Our country is on the edge. You can feel it shaking under the weight of incendiary pronouncements by those who believe it is time to accept that those who take some delight in prophesying its tipping over are right and it is time to write its obituary, the obituary of Nigeria, our Nigeria. Perish the thought.
We had always feared that the power hungry politicians would drive our country to the edge. But the politicians are not to blame for where we now find our country. It was driven to this pass by corruption in the Nigeria Police. The officers and men of the disbanded FSARS had acted with impunity well outside the limits of the law and professionalism until their excesses blew up in their faces. They ignored their mandate to make the country safe from armed robbers and other criminals who are giving all of us sleepless nights and turned their guns on innocent fellow citizens who could not meet their extortionist and corrupt demands in the greedy service of their individual interests. But the rot is in the entire police force. As you read this, the corruption and the extortion go on – and are destined to go on for ever.
If I did not believe that corruption has corrupted everything in our country, I now verily believe. If I did not believe that corruption could do worse than the unsightly abandoned roads, hospitals and schools under construction, I now believe. If I did not know that the cold hands of corruption were moving up our nation’s jugular vein, I now know. These are not the kind of lessons an old man should learn because they take something away from his sense of service and patriotism. But here we are. Not my luck.
Our youth have seen the future and know it cannot work if it is burdened by the current unattended or half-hearted attended national problems. They are minded that if they fail to act now, their right to be the leaders of tomorrow would be a mighty struggle instead of a smooth transition. The anti-SARS was the trigger they needed to get off their haunches to take to the streets and voice their grievances and frustrations against a system that narrows their opportunities and makes them old men and women before their time. There was, clearly, something principled about the peaceful protests. They pulled no punches. But deafened by public applause, the youth did not know when to stop and thus opened their flanks to those who did not share in the principle of their protests and joined them to carry out their own unholy agenda against our nation.
Soon the political economy of protests walked through the door of their peaceful protests and turned them into a crisis with the mindless destruction of private and public properties. Something akin to the coronavirus entered the system, leading to, as former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar put in a state on October 22, “The hijacking of the protests by criminals (that) had resulted into violence, destruction of government and private properties, criminal release of prisoners and the lynching and burning of policemen and innocent persons in some parts of the country.”
The federal government, fearing, as all third world governments do in such circumstances, turned the protesting youth into its enemies and the enemies of the state. The guns were called in and the unarmed were forced to yield to the armed. General Abubakar said “the shooting has left all of us dumbfounded. It’s unfortunate.” The protests were peaceful no more. We now face the delicate process of managing the day after the protests, given the extent of the destruction wrecked on public and private properties. These will exact their toll on our national economy and deepen our misery of extreme poverty. And make the situation of the youth even more desperate. See what police corruption can do to a country?
The anti-SARS protests have thrown up delicate national issues and problems and exacerbated old problems. The protesters meant the protests to reflect a unified voice of the youth but, as often happens in a nation this polarised by tribal and religious interests, they have widened our ethnic and religious fault lines, showing once again, our inability to manage our diversity as a nation of a rainbow collection of tribes, not perpetually at war but at peace. We have thus entered a rather complicated and messy phase of the social, political, ethnic and religious of the post #EndSARS protests. No one should under-estimate what we face here as a nation. The forces that sought to seize the initiative from the peaceful protesters are not likely to pull back in a hurry because they see this as the opportunity they have been waiting for to inflict maximum injury on our nation. If the government loses the will, they might edge further in.
The day after presents its own peculiar problems which, if not properly handled, could give the country a push to the precipice. This is what we must all commit to preventing. Nigerians made enormous sacrifices before and since independence 60 years ago. Building a united, inclusive, strong and egalitarian nation is not beyond us. The end of the #EndSARS protests should renew our faith in the greater future of our great country. We all need to tread carefully, the federal and state governments more so. The youth are not enemies of the government and must not be so treated. Nor do the protests constitute a referendum on the Buhari administration. The protests happened because we have refused to attend to those issues and problems that make for an inclusive system of government in which the right of every citizen is acknowledged and protected in employments as well as in political and other appointments. So long as those rights are not protected, so long will the drums of ethnic jingoism assault our ears and so long will this country continue to be pushed towards the edge. Let us pull back – whatever it takes, including restructuring, which has become the new cure-all for all our political and social problems. Enough.