By Festus Adedayo
As leaders of the youth miscreants who invaded the palace of Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, triumphantly made away with the monarch’s insignia of office last Wednesday, writ large in my subconscious was same image in celebrated cinematographer, Tunde Kelani’s epic, Saworoide. Though Saworoide’s plot and the unmitigated arson, murder and lootings in Lagos the day after that black Tuesday may be dissimilar, they are united by a single motif: no matter how long it takes, the oppressed will someday find their grits.
Saworoide is Kelani’s eloquent metaphor of the festering governance crisis in Nigeria, a vote of no confidence on contemporary model of leadership and a ramp-up of the abysmal failure of state. It is the outcome of a breakdown of the pact between citizens and their rulers. Through the symbolism of a brass bell ritual, tantamount to modern day constitution, succeeding kings in the ancient town of Jogbo are bound to their people. However, despotism, mis-governance, illegal ascension to power, inordinate ambition, the criminality of the ruling elite, upheavals in the system and illegitimacy become an oxymoron on a Jogbo people who were forced to react to a cruel strain of bad leadership. In Saworoide, there is a connect between alale ile – the ancestors and their offspring. Itis Kelani’s own way of deploying figurative arts to express society’s abhorrence of bad leadership, expressed through revolt.
By the way, the Lekki protest was a success in all regards. Like Saworoide, the protest, in a unique and manifest way, succeeded in showcasing the possibility of an emergence of a fresher Nigeria from the current ashes of hopelessness. It tells us of the possibility of emancipation of society from its current decadence, misrule, oppression, exploitation and widespread poverty. In few days, those youths displayed higher intelligence than us. In demonstrable capacity for mass mobilization, deft organization and strategies for mass action, they sent messages to us.
Without identifiable leadership, the success of the protest taught us the danger inherent in hyped leadership, especially ones anchored on leadership with strong personality. They thereby drew our attention to the need for strong institutions, as against strong leadership. More fundamentally, those youths mirror Nigerians’ (except beneficiaries of the leadership rot) craving for revolt but which our existential contradictions impede. The Yoruba, in their wisdom, justify such acts by saying omode la fi ns’ogun igboya – elders use youths to test the waters of bravado.
Regrettably, the protest fell into the hands of hooligans who burnt, looted and destroyed public institutions. The social media thereafter witnessed a gush of emergency rationalists who claim that there was no massacre on that Tuesday. They went ahead to criminalize the protest and introduce ethnic colourations into it. Some even alleged that it was youthful exuberance at its apogee. The truth is, the Lekki protest was predicated on the breakdown of leadership of Nigeria and its attendant hardship. The options those boys and girls had were whether to continue to religionize their sufferings as we, their parents, have done for ages or demand a discontinuance. They chose the latter.
The emergency rationalists are like a swarm of locusts on social media now, spinning their abstruse logics and bringing, as usual, the divide of PDP and APC into their arguments. They claim that the protest failed because the massacre claim could not be matched by hundreds of dead bodies and blood-soaked asphalt. The question to ask is, must there be mass murder for Lekki to qualify as massacre? Even if only one person died as a result of misbegotten shots from those vampire soldiers or soldiers, there was a massacre! Were the injured of gun wounds, scattered round infirmaries in Lagos, even confirmed and visited by Lagos State governor, Jide Sanwo-Olu, shot by the soldiers or soldiers so that those shot could live or die? Highly respected Amnesty International, which said it conducted on-the-ground investigation, aftermath the Lekki imbroglio and found out that the Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 peaceful protesters in two suburbs of Lagos, Alausa and Lekki, must be hallucinating as well?
Is it more convenient to believe Buhari and his hirelings on the social media than the youths on ground in Lekki who claimed that the soldiers killed some youths and went away with their bodies? Is it easier to believe government’s emergency attempts to cover its tracks or the emerging photographs and names appearing on the social media who allegedly partook of the protest but whose whereabouts are not known till now? Or to disbelieve Counselor of the US State Department, T. Ulrich Brechbihl who, in company of others, met VP Yemi Osinbajo on Friday and “expressed US condemnation of the use of excessive force by military forces that fired on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos”?
The motive of whoever deployed those messengers of death was satisfied by their deployment in the first instance. It is confirmed by the resultant ta-ta-ta-ta sounds, audible to all ears, from the ricochet of the guns that followed. The massacre is the spent cartridges on display after the messengers of death had finished their gun battles. These shots could have killed hundreds of those protesters, as they killed defenceless South African protesters during the Soweto massacre. How many sane countries of the world and run by sane leaders, are gun-toting soldiers unleashed on peaceful youth protesters as Muhammadu Buhari did?
Methinks the appropriate question to ask is: whose emissaries were those soldiers whose deployment has become shrouded in secrecy? Were they really unknown? If they were unknown, was their message unknown too? If their message looks unknown, isn’t it known from the temperament of their rifles, the impatience of their hands to massacre as they cocked the guns with such manic desperation?
Alas, the soldiers’ message is known! It was to stop the embarrassment that those youths constituted to Buhari, Bola Tinubu and the ruling political elite. The protesters were so audacious. They even put a call to the Lord of the Manor, turned him into jelly and asked him very embarrassing questions that no one had the temerity to pose to him over the years. I reconstruct the interface in my own words: Sir, we heard that you have fled? Something like that. Sir, you sent soldiers because you couldn’t continue to collect money from your Lekki Toll gate… What impudence!
It is a crying shame that the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai could claim ignorance of the presence of soldiers or soldiers at the Lekki Toll gate that black Tuesday. It is even more calamitous that insinuations are flying in the sky that those killers were probably local marksmen dressed in army uniforms. Remember that the Chief Security Officer of Lagos State, Governor Sanwo-Olu, confirmed the presence of soldiers or soldiers that night but attributed their deployment to higher authorities. Thus, it is absolute balderdash to claim that there were no soldiers or soldiers there.
Reason for deployment of emergency rationalists is obvious. Their sponsors had been badly tar-brushed and suffered massive credibility damage as a result of the unfortunate fiasco. How can anyone imagine that a political class which had held power for 21 years in Lagos, which we were made to believe lasted that long because they were beloved of the people, now had their properties that maniacally torched, with some escaping like frightened hares from rampaging thugs they recruited over the years?
Aware of the weaponry of ethnicity, these emergency social media recruits have done pretty well in ethnicizing the revolt and criminalizing the youths’ act of patriotism. They however failed woefully in excusing the Nigerian state from being held accountable for the escalation of that peaceful revolt. Indeed, the fact that the well-organized protest was hijacked by criminal elements is a pointer to the failure of government. In saner climes, security personnel are made to form a ring round protesters so that the protests are not hijacked by criminals. Not so for the Nigerian government. They hid in their shell, shell-shocked by the superior argument of the youths that they could not continue to dress gangrenous social wounds with beautiful plasters.
Really, the destruction meted on public property by the criminal elements defies logic. Those properties would still be replaced and contracts for their replacement would be awarded to the selfsame political leeches whose criminal dalliance with Nigerian rulers resulted in the problems of state we are currently facing. The thugs who visited that unmitigated destruction on public property were certainly of rainbow colour – Ibo, Yoruba and probably sprinkle Hausa. They were ostensibly thugs nurtured over the years by prebends from the Lagos political class. These were selfsame thugs, the same messengers of death and vote-rigging leeches, nurtured by Lagos politicians in the last 21 years. The thugs merely capitalized on the protest to take their pound of flesh on their masters. Festus Adedayo is a Public Policy Analyst.
Festus Adedayo is a Public Policy Analyst.