By Dele Sobowale
“It is unthinkable that wisdom should ever be popular” – Goethe, 1749-1832, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, 275.
As usual, I find myself writing a proposal to the leaders of our country – with a dire prediction attached. Invariably, the advice is ignored and I get to write another article saying “I told you so.” Despite all the horrors which accompanied the #ENDSARS protests, they have opened our collective eyes to atrocities just as horrible committed by men (should we not call them beasts?) wearing our country’s uniform. Each of us should bear in mind that officers in various embassies read and mark several news reports published by our newspapers. These they send back to their countries saying “This is Nigeria.” Few of us passably decent and honest Nigerians would want to be associated with the F-SARS of Awka – given what has so far been revealed about their incredibly criminal activities. We might even wonder whether some psychopaths who escaped from mental institutions have not found their way into the Nigeria Police. How else do you explain officers accused of selling human parts taken from victims summarily executed? And all these known to superior officers?
Juvenal, 60-140 AD, Roman satirist, was dead serious when he asked: “But who is to guard the guards themselves?”
SARS was created by decree in 1992 to operate like undercover police organisations in every political jurisdiction. The decision to create SARS was the right one. And the truth is when we, with a great deal of justification, end the present SARS, we will replace the unit with another unit in principle like it but without the impunity granted to SARS 1992-2020. By this, SARS had transformed itself into a terrorist group.
After allowing legalized armed terrorists to operate for years with impunity under the pseudonym of SARS, the recent spontaneous popular uprising by youths had revealed the enormity of the damage that the police unit had done to Nigeria and to the force. The original peaceful demonstrators are off the streets – at least for now. So are the police. The kids have, for now, retreated because they don’t want to continue to be held responsible for the hoodlums – whose motives were/are not so noble. But, it will amount to a blunder of titanic proportions if the federal and state authorities assume that we can return to business as usual. They must act now and decisively. Otherwise Nigeria is only experiencing a temporary truce before another and bigger battle.
The police, SARS or other ranks, are also mostly off the streets because, like most bullies, the vast majority of them are cowards. They, especially SARS officers, terrorize isolated unarmed and often innocent civilians, dehumanize them and extort them. Incidentally, no Commissioner of Police, now in service or before, can ever deny knowledge of the atrocities perpetrated under him/her. They chose to turn blind eyes and deaf ears because they benefited from the atrocities. Like their forefathers who profited from Slave Trade, none of them wanted it stopped. The current crop of Commissioners of Police – including COP-SARS – is not more wicked than their predecessors. They are just unfortunate that the inevitable revolt of the oppressed Nigerians happened in 2020 and they have been left holding the bags of infamy. None is innocent; and none needs to be proved beyond reproach for us to move forward. Right now we are stuck. For the first time in Nigerian history, the police are afraid of the people. The table has been turned. I only hope that a lesson has been learnt by our men in uniform. But I doubt very much. Nigerians never learn from history.
WE HAVE A CRISIS ON OUR HANDS
“In times of crisis; facts first” – CNN Advert, 2020.
“There is a time in the affairs of governments when deadlock becomes total and ordinary human agencies are impotent to deal with the situation” – Harold Wilson, 1916-1995, British Prime Minister.
The longest serving, pipe-smoking Prime Minister of Britain faced several turbulent periods which tested the UK to its limits. It was during one of those periods in the 1970s, when an economy running out of control, as well as domestic and international issues that the British leader was compelled to utter those words. Nigerian leaders and their Advisers, whether formally appointed or not, should pay attention. Our survival as a nation might depend on it.
#ENDSARS has opened a new chapter in Nigerian history and has partly exposed our thinly-covered acclaimed unity. Unknown to our leaders, their reactions, in the aftermath of the #ENDSARS protests, have taken a North versus South outlook. That is potentially dangerous. History has demonstrated that the catalyst for the disintegration of a weak federation is often one minor issue, on which the parties take firm and irreconcilable positions. We are in that dangerous situation now.
The recent meeting of Northern leaders which ended opposing protests in the North – including Abuja – overlooks the fact that Abuja is Federal Territory which happens to be in the North. It belongs to all Nigerians – North and South. We all paid the compensation to land owners. So, no meeting of any section of Nigeria can summarily dismiss the right of all Nigerians to protest in Abuja.
The pronouncement by Northern leaders had been rebuffed by Southern leaders in language not expected to win friends and influence other people. The Northern and Southern leaders talk as if they have drawn a line across Nigeria – dividing it into two. This is a grievous mistake for which Nigerians will pay dearly – unless we have other leaders who will speak as Nigerians. Let me take us back into our history a bit.
“Let us not seek the Republican or Democratic answer, but, the right answer” – US President John F Kennedy, 1917-1963.
The late President John F Kennedy gave me and several hundred Nigerian students scholarships to study in America. We will all remain eternally grateful for it. Going there, studying, working and living has exposed me to various aspects of life which no Nigerian university can. The course structures are just different. Although ultimately destined to graduate in Economics, I tucked in a few courses in Government, History and Philosophy. I am familiar with nations which find themselves at cross roads similar to ours at the moment. On such occasions, the safest thing for those lacking in hindsight and foresight is to strive to please their own clan – Northerners, Southerners etc. Many of the nations of the world which broke apart passed through that familiar road. My hope is for Nigeria not to experience the horrors which continue to plague those nations. Permit me to present a Nigerian who, at a critical point in our history, along with others, reached out – not for the Southern answer, but, the national answer.
I recollect my meeting with the late Dr Tai Solarin from Ikene, Ogun State, who was one of the people led by Dr Akinola Aguda, who recommended Abuja as the new Federal Capital to replace Lagos. This was years after his participation in that decision. Dr Solarin was moved to tears by the fact that people, especially Yoruba, still met him on the street and rain maledictions on him for “betraying Yoruba people.” As an economist with loads of demographics thrown in, despite being a Lagosian, I was in total agreement with the Akinola Aguda Committee. The Federal Capital had to leave Lagos – otherwise the entire nation would have died long ago. I was under no illusion that a lot of wealth would go North as well. But, Lagos would also grow gradually and organically. We will not miss the title of Federal Capital. Nothing that has happened, until recently, has given me doubt that Abuja is the right choice. It is not Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba territory. It is carved out of several minority ethnic groups’ territories. None of the smaller ethnic groups out of whose ancestral lands can hold the rest of us to ransom.
It is in the spirit of seeking the right answer which will help us to keep Nigeria one that I write. Any other alternative will be more disastrous for us. Again, let me explain.
SARS officers, as well as some regular police officers, have committed grievous crimes against fellow Nigerians.
There is no reason any of us should take the attitude that nothing serious happened because it was not our relative who was thrown from three floors and his property seized without being charged with any crime. We should all be ashamed that we have such wild animals in uniform and supervised by other beasts called Commissioners. Must we wait until a member of our family is involved before we demand for justice to be done?
That is why I believe the leaders – President, Vice President, Governors, Traditional Rulers – North and South should at least agree on one thing. All the officers whose cases have been investigated and especially those whose human rights violations had resulted in litigation should be isolated and processed for prosecution. Even those who are now in retirement should be recalled to face charges for their alleged atrocities while in service. This is unlike the jungle justice which they meted out to others. And, the Justices should be admonished by the President and Governors not to permit any officer to delay the cases unnecessarily. Finally, and this is vital, any officer whose activities had resulted in the loss of lives or disappearance of Nigerians should receive the maximum penalty for the crimes committed. Superior officers who might be reasonably construed to have been accomplices during and after the fact should also face severe sanctions – especially those still in service.
We have to start somewhere to relieve tension nationwide. Let us begin by providing justice to those – alive or dead – who need it. SARS officers have premeditatedly and criminally killed thousands of our fellow Nigerians. As many of them as possible found guilty should receive appropriate punishment. That is the way forward.
RESTRUCTURING: NIGERIA’S TOWER OF BABEL – 2
“If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends, you talk to your enemies” – Gen. Moshe Dayan, 1915-1981, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 183.
Moshe Dayan was the Israeli Minister of Defence and hero of the 1967 six days war when the Arab countries were humiliated. Later in life he became an apostle for peace after seeing that several victories over the Arabs had failed to bring peace to Israel. Nigerian leaders would be best advised to listen to his observation. When the topic is RESTRUCTURING, most of them feel that the only people worthy of discussion are those who totally agree with them. That is a recipe for disaster for Nigeria. To be peacefully achieved, restructuring must be negotiated not imposed by any set of people irrespective of their assumed self-righteousness. Right now, proponents of various views are only eager to talk and not to listen. That is not in our collective interest.
Part one of this series appeared last week. Ordinarily, the second part should follow. However, I am still trying to establish firm contact with the Northern leaders in order to be able to summarize and present their points of view.
To be continued…