The viral break-ins and looting of various Covid-19 storehouse across the country is throwing up many questions than answers: Were the looters angry or hungry, or both;? Is it an orchestrated plot by operatives of government to hide their shady supply deals? How come after the first incident, it suddenly went viral? Many question, but for one public commentator and President & CEO of The Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, The Revd Gideon Para-Mallam, he wonders why state governments were hoarding needed foodstuff while Nigerians remained hungry.
His words: “The nationwide Saturday 24th October Break-ins in government COVID-19 Palliatives store houses in several States are despicable, shameful and tell compelling stories of barefaced corruption and diminished leadership. Why hide food meant for the people in the face of general hunger in the nation?”
He also speaks on #EndSARS protests and the lessons for all.
▪︎ General overview
My heart goes out to the families of those who lost loved ones during this period. May God comfort them. We must work together to ensure that they die not in vain. In an interview sometime back, You will recall that I said this period in Nigeria today, represents a moment of truth for Nigeria. Put differently, this is what could easily be termed, a defining moment for Nigeria. What in biblical term could be called a Kairos moment for Nigeria, for her people and our leadership. Our leaders need to engage in triple listening in order to maximise this defining moment of truth for the nation.
▪︎ My reaction
I must confess, I was oblivious to what was going on in the social media hashtag in the early hours of that morning until my daughter called to say daddy, are you aware of the ENDSARS protests going on right now? I responded with do you mean there is an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which broke out in Asia? Is Nigeria getting an outbreak in Lagos? She said No! A moment later, I reflected deeper and sent her a quick WhatsApp message to say: got it. SARS stands for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a Nigeria Police outfit which several people have complained about their over-handed actions which had led to the harassment and in some cases death of several innocent people.
Young people are real vanguards for social change. I salute their courage and patriotic disposition. l will encourage them without fear of contradiction to remain focused and act for the common good of all Nigerians. They have acted very peacefully from what I know and see until last week when clear attempts were made by all sorts of agents of destruction and conflict entrepreneurs to mobilize questionable characters in the name of ‘other youth’ to go and disrupt the peaceful manners in which the EndSARS protesters have conducted themselves.
▪︎ Point of disagreement with Police IG
I believe the Police IG with the support of the Federal government acted fast in disbanding SARS and calling for the reform of the entire Police force. However, its quick replacement with SWATS, took some of us by surprise. Careful planning is required, wide-ranging consultation with the EndSARS protesters should have taken place before the replacement of SARS with SWATS, I am not too sure if all this was done. It is important that the government respects other stakeholders and engage them in policy making initiatives to achieve two principal things: get more objective input from other experts and buy in (ownership) by others.
▪︎ My participation in protest
On one occasion, I decided to take the risk of going to one of the EndSARS protest site to reach out and engage some of the youth and found them to be very peaceful and mature in their approach in explaining what they wanted. I cautioned them against engaging in violent acts and challenged them to be peaceful in how they conducted themselves. We had in fact begun discussions with the CAN Chairman of Plateau Rev Fr. Polycarp Lubo to ensure that EndSARS does not attract violence on the Plateau. Unfortunately, on Tuesday October 20th, things were going awry based on reports which filtered in that violence had broken out on Ahmadu Bello Way, the commercial nerve centre of economic activities in the city of Jos. When I confronted some of the youths, one explained that they were not responsible for the outbreak of that violence. We now needed to act to sue for peace.
▪︎ Lalong’s role
At this point, I must commend the Governor of Plateau State, His Excellency Rt. Hon Simon Bako Lalong, who immediately imposed a 24-hour curfew on that Tuesday 20th and called a critical meeting of key Stakeholders within the State to discuss the situation and sought ways to de-escalate acts that could lead to total break-down of law and order in Plateau State. The meeting held the next day Wednesday October 21st,and some far-reaching suggestions were made in the collective interest of all in the State including addressing the concerns of these youth.
▪︎ We must listen to them, or else…
The need to listen to these youths can never be overemphasized. Some of us are quietly engaging with some of these youths. I found them to be intelligent, some with decent jobs, peaceful and determined to get their points across no matter any attempts to put them down. This is indeed a defining moment of truth and we all need to listen to ourselves. The Federal and State governments need to listen to the youth even beyond what they have laid out in the 5 points they gave to the government. To the youth, l will say, you have made your point and there is need to also listen to the government and other elders in society. Would it be correct to keep blocking the roads especially for those who make their daily living on such roads? What happens when there are emergency sick cases when rushing someone to the hospital and the roads are blocked?
▪︎ Fish out sponsors of hoodlums
The government rather than trying to blame the youth need to look inwards and find out who are those sponsoring these hoodlums spreading violence and destruction in the name of EndSARS protests? The challenge is that the peaceful protest by the EndSARS movement could paradoxically be hijacked by unhelpful elements within the society who strangely are also trying to use our youth. In the case of Plateau State, if you wish to set the State on fire – turn an issue into a Christian – Muslim fight and you will define the narrative of the protest or issue. We collectively acted – all Stakeholders in the State to nip this in the bud. The EndSARS protesters were not responsible for the violence of Tuesday in Jos. Let’s UNITE and discourage the old approach which supports divisive narratives of ethnicity, religion; and as well as playing the North – South divide. The ENDSARS protest has become not only a national issue but a global one at this moment. The world is watching. Mr President and those who advise him closely should not be deceived. This truth must be told and let it ring out!!!
▪︎ Reaction to the President’s broadcast
Crisis make or break leaders; complex problems require creative problem-solving abilities on the part of leaders. This requires critical thinking and a creative proactive approach to problem-solving. What we are witnessing has gradually moved from a protest to a social organization-type movement and situation. This could be evolving with no one being able to predict the outcome with 100% certainty; if not well-handled. What we are witnessing in part is also the fallout of COVID-19 – the long lay over due to idleness, the lack of opening of our schools and Universities. The government tackled COVID-19 face-on, they should do the same in addressing the concerns of these youth. Mr. President SHOW more and TELL LESS. Involve the Youth – specifically those behind the EndSARS peaceful protest in your decision and implementation processes. MEET with them directly yourself Mr. President. Meet also with other objective stakeholders not your usual circle of advisers. Some of them are not helping you face reality of today’s Nigeria.
▪︎ Commendable aspects of address
There are few commendable aspects in this address, but I must confess that I found the speech generally uninspiring. Nothing new. I wish Mr. President’s address could have touched on excessive government expenditures and allowances paid out to political office holders and National Assembly members and how these would be reviewed to the barest minimum to free funds to help the youth and Nigerians in general. I wish Nigerians listened to the President talk about jobs from the stand point of assuring the youth – most of who are unemployed that when they apply for the few available jobs in government controlled agencies, their applications would be given fair consideration, rather than the present practice in which one hears that it is mostly the children of politicians in government, out of government and National Assembly members who end up getting the jobs, whenever vacancies are advertised. Our elected officials and representatives are short-changing our children on virtually all fronts. They almost always monopolize everything for themselves and their cronies. Recruitment to the Police, Armed Forces and other security outfits aren’t radically different either. The children of ordinary Nigerians are groaning and feel neglected. I didn’t hear Mr. President raise a voice to protect the oppressed on such issues. The youth did not hear that either. There was nothing to show that much critical thinking went into his address. I certainly did not see any attempt in the direction which showed creative problem-solving capacity in critical leadership at crisis moments and analytics.
But the good citizens of this nation must try and ensure things don’t spiral out of control. Let’s reach out to our sons and daughters on the streets, to some of the protest leaders if we could find them both locally, nationally and globally, and encourage them to do the needful in promoting national cohesion. One thing the President said in his address which I liked is: “. . . Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding.” Mr. President, I am very sure the youth are watching very intently for this promised response. I hope this will not be another broken promise.
▪︎ Why warn angry people
n an address of this nature, I do not expect that Mr President will open with a warning in his second and seventh point. The address had too many veil warnings to a nation whose citizens right now are largely frustrated and in their difficult hour. Mr. President needs to know that his address wasn’t just meant to speak only to the EndSARS protesters or the hoodlums and their possible sponsors but to the whole nation. In such moments, leadership is required to speak vision and hope. I did not hear or read that. It’s the same revisionist visionless address – some of the Marketmoni, Tradermoni, Farmermoni, N-power, N-Agro and N-Tech, sound more like mere campaign slogans to most young people Mr. President. These schemes aren’t as inclusive as you think. Some Maguzawa youth from Katsina Sate, your home State, Mr. President have been ignored and some have complained directly to me. Inclusiveness in your government is a real concern. Such an address should inspire nationalistic ideals, sadly, this was missing. Instead, I read more of you ‘reading the riot acts.’
▪︎ Why security agents must not be unleashed
In keeping with Mr President’s affirmation of the fundamental right of citizens as enshrined in Section 40 of our Constitution and other enactments; citizens can engage in peaceful protests, while respecting the rights of other citizens in point 4. I will encourage the youth to operate within the law. I will similarly appeal to the Federal Government to NOT unleash Security agencies to go after the leaders of the End SARS protests with the aim to either harass, intimidate or arrest them. In this regard, the Lekki shootings are a cause for real concern. Yet the President said nothing about the 12 deaths generally reported by the press in his address, worse still, he says to the International Community: ‘Know all the facts.’ The question which agitates my mind is, ‘whose facts Mr. President Buhari, if I may ask you? Furthermore, the Governor of Lagos State said more than 20 were injured but denies any were killed, yet he is setting up a Committee to investigate the deaths? Does all of this add up? Security forces of a nation opening fire on her own citizens and its talk of denial or attempts at cover-up? Human Angle just reported that forensic evidence tells a compelling story about the Lekki killings contrary to the official denials: https://humangle.ng/lekki-massacre-forensic-analysis-shows-videos-were-genuine/ Amnesty International says 56 protesters have died out of which 38 alone on Tuesday. Yet, the President said nothing in condemning those cold-blooded murders, in his address to the nation? For how long?!!!