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Oyinkan Medubi

Naturally, government is only (after) that things should return to normal… The question is, what is the normal to return to? Is it the normal where people continue to be traumatised by agents of government for money the people don’t have in this orgy of cannibalism?

LIKE many Nigerians, the #EndSARS campaign caught me by surprise. Here I was, still thinking of how to make my bowl of garri stretch two more days, only to hear that some people had taken to the streets in a peaceful protest against police brutality and they called it #EndSARS. Good, I thought, that sounds like something that can go with my garri to make it stretch further than two days; you know, like kuli-kuli. But no such luck; it was the trending tag of the peaceful street protest. Unfortunately, I could not get any of them to ask if they were sure it wasn’t something edible like kuli-kuli.

Even as the people have taken to the streets in this protest against what has been tagged police brutality, I hear the people have been shot at by the same police. In other words, the police are not sorry for the grief they have caused the citizens. And have they caused grief! Since these protests started, so many stories have been coming out on people’s various experiences, all of which point to one thing: the SARS (the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of Nigeria Police) people see the entire citizenry, especially the ones who are sans fame, sans a notable politician or sans money behind them, as one giant group of thieves.

Let’s face it. Nigerians have many grievances against the police. One of the daily prayers in many homes now is this: ‘Save us this day from police trouble!’ I hope you said a loud ‘Amen’. Only true-born Nigerians can truly appreciate that prayer. To many of us, that prayer is more important than ‘Give us this day our daily bread…’ To see police trouble in Nigeria is to see hell, someone said, because no matter how just one’s cause is at the beginning of the trouble, one could end up losing anything, including life and limb, at the end of it. If your car is stolen in Nigeria, you’re in trouble; if someone steals near you, you’re in trouble; if you hit someone on the road, you’re in trouble.

With SARS, it is worse: you don’t stand a prayer. You don’t even need a cause to be in police trouble; if you walk carelessly, you will be given a cause! I am talking from experience. I think I have related this experience before but I’ll relate it again. An anti-robbery squad in my town responded to a call that there were robbers in our neighbourhood on a Sunday while we were in church. Unfortunately, some of the neighbourhood youth had done some jungle justice on the robbers before the police came. When they came, everyone in sight, including a relative just coming back from church, became a suspect and all were arrested. It took the intervention of a ‘powerful’ soldier relative to get him released.

However, I have many more grievances. I have a running battle with the government for not protecting my interests enough in all things. This is why I’m now getting a hefty, fifteen-thousand Naira monthly electricity bill; only, it’s without the electricity! Yours is good, said someone; ‘I’m getting a bill of fifty-something thousand Naira monthly for getting no electricity in my flat!’ That’s one. Now, my housekeeping allowance can hardly keep my house and the relevant authorities have decided to be deaf to my entreaties. So, you see, I want to do my own #EndSARS&IBDEC&INSUFFICIENTALLOWEE.

Seriously, I believe few saw this protest coming, yet, there were ample warnings that the authorities should have taken seriously but didn’t. There were too many reports of people being traumatised by SARS to ignore. In many lands where such special squads operate, they are only called out when needed. They do not prowl the streets to tear the people apart. Only regular police do that. So, why this anomaly here to taunt the people? For instance, it is no secret that people are angry, having just come out of the COVID-19 lockdown penniless, broke and hungry.

To add insult, the government chose such an inauspicious time as this to solve its own problems at the expense of the people by increasing some tariffs. Now, that is the referee hitting the people below the belt! Naturally, the people have turned from being pushed to the wall and are fighting back. And the government’s response is not encouraging.

First, the police shot at the protesters and locked up some. What is that if not foolhardy?! Then, the government announced that it has now disbanded the SARS teams and replaced them with SWAT teams. I say, what is that if not Esau’s clothing on Jacob?! As we usually say, they are still brothers. Now, the government is using the blame and break tactic on the protesters even though, as we hear, some governors are leading them.

Naturally, government is only looking at one side of the story: that things should return to normal because they hate that economic activities have been disrupted. The question is, what is the normal to return to? Is it the normal where people continue to be traumatised by agents of government for money the people don’t have in this orgy of cannibalism? Is it a system-less system where everyone is looking after himself by providing their own electricity, water, road, transportation, healthcare, and social work while the government does little? Is it the normal where insecurity rules the streets through kidnappers, armed robbers, bandits, killer herdsmen, etc., all across the country? What normal is there to return to for the people?

Dear government, things are bad with the people. All that the people are asking for is a modicum of peace in their own land where they are secure to pursue all legally possible means of livelihood to help build themselves and the nation, instead of being confronted by death riding the streets. What they are asking for is good governance, which is not much really, all things considered.

Let me tell you what good governance is. Apart from providing the basic infrastructural support that we have listed above like electricity, etc., the state must show all the citizens that it cares for them, not just rules over them like conquered subjects. Let me tell you what caring means. It is when the average someone, no matter his profession, goes to the hospital and he is diagnosed with diabetes, for instance. He is then given the necessary drugs and every other support material needed at a state-subsidised rate which will not be injurious to the patient. If he has no family, he is then, depending on his age, given a social worker to follow his progress and make sure he respects his clinic days. In short, the state supports him so that he can actually live.

As it is now, I am not feeling any love from my country. For one thing, all the money that should have given us the citizens the basic things are being spent on the few politicians who rule over the land. Where then does that leave the people? On the streets, protesting.

People get tired when they try and find they cannot feed well. Then they throw it all up because they have nothing else to lose. The government needs to take a hard look at the issues on ground and take some hard decisions. Pleasing a few at the expense of the larger majority has been the modus operandi in this country since independence and that is what has got us precisely to where we are today. Is it not time to depart from that route and take a more reasonable route that might just take us to, say, Pleasantville? The choice is ours.

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