By Chiedu Uche Okoye
Protest is part or feature of representative government, which originated in Greece many centuries ago. And, protest is a tool deployed by the masses to register their displeasure with the state of things in their country. People can get concessions from government by engaging in protests and civil disobedience. Lately, in America, when George Floyd, a black man was killed by a policeman, states in America erupted in massive protests.
Back home, in Nigeria, protest is not alien to us. Since the dawn of the Fourth Republic in 1999, Nigerians have had reasons to troop to the streets to protest against certain governmental policies like hike in petroleum pump prices, high electricity tariffs, removal of fuel subsidy, bad governance, clampdown on the press, and others. The culture of using protest to coerce government to reverse its unpopular policies had been entrenched in Nigeria a long time ago.
The human rights groups and leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, used to be the architects and masterminds of successful protests in Nigeria in the recent past. In the 1970s and 1980s, especially during the introduction of the economic policy called SAP, the indefatigable and progressive-minded Nigerian students used the instrument of protest to oppose the implementation of anti-people’s policies by government.
And, it should be noted that such revered human rights activists as Gani Fawehinmi, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Ogaga Ifowodo, Bamidele Aturu, Chima Ubani and others earned their well-deserved pips in activism by leading protests against unpopular governmental policies and the violations of the people’s fundamental human rights.
Now, it has been discovered that our today’s labour leaders, who pretend to be implacably opposed to the execution of anti-people’s policies, are wheeler-dealers. They are two-faced unionists, who possess no scruples. The political position and activities of Adams Oshiomole seem to lend credence to the belief in some quarters that he was a government agent when he was the NLC President. And, sadly, the deaths of Gani Fawehinmi, Chima Ubani, Beko Ransome-Kuti and Bamidele Aturu depleted the ranks and tribe of genuine and forthright human rights activists in Nigeria.
Until the last protest happened in Nigeria, not a few Nigerians doubted the potency and efficacy of protest as a tool to effect positive change in Nigeria. The magnitude as well as the impact of the October 2020 #EndSARS protest gobsmacked millions of Nigerians and non-Nigerians. The spontaneity and relative success of the protests lent credence to the belief that organised protests in Nigeria would not achieve the goals they are intended for.
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During the nation-wide protests, Nigerian youths led by iconic musicians and thespians trooped to the streets to protest against police brutality and other governmental misdeeds. They carried placards, which bore inscriptions denouncing police brutality. Sadly, hoodlums infiltrated the protest groups and hijacked it. So, from the marshy creeks of Calabar to the promontory of coal in Enugu, and from the rocky terrain of Kogi to the verdure of Benue state, Nigerian cities quaked with the #EndSARS protest.
Policemen’s inhuman treatment of Nigerian citizens and their perpetration of extra-judicial killings sparked off the protests, which later turned violent and bloody owing to the Lekki Toll Gate shootings of unarmed protesters. It is a well-known fact that Nigerian police officers do kill ordinary and innocent citizens of Nigeria for unjust reasons.
The brutal and unprovoked killing of the Apo-six is still fresh in our minds. It was a member of the Nigeria Police Force who killed Dele Udo, a renowned sprinter, in the early 1980s when he returned to Nigeria from his base in the USA. Since then, a great number of Nigerians have been killed extra-judicially by police officers. And, it is characteristic of them to blame these extra-judicial murders of people on accidental discharge.
In addition to their perpetration of homicidal deeds, they do extort money from commercial bus drivers and subject people accused of perpetrating crimes to torture so as to extract information and confessional statements from them. The defunct SARS unit that is charged with combating armed robbery and kidnapping of people had gained notoriety for its gross violations of our human rights and perpetration of extra-judicial killings.
So, the scrapping of SARS unit of our Police Force is justified and long overdue against the background of the litany of misdeeds it had committed. But, beyond the dissolution of SARS, the entire Nigeria Police Force needs urgent and holistic overhauling and reformation. First, the people intending to join the Nigeria Police Force should be made to fulfill stringent requirements so as to ensure that only physically fit and mentally stable people are recruited into the police force.
In addition to that, the welfare of policemen should be considerably improved. A well-paid policeman will resist the temptation to compromise on the police force’s work ethics and his conscience for pecuniary rewards while performing his duties.
More so, Nigeria, as a federation, should decentralise its police force and include it in the concurrent list. Now, the calls for the establishment of state police in Nigeria have become vociferous and strident. And, Nigeria is too large to be centrally-policed.
The cultural peculiarities and uniqueness of each state in Nigeria is the chief reason for us to have state police. Only a police officer from a cultural- cum-ethnic group can understand the psychology and behavioural traits of people from that ethnic group. His knowledge of his people’s way of life will aid him to perform his duties at his optimal best.
We are hopeful that the Federal Government will embark on a holistic reform of the Nigeria Police Force as well as the establishment of state police rather that embarking on tokenistic cosmetic reforms in the Force to douse the rising tension in the polity. The blood of young Nigerians spilled during the October mass revolt should not be in vain.
More so, the youths’ October 2020 uproar is symptomatic of their angst against the Nigerian ruling political elites. They had vented their anger via the protests. Nigerian youths are angry at our country’s status quo ante.
Nigeria is not totally out of the cauldron of violence. It can still explode into violence if our political leaders choose to continue in their evil ways.
•Okoye, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Uruowulu-Obosi,Anambra State.
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