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ENDSARS: A protest in search of leadership: By Jide Aluka

ENDSARS: A PROTEST IN SEARCH OF LEADERSHIP
By Jide Aluka

As nation wide protests against police brutality raged on, the absence of leadership proved to be about the most unfortunate fate of our nation state. It is not a new fact that the problem with Nigeria is the problem of political leadership. However, very few people would have expected this level of indifference and obscurity in the face of unparalleled crises.

Nigeria has experienced what would in the years to come be remarked as a generational shift in the history of the country. Not surprisingly, what started as agitation against police brutality and a call for police reforms evolved into dissent over bad governance. From Lagos State and Abuja, peaceful demonstrations spread to cities all across Nigeria, remaining largely peaceful for two weeks.

It has been suggested that the protesters do not have a leadership. This the Lagos State governor wondered if it was an apparent strategy by the protesters. Deliberate or not, the supposed lack of leadership has somehow contributed to the speedy spread of the protests. This also has made it difficult for authorities, and indeed the leadership class, to engage protesters and perhaps achieve early control over the protests. Reality nonetheless is that the EndSARS movement was not truly rudderless. From the early protest in Ughelli Delta State until entertainers in Lagos joined their voices, the trend was obvious. There was a voice from the start. Someone actually coined the phrase EndSARS and it continued to be promoted. The protest has a leadership. What some protesters refused to acknowledge was endorsement of a representative or set of representatives to stand in on their behalf. This should have been welcome by those who may think the protest was about depriving them of their areas of influence and should have motivated them to speedily attend to the simple demands of the EndSARS protesters. Barely days after the first protest in Lagos and subsequent calls for nationwide protests, the five over five (5/5) slogan emerged. For two weeks, funds were raised and diligently deployed to execute the protest. Legal services were being provided even as refreshment and other forms of organisation could be identified amidst the protest. The limits of this leadership however rested on the extremes of the decay of our system – especially the deep distrust and the lack of value for life. It is commendable that a few music artistes including Folarin Falana were at the forefront of the movement and was seen on national television counting out articulated demands that, if quickly addressed, could have turned the page on the protest against police brutality in Nigeria.

There was leadership. There were identified demands. And there was mediation. What was missing all through the gestation was candid engagement from the state, particularly at the federal level. Unfortunately, reactions from media handlers of the federal government considered it child’s play and what most youths took away from the reported chuckle of the president when he was met by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu was, rightly or wrongly, mockery.

If there has been patient leadership and very specific address from President Muhammadu Buhari on the demands of protesters, this would have given extra potency to the efforts of the Inspector General of Police and the Governor of Lagos State, both of whom showed a level of understanding to the grievances of protesters.

This did not happen. Instead what happened was that videos emanated from the Federal Capital Territory showing individuals in typical official vehicles organising and conveying hoodlums with logs and other potentially dangerous weapons. About the same time, demonstrations turned violent across different cities, fueling speculations of complicity on the part of the government. Not a few individuals envisaged the adoption of a destructive strategy to quell the protest. References were made to other revolts in the past like the Ali Must Go protest of 1978 and how it ended. Yet it would be naive not to differentiate the EndSARS movement from whatever that has happened in Nigeria in the past. And so, apparently to legitimise a crackdown by a leadership who knew that there was no moral ground to unleash the security agents against peaceful protesters, interested actors pervert the movement by encouraging thugs to disrupt the peaceful demonstrations. Sadly, this worked and, with poverty and ignorance as ever present enablers, hoodlums turned their violence first against fellow youths and then against the commonwealth of the state and society.

In Lagos, strong evidence suggests agents of the Nigeria military shot into the crowd of protesters who were at the Lekki toll gate in the evening of Tuesday, 20 October, 2020, causing global outcry. Reports in Arise TV states that the army deny any engagement with protesters. This has not quelled the outcry nor does it answer vivid questions regarding the presence of military men at the Lekki toll gate; the gun shots and the reported fatalities. As the reactions continue, questions are being asked as to who gave the orders for the deployment of the military – a question that can not be better answered by any other position than the highest levels of leadership in this country. Now that the event at the Lekki toll gate has further ignited total breakdown of order, leading to arson, murder and unparalleled tension among Nigerians all over the world, there is greater need for leadership to save the country from further mayhem.
People are rightly dismayed that there is yet to be a broadcast and live interaction with Nigerians from the president. It is difficult to understand why Nigerians are begging to be addressed by their president. The senate have more than in one occasion in the course of this protest called on the president to address the nation. This call has also come from the lower chamber and other eminent citizens including former president Olusegun Obasanjo. The lack of engagement by the presidency is lending to conspiracy theories and worst still leading to a sense of betrayal by a government who was given a mandate by the people in a democratic process.

At this moment, on both sides, individuals must begin to own up leadership. A people cannot be without leadership. Things are getting out of hand and the focus of EndSARS is in danger of being lost. It is very clear that most Nigerians yearn for the change EndSARS stands for – paradoxically including members of our security agencies. It is not enough to rebel against an existing system, maturity entails that, resting on our evidently evolving democracy, alternative leadership be structured right away that will deliver on the identified needs and best aspirations for a thriving nation.

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