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Published On: Tue, Oct 20th, 2020

SARS protest: The good, the ugly

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Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO | 08033077519

Rather than abating the #EndSARS protests seem to be growing wings as it enters Day 12 with accompanying twists and turns. It is as though there is some competition among the youths in especially southern states as they jostle to organize such protests and have their towns and themselves ‘registered’ in social media which is giving ample space to these protests with generous splashing of photographs therefrom. It is and has been the trending story there from day one. Conservative media followed later by making it their headline story because of ancillary stories connected to it, that is, fall outs from the protests. And that (social media) is what has kept the fire burning in the youths, together with the fact that popular entertainment figures a.k.a. celebrities are in the forefront of these protests. Consider that some of these artistes have about a million followers so that a single tweet by any one of them goes far and wide, read by millions of their adoring fans that regard them as their idols and wish to emulate them. Then you have an inkling of how powerful their voices are in this digital age. Hence, their being called, ‘social media influencers’. Consider also that despite the mouth watering gifts showered on winner of the 2020 Big brother show, Multichoice, organizers of the show still raked in handsome profit from it with corporate bodies paying through their noses to have their advertisements aired during the show. Why? Because millions of Nigerian youths were addicted to it just, to see their favourite ‘stars’. Big brother Nigeria show was driven mainly by social media which upped its media ratings.
And the #EndSARS protests spread its tentacles abroad to the Diaspora, thanks to the social media. Nigerians are found in virtually all parts of the world. One can bet that if the moon were habitable for humans, Nigerians would be among its residents. Some Nigerian footballers plying their trade overseas further amplified the protest in the international arena by displaying #EndSARS shirts when they scored or giving the raised fist solidarity of the protest when celebrating with their team mates. Imagine the millions of people worldwide that watch such popular sport live that would therefore have seen such displays. So therefore, with #EndSARS trending worldwide and the amplification given it by our international footballers, it was impossible for the international media to ignore the story. They caught the bug too, so to speak. Western countries and others make their judgments of governments through media reports, including social media. Thus given the bad publicity that the trending #EndSARS protest with gory tales of police brutality is giving the Nigerian government worldwide it is not surprising that our government acted rather fast in scrapping the special anti-robbery squad (SARS), promising to reform the police for better.
Although many of the protesters do not believe government, alluding to similar talk of disbanding SARS that went unfulfilled, I think the scrapping is for real this time around because the international media and western governments are watching. If anything I believe there shall be some significant changes, to curb human rights abuses by police personnel to some degree at least, as no government wants to be cast in bad light in the comity of nations.
In the beginnings the protests were held at designated open spaces in Lagos and Abuja. But it soon spread to other towns and states as the days went by and soon, they started extending the protests to other places in same towns, started increasing in numbers, started blocking roads, locking up office gates as happened at the Lagos secretariat, etc. And then hoodlums began to attack them. It was alleged that the thugs were sponsored by transport union leaders but the leaders denied this. However, it was said that the intra city commercial bus transporters were angered that they were losing money due to road blockages, traffic snarls from the protests and so decided to confront the protesters by chasing them away. Chasing them away with cudgels, cutlasses and other dangerous weapons? They could have dialogued with the protesters to address their concerns about their businesses. Nonetheless, by blocking highways and other roads, the protesters are denying their fellow human beings their own right to freedom of movement, to go to their places of work and businesses, to eke out a living for themselves. Nobody should be coerced directly or indirectly to join in a protest march. It should be a personal, voluntary decision. In Edo state, they allegedly clashed with cultists who burnt down some police stations, looted the armoury, set inmates free, forcing the state government to impose a curfew. In Lagos thugs attacked policemen and police stations. Also in Lagos, the #EndSARS protesters invaded the airport, hampering movement. Apparently because of the locking of the Lagos state secretariat gates Alausa by alleged protesters, the swearing-in of the judicial panel of enquiry into human rights abuses by the police had to be done at the Marina State House rather than the governor’s office at the secretariat, Alausa. And now the ‘indigenous people of Abuja’ has given the #EndSARS protesters an ultimatum to vacate the roads lest they clash with them. These are ugly scenes.
What is more, the protesters have expanded their campaign to not just ending police brutality but also ending “bad governance”. This is outside their remit. The way to end bad governance is not on the streets, carrying placards and shouting slogans but at the polls. You vote out a bad government through the ballot box with your voters cards. So, those who want a ‘better government’ should so arm themselves, mobilize to vote or be voted for in 2023. That is the way to go.

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