a scorched-earth policy going forward. It has already started. While Buhari deceptively continues to claim that he is listening to longsuffering Nigerian youths, his government is doing everything possible to ensure that they don’t ever raise their voices again, at least not under his watch.
Passports and other travel documents of those perceived to be the leaders of the #EndSARS protests have been seized, their accounts in various Nigerian banks frozen. Court orders have been sought and obtained by government against citizens and some genuine protesters have been arrested and are being prosecuted. Companies perceived to belong to supporters of the #EndSARS movement are being de-registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission at the instigation of government. The crackdown is total and cruel.
On the same Tuesday that the president gave his marching orders to his security chiefs, policemen surrounded the Afrika Shrine, where a meeting on #EndSARS protests, summoned by Seun, son of the legendary Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who was jailed on trumped-up charges by the self-same Buhari in his earlier incarnation as a military head of state, was to hold. The meeting was aborted.
In Yaba, a Magistrates Court granted bail to detained #EndSARS protester, Eromosele Adene, in the sum of N1 million, thus frustrating the macabre plot of the police who sought a remand order to detain him for extra 30 days. He had already spent more than a week in detention having been arrested last week in Ikeja, taken to the police command headquarters, transferred to the Area F Command, detained at the SCID, Panti and subsequently flown to Abuja last Monday where he was detained for seven days before he was brought back to Lagos on Sunday.
All over the country, the story is the same. There is a vicious crackdown on the #EndSARS protesters. Sometimes, the hatchet job is outsourced to some meddlesome-interlopers ready to be used like one Kenechukwu Okeke, who, last week, sued 50 people, including Aisha Yesufu, Burna Boy, Davido, Folarin Falana (Falz), Peter and Paul Okoye, Tuface, Kanu Nwankwo, etc., for supporting the protests. Hand of Esau, voice of Jacob!
All these cowardly acts show the ridiculous length government has gone in muzzling the rights and freedoms of citizens, whose only offence is that they dared to speak truth to power. Government may have its way today but it will be a pyrrhic victory. Nigerian youths will laugh last because the genie is already out of the bottle.