I am an experienced Social Media practitioner with a strong passion for connecting with customers of brands. As part of a team, I presently work on the social media account of a leading European auto company. On this job, I have brought my vast experiences in journalism, marketing, search engine optimisation and branding to play.
By Morak Babajide-Alabi
There is no doubt that the Nigerian Mohammadu Buhari government does not get the point of the demands the youths of Nigeria. The government is seeking available means to short change these demands. The Police Department is hard hearing and playing a smart game. The Inspector-General ‘disbanded’ the despicable Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in a hurry and changed the name to the Special Weapons and Tactical (SWAT). He calculated this would calm the frayed nerves of the youths.
It is a shame that while these protests are on, the Inspector-General is sitting pretty without feeling any heat for supervising a force that killed Nigerians indiscriminately. In better climes, the President or members of the National Assembly or the opposition parties would have necessitated his resignation. But not in Nigeria. Our democracy does not give room for resignation as appointments are political. The Inspector-General should go, as he has demonstrated he is incapable of carrying out any reform in the Police Force. But we all know the IG is going nowhere.
The youths are not buying this and have stayed put on the streets. They are not yielding to the threats and the half promises of the government. They are resolute in their demands, despite efforts to infiltrate their ranks, sow seeds of discord and cause mayhem. These are ploys to bring in security agents to quell the protests.
These protests had started with demands of reforms in the Nigeria Police, but as things are going now, it could snowball into a revolution. It could be Nigeria’s Arab Spring. The cry for a change is getting louder, and the youths are becoming more restless. From the north to the east and the south to the west, they have trooped out in large numbers. No group of Nigerians have been this united in demands for a better society.
There is a fire in the youths that Nigerians have not seen before. They are desperate to start the process of building a new country different from the one they grew up inside. They view the older generations as weak for decades of inactivity and tired of watching them play with their destinies. Truth be told the older generations have played ignorantly to injustices and oppression for too long. In the past two weeks, the momentum for a change has gathered at a frenetic pace.
The ongoing protest #ENDSARS is different from the protests of 2012. The youths are not politically motivated as witnessed in the 2012 protests, which were organised and led by politicians seeking to project themselves as champions of the masses. It did not take long for Nigerians to discover the top participants in the 2012 protests were self-serving politicians.
But the ongoing protests are not organised or led by individuals. Impressively, they are happening where ever youths show up. The demands are loud and clear – to end SARS. The operatives of the squad had carried on for so long as untouchables in the society. They had operated as a force without respect for the rule of law, human rights or the freedom of other citizens. They were the law, as they paraded the streets with so much impunity and disregard for everything.
The sight of the operatives evoked fear in the citizens. To avoid them is the beginning of wisdom. But evading them was impossible as they were everywhere in their uncommon dress sense, dirty trainers and looking threatening with their AK47s. You could not miss them. They were the enforcers empowered by the laws of the land. They had the right to stop, search, question, collect bribes, rape, maim and kill citizens. They were unquestionable as they caused havoc in the society they were supposed to protect.
To the SARS operatives, everyone is suspect. The youths were in their sights, as possession of mobile phones, laptops or an average dress gear were all triggers of abuses, arrests and extortion. They detested the use of any communication gadgets as possession is a signal of corrupt activities. The operatives seized and confiscated any equipment, at will. They went through emails and telephone records of citizens at random and without any search warrant.
All the youths are guilty of internet fraud as judged by the operatives of SARS. But if you chase a sheep to the wall, it would feel cornered and fight back. The youths now feel pushed to the extreme and could not take it anymore. Some had lost their confidence while many have been mentally harassed and feared stepping out of their houses. Some unfortunate youths had their lives cut short in the hands of these irresponsible operatives, leaving many families devastated.
While the killings, extortion and maimings were going on, the cries of the youths and parents of victims became louder, but the guys in command in the Police Force were silent. They ignored the calls of the citizens, but instead, pretended everything was okay in the force. The political leaders saw and heard nothing as the SARS operatives made uneconomic use of the taxpayers funded AK47s on innocent citizens. Despite the outcries of the citizenry and no condemnation from the government, SARS operatives carried on with no self-appraisal.
The Police force turned blind eyes to these atrocities. The IG ignored the 22 April 2002-inaugurated Anti-Corruption Squad (ACS), which has the power “to arrest, detain and prepare for prosecution any police officer found to have compromised the ethics in the profession for personal gain.” It was the initiative of a former inspector general of police convicted of corruption after his time in office. Under the existing Police leadership, the ACS is redundant, as bribery is now a perk of the job for police operatives.
The youths think they should be living in a country that puts in place all the pieces of machinery of protection for them. In their disillusionment, they consider the mismanagement, the inefficiency and corruption of the past and present governments. The youths are scanning all areas of society and demanding changes. They see these protests as an opportunity for them to ask for the long-expected ‘change’, as promised by politicians.
The youths are unselfish in their quest. Imagine campaigning for an end to SARS and also spotlighting the deplorable conditions of policemen and women. They are campaigning for a reform of the police force in general, to bring more accountability and an improvement in the lives of servicemen and women.
The SARS operatives do not live in isolation. These represent the reflections of the society they are. It is corrupt, wicked, evil and leaves everyone to his or her imagination for survival. The SARS operatives are not aliens. They are Nigerians who speak the same languages as other citizens with children, families in the communities. They have not fallen from the sky or come from other planets. They acquired their training in the Nigerian Police Academy and not from neighbouring countries.
These operatives see how the politicians share government funds among themselves and their families. They have no access to funds to steal, but possessed guns and could intimidate members of the public for money. They killed at ease without any question. But who questions the political leaders when they steal or send supporters to kill to win elections? No one.
These policemen live in terrible apartments, tagged barracks. While the governors, senators, house of representative members, and councillors take home millions of naira every month – house, wardrobe allowances, constituencies’ funds, etc. The policemen and women are barely off the minimum wage. They see the tax-funded guns as a means of getting ‘allowances’ to shore up their wages.
Where else on earth do you see police operatives dress as SARS members dressed? The Inspector-General cared less if policemen and women are subjects of ridicule. Who cares if they wear slippers to complement their uniforms? In the 70s and 80s, policemen and women had supplies of nice shoes, boots and uniform kits. I am sure some influential political leaders now get the contracts to supply the kits but never fulfil them. It is Nigeria.
While we are at ending SARS, can we also start thinking of how to end this inefficient government? Let us think of how to send them packing in the next general elections. The process of free and fair elections that will allow well-meaning Nigerians to rule must start now. Money and tribal politics must end, as they have stifled the progress of this country for too long. Until we do this, Nigeria will continue to move in circles, without any real progress.
Kudos to the youths for leading these protests. Please keep these as peaceful as you can and not give these corrupt leaders the excuse to direct security men to shoot. We must force them to commit to a complete overhaul of the Police Force and society.