The #EndSARS protests have crossed a two-week threshold. It is the longest-running and unbroken protest since our return to civil rule in 1999. It is also the first time the Nigerian youth have risen in one accord against the atrocities of the disbanded Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, FSARS, which had become notorious for extortions, extrajudicial killings, criminal activities and deliberately preying on the youth.
The youth have finally woken up from their long slumber during which they abandoned protests against bad governance to the Organised Labour. Labour has recently proved itself incapable of fighting for the people, given the ease with which it gave away negotiations after the recent deregulation of petrol price and electricity tariff increase.
We once again hail our patriotic youth for the peaceful, patriotic and civilised manner in which they have conducted these protests. Their ability to band together, rejecting ethic, religious and partisan divisions, desisting from the harassment of innocent citizens, helping one another and even cleaning up after each day’s proceedings, have been heart-warming. If continued well after these protests, it means that our youth are now ready for leadership which can actualise the long-delayed greatness of Nigeria.
We, however, believe that the time to de-escalate the protests has come. This is the time to pull back because unscrupulous elements who are not part of the #EndSARS movement have intervened with dangerous weapons, killing unarmed protesters, breaking jails, burning down innocent people’s businesses and preparing the ground for a vicious take-down of the protests by state agents of coercion. We must avoid this looming bloodshed at all costs.
To their credit, the Federal Government has been responding in its own way to some of the demands of the protesters. FSARS has since been disbanded. However, the police authorities’ decision to immediately create the Special Weapons and Tactics, SWAT, to replace it smacks of a mere renaming of FSARS. The various governors are also to set up judicial panels of inquiry to bring erring SARS officers to book and compensate the families of their victims.
We have observed that the demands of the protesters have gone beyond the ending of SARS/SWAT. Political demands are creeping in. We advise that these demands should be articulated and also handed over to government. Government should then call a national dialogue to respond to these demands as soon as possible to further assure good faith.
Protesters should kindly vacate the roads and allow supplies, especially food, to get to the people. The economy should not be asphyxiated, otherwise the combined effects of the protests and COVID-19 pandemic could collapse our already debilitated economy.
The calls for a “revolution” and resignation of the Buhari government are fraught with danger. These could lead to bloodshed and unforeseen outcomes for our country. We strongly advise great caution on both sides. Our country is fragile from its economic and security challenges. We need wisdom and caution to muddle through this situation with minimum damage.
Whatever happens in the immediate future, the youth must maintain their newfound awakening and the noble principles of love, non-violence and national unity in pursuit of peaceful change.
The time for change is now, but it must be peaceful and non-violent.