“You bowing, you crying
You, dying like that one day without knowing why
You, struggling, you watching over another’s rest
You, looking no longer with laughter in your eyes
You my brother, your face full of fear and suffering
Stand up, and shout No!” – -David Diop
The recent protests against gross human rights violations, through the use of brutal force and extra-judicial killings of defenceless citizens by operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) across many states of the country underscores the anomaly of a political leadership that deploys force and fiat under a democratic dispensation. Indeed, the fact that the police with the constitutional mandate to protect the precious lives and property of the citizens has been turned against the freedom of association and peace of the citizenry is worrisome and reprehensible. It is a throw-back to the pre-colonial era of the oppressive mentality of using the then members of the police force to brow-beat, cow and run roughshod over the wishes of the people.
Without doubt, some our leaders need to be reminded that we are in the 21st Century Nigeria that requires civility, freedom of speech and association. While it is commendable that the Inspector General of the Police, Muhammed Adamu has ordered members of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery (FSARS) as well as other tactical squads to desist from the stop-and-search methods and mounting of few road blocks, what has become imperative is the overhauling of the current police structure. Sustainable training and mental re-orientation is required to get a police that is more humane and people-friendly.
On their part, the protesters are demanding for the total scrapping of SARS. You cannot blame them, with not a few young Nigerians having gone through harrowing experiences of being rudely stopped along the streets for one perceived malfeasance or the other. Such issues could be as ridiculous as wearing dreadlocks, torn jeans trousers, or carrying laptops! The insidious perception from some of the misinformed police is that they are all ‘yahoo-boys’! Some have been harassed, beaten black-and-blue, with huge sums of money extorted from them. Others not so lucky have been sent to their early graves. We cannot go on like this. Hence, the several protests.
In Lagos, it took Falz, aka ‘The Bad Guy’, a popular musician and actor, son of the renowned lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana (SAN) along with the singer, Runtown to lead the ‘’End SARS’’ protest against the gross human rights abuses, as perpetrated by FSARS. That was after the likes of Burna Boy and Naira Marley pulled out of similar planned protests against the recent hikes in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff, in addition to police brutality respectively. Not long ago it was alleged that both Don Jazzy, ace music producer and Tiwa Savage, Nigeria’s talented songstress were invited by the police for cautioning against deriding the government of the day! Now, Savage has come up to say that our youth should not wait for celebrities to be the arrow-heads of such demonstrations against bad governance, or clear acts of injustice. One’s instant response however, was a ‘’No!’’ The reasons are obvious. Or should be.
In fact, this situation has triggered some salient questions. All over the globe, celebrities are supposed to be role models to the millions of young people who listen to and dance to their hit songs, or watch their movies, aren’t they? Furthermore, they are supposed to be the voices of the long-suffering masses, who keep enduring one form of maltreatment or the other, from the powers that be, should they not? And when it comes to the Nigerian volatile social sphere celebrities also fall victims to bad governance don’t they? The answers should be obvious.
According to popular lawmaker, Shina Peller, Nigerian youths have demonstrated courage and resilience with the protests. They are doing so because of their love for the country. It is therefore, a clamour for the Inspector General of Police to do a better job. For Obi Ezekwesili, if she was the president she would ask the IGP to tender his letter of resignation should any of the protesters be killed. But Frank Mba, the Police PRO said that people are protesting for clout!
All these remind me of none other than the iconic, Afro-music superstar, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (of blessed memory). He was one musician who did not only identify with the travails of the common man, in words and songs but walked the talk in political re-engineering. Apart from his conscience-pricking and thought-provoking hit songs such as ‘Suffering and Smiling’, ‘Vagabonds in Power’ and ‘Sorrows, Tears and Blood’ (STB), he sacrificed his freedom many times by speaking truth to power.
It was disheartening therefore, when in 2017 undue pressure was mounted on one of Nigeria’s longest relevant musicians, 2Face Idibia by some people in government not to go ahead with his planned protest against the sorry state of leadership in Nigeria. This was much against his fundamental human rights. So, I ask myself-for how long would the youths, who are victims of self-serving, greedy, nepotistic and ethno-centric governance, keep quite in the midst of preventable poverty? For how long would they be denied ample space in the political spectrum by geriatric politicians? For how long, one cannot but ask?
According to Section 214(1) of the 199 Constitution, the role of the Nigerian Police includes the power to arrest offenders, with unimpeachable evidence; the power to prevent crime occurrence, and protection of lives and property of the citizens. Others include power for crime detection, to maintain law and order in the society, and to investigate matters pertaining to crime. Under Section 40, every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons.
Going beyond these provisions to erroneously assume that all rough-looking Nigerian youth is a criminal is debasing. To continue to intimidate and inflict psychological and physical injuries on the future Nigerians is antithetical to the tenets of democracy. Those in political positions that control the affairs of Nigerians should focus their attention on identifying and removing the root causes of youth restiveness, yahoo-yahoo syndrome, kidnapping for ransom, cultism, drug trafficking and addiction. If they were gainfully engaged would they be so malleable to sundry crimes?
Besides, it would do the nation better if politicians get to office and stop using the SARS mentality of might-is-right in forcing anti-people policies on the citizenry. Doing so would not allow the people to divulge vital information on internal insecurity to the police, thereby leading to increase in crimes and criminality. Prevention, as the wise ones say, is cheaper and better than cure.
- Baje writes from Lagos.