By Muyiwa Adetiba
Ardent followers of what we – with a certain amount of fondness and exclusiveness – used to call cross-over jazz in our days, will recall the exploits of George Benson in that genre of music. (I smile even now as I remember the people and places that made my world rock during those golden years).
Of the many songs of George Benson – I think I know most of them – one is particularly relevant to the article today which is based on my attempt to recall and reconstruct the events before, during and after the unfortunate incidence of October 20 at the Lekki Toll Gate. The song is called 20/20. The refrain to the song is ‘hindsight is a 20/20 vision’.
The song is not about the year 2020. George Benson might have been futuristic in the quality of some of his songs but he was not known to be a prophet. 20/20 vision means a perfect vision. I don’t know if it is a medical term but it has long slipped into colloquial usage. The song is about the benefits of hindsight. And hindsight can indeed provide a 20/20 vision.
It is with this benefit of hindsight that I look at the events of the last two weeks of October. Events that cascaded into deaths and wanton destruction. The tension that had been mounting; the erosion of law and order that was gripping the nation, all came to a head on October 20.
What happened on that day at the Lekki tollgate is still befuddling. It is still something that hindsight has not given total clarity to. It is clear there were gunshots because I heard them and they went on for quite a while. Were the gunshots from only one source or were they from different groups? Was there an exchange of firepower at any point?
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It is also clear that the gunshots did not lead to the kind of massacre which subsequent video clips seemed to suggest. Seventy-five bodies as indicated at a point could not have disappeared without their voices crying out through their relatives and loved ones. But even one death that is avoidable, is condemnable.
Was the military at the scene? It is now clear, despite initial denials that it was. Was it invited by the Governor? It seems, despite denials again, that it was. This invitation, to some people who now enjoy the clarity of hindsight, was an error.
But consider the scenario for a minute. A young administrator is faced with an imminent breakdown of law and order. Police stations are being raided and burnt down in rapid succession and policemen are on the run. Fear is rising; apprehension is taking a foothold. He calls a curfew. The protesters threaten to defy it. The situation is deteriorating fast and he needs help, desperately. From whence would it come?
Surely not from the same police force that was the reason for the protest and which already bears the brunt in casualty and condemnation. Besides, calling on the military for help is not the same as asking it to kill. There are many ways to disperse protesters without killing them.
What happened at the tollgate on this infamous day? The mortuaries have not yielded much in terms of clarity. The private hospitals that treated the wounded have not yielded much. The two contending sides have not yielded much. The social media has not yielded much.
It actually did the opposite and left everyone more confused as to what really happened. The one thing that would have cleared the fog, or ‘smokescreen’, was the CCTV that was supposedly at the scene. To my dismay, and I am sure to the dismay of many people, it was claimed that the CCTV stopped working at 8pm on that fateful day. How convenient is that? There must be something about October that smokescreens the truth. October 19 was the day the late Dele Giwa was killed and we are yet to know who killed him.
But one thing we do know is that two sets of youths were at Lekki on that day. The peaceful protesters and the violent ones. The ones who belong to the digital age and the ones who never left the stone-age. The ones we educated but left to develop and fend for themselves and the ones we neither educated nor developed. The ones with skills and the ones bereft of skills.
The ones we need to use and the ones we’ve always used albeit for nefarious political operations. The uptown guys and the downtown guys. As disparate as these two groups are, they are Nigerian youths. Our youths. The two might be polar opposites, but they have one thing in common.
They want Nigeria to work for them. They want their leaders to work for them. One towed the path of peace because that is the realm it relates to. The other chose violence because that is what it understands. Yet both must be engaged. That is the hard lesson October is teaching us.
Although the protests were initially centred on the brutality of SARS and by extension police brutality, it soon became obvious that the protesters wanted more. The protests gradually coalesced into a rejection of the way Nigeria is being run. This was probably why the protesters didn’t go off the streets even after government had acceded to the initial five point demand.
This group will not be assuaged by palliatives (excuse the pun) – verbal or financial. They will not be sweet talked. So government has to reset itself if it wants a long lasting peace. The good news is that a reset in the way we run the country, if genuinely done, will actually lead to a better society. The other group needs a different kind of engagement which will be more physical than mental. More brawn than brain.
Chief Audu Ogbeh, a former Minister, gave a useful suggestion at the recent meeting of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) when he said the north should take advantage of its vast arable land to set up agricultural warehouses for its youths where different value-added inputs would be made.
This would not only give them a gainful employment, it would increase their skillsets. It’s a template that southern leaders can borrow from as well. Another template that Nigeria can borrow from other countries is the provision of sporting facilities. Apart from soaking up excess energy and time, sports can give meaning to an otherwise hopeless life. And you can never tell how many would hit stardom from there.
It is clear that we must reform the system. It must not be business as usual again. We were so close to losing it in October. We are not out of the woods yet. Let our leaders use the vision of hindsight to see that Nigeria needs to change its ways NOW.