By Owei Lakemfa
I HAVE before me, two statements that speak to our present and future. One is by 78-year old Muhammadu Buhari, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces. The other is by Rachael Rinu Bolatito Oduala, 22, a student who is no older than the former’s grandchild or great granddaughter.
Buhari came to national prominence 45 years ago when following a military coup, he was appointed first, the Military Governor of old Borno State, and later, the Minister of Petroleum and General Officer Commanding the Third Division, Jos. After the 1983 coup against the elected government of President Shehu Shahagari, he became Military Head of State and today, is into his second term as President. In contrast, Oduala was unknown to Nigerians until a few weeks ago when she emerged as one of the ‘generals’ of the EndSARS street protests.
In terms of income and welfare, Buhari has been paid by Nigeria either monthly salaries and allowances, or pension for 59 years now. In contrast, Oduala is a student who sells hoodies and other clothing to pay her school fees since the country has denied her generation, the right to education. She also contributes to the survival of her family. The young lady decided to join other youths in organising the protests against police brutality.
The peaceful protests were interrupted in parts of the country by armed thugs sponsored to silence the youths. Then the army was let loose on the protesters, first in Abuja on Tuesday October 13, 2020 and exactly one week later, in Lagos especially at the Lekki Tollgate.
This leads me to one of the statements before me. It is President Buhari’s November 1, 2020 message to mark the newly minted National Youth Day. He acknowledged the youths’ constitutional right to peaceful protests but told them: “You must realise that protests cannot last indefinite. My government will not lift a hand to stop or suppress you (however) every successful protest movement the world over has understood that there comes a time when activity must move from the street to the negotiation table. That time for you has come. Do not be afraid of this reality. You should welcome it.”
In inviting the youths to come forward for dialogue and help find solutions to the country’s challenges, he assured them: “As a youth, you have a nation and a future to build. My government will always be your faithful partner in this essential and patriotic endeavour.”
Who can fault a call for dialogue especially by a father? Didn’t the Holy Books say, suffer not the children; let the children come to me? Which child would ignore the call of a father? Given these types of assurances, even before this message, Oduala had stepped out of the shadows accepting to represent the youths on an EndSARS government truth-seeking panel in Lagos.
However, while being so busy, the same government went for her jugular, freezing her bank account. Oduala was number one on the list of twenty youths the Buhari government had connived with an uncritical judiciary to frozen their accounts without giving them any hearing. This government, contrary to its public assurances that it would not victimise the youths, has also banned them from leaving the country for whatever reason.
While the victims are challenging such dictatorial and unconstitutional acts in court, it is the duty of free Nigerian citizens to tell the Buhari government that its acts are immoral, counterproductive and unpatriotic. Oduala is not a senator taking N14m monthly from our commonwealth. She is not a looter privatising the Central Bank.
Those accused by the government’s anti-graft agencies of stealing billions of naira are walking the streets free, spending their alleged loot and even aspiring for political office in 2023. Their accounts bursting at the seams are not frozen. But youths who peacefully draw our attention to mass murders and torture by policemen paid with public funds, are being hunted and their accounts frozen.
Also, Oduala is not involved in looting Nigeria. As she declared: “I am not a part of Nigeria’s political or business elite – I have no relatives in government or family members with enough wealth to sway powerful individuals. I am just an ordinary young Nigerian.”
Also, she has never been a coup plotter nor were the protests intended or planned in any way to subvert the democratic process. She explained quite clearly: “When we began to protest, it was because young Nigerians decided to speak up. We spoke up – not because we wanted to overthrow the government but because we wanted the police to stop killing us. We did not carry arms, or incite any insurrection.
Our only weapon was peaceful protest enshrined in Section 40 of our 1999 Constitution. At every point we maintained calm and educated our followers – reiterating throughout the protests that we were not there to fight the government but to ask for change and to follow through to make sure that change was effected.”
I know some bright and intelligent people in this government who can successfully run any country, why do their voices seem muffled? Who thinks for this government? How are decisions taken? Why can’t it understand the basic fact that intimidating the EndSARS protesters will fail?
That by its actions, it is telling the youths not to use our banking system or travel through our official borders? Why are they not aware that the country needs to concentrate on meeting the very basic challenges of governance including food for the starving, basic healthcare for the sick and some shelter for the tens of millions who are homeless?
Who can let this government know that Nigerians are more interested in the wars against Boko Haram and rampaging bandits who occupy significant portions of the country rather than expend energy on patriotic youths who merely danced and sang demanding an end to a killer police squad?
If the Executive is hell bent on dragging the country down, why does the judiciary lend its authority to this unviable venture by sanctifying the odious actions of intimidating our youths? Why can’t the National Assembly call the Executive to order?
When Oduala in protest, wrote: “Nigeria is all I have, and I have a right to demand that it works for all of us.” I was reminded of Buhari’s 1984 speech that we have no other country than Nigeria.
Indeed, the future does not belong to us the old and greying for we have had our chance and failed abysmally either by running the country aground or failing to rescue it. Rather, it belongs to the youth who deserve a better country, and the EndSARS protesters are the leading lights of that future which no force can extinguish.