Though the young persons’ protest to end impunity in police operations of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) had been going on for the week, in Abuja, where I live, it didn’t quite touch me till some days later on a Saturday evening.
I had driven the short distance from my house to Bamanga Tukur Library on Adetokunbo Ademola Crescent, Wuse 2, to do some work. The quiet ambiance of the library is always conducive to study and work without distractions.
When the library closed for the day, I drove out into the narrow alley adjacent to the Swiss Embassy building out into Adetokunbo Ademola crescent. To my shock, the entire street and dual carriageway was choked with vehicles moving at snail’s pace amidst a carnival atmosphere with bonhomie in the evening air, and it struck me that the protest had arrived at my neighbourhood and I was squarely in its midst.
To get to my house on the other side of the street, there was no alternative for me but to join the procession, which hardly moved. The noise was deafening with screeching and hooting of vehicles intertwining with loud music. But there was some level of organisation in the melee. The young persons seemed determined to cause as much pain as possible to drive in their feeling of disaffection. In case of any eventuality, they even had a new ambulance at their tail. We were stuck in the traffic for over an hour as the protesters had placed a wedge of vehicles to block the Diamond (now Access) Bank junction with Ahmadu Bello way. Fortunately, the more adventurous among the stranded motorists found a way to make a U-turn thus easing the traffic standstill. I rushed after them and was able to find the entrance to my street and headed home.
It is a pity that SARS, which came into being in the early 1980s with the best of intentions of stemming the rising tides of armed robbery in the land, degenerated in recent years to an outfit of intimidation and extortion. Their modus operandi in the last few years have earned them nothing but opprobrium by whoever was unfortunate to come across them. Whenever one was a victim, the police establishment would refer one to that unit because as the name connoted they dealt with issues surrounding robberies. In the last few years, many victims would only have narratives of extortion at the hands of SARS operatives. Someone I know was a victim of car snatching by armed robbers recently and was appropriately referred to SARS to handle. He was shocked to find that though they were so well-kitted with good and current equipment to aid detection, they had no funds for movements and other sundry expenditures. He had to pay for every movement and any miscellaneous expenses that arose. In the course of that investigations there were many movements, some of them obviously contrived for the financial benefits of the operatives. However, they were able to trace his phone, which was snatched at the point of the robbery and make many arrests leading in all probability of fishing out his vehicle. Nonetheless, as his personal expenses rose, he became so exasperated that he gave up and decided to quietly write off the matter.
I guess the government must have been aware of the mountains of complaints on SARS but was so slow-footed to act until they were faced with protestations by the young persons. But it speaks well of the candour of the government to have quickly accepted the demands of the protesters. In any case, the Police Reform Bill had recently been signed into law by the President and would have given the government good bargaining chips with the protesters. What galls me, and any perceptive observer of the events was why the government did not seize on that to call the leaders of the protest to a round table to share the information and gain their support. It is pointless arguing that the leaders of protest are unknown. Funds and materials have moved freely for the protesters. They were not moved by ghosts! It is the duty of the government to find and engage with them.
On the part of the protesters, one would have expected their leaders to come out as soon as the government had shown the will to give consideration to their demands. There was no need to continue a protest whose demands had largely been accepted unless there were other issues that were not made public. In this case, there is a good case to believe that at some stage the tardiness by the government had given the nihilists and anarchists within the cadre of the protesters a window to wrought their kind of havoc on the civic community. The mindless looting and destructions that trailed the protest in Lagos, Benin, Jos and other centres are truly regrettable. It has not abated yet, as I write. The government must take control of the space to allow order to reign. We have just come out a pandemic that has eaten deeply into the finances of most families. The after-effect of this protest is just another tragic addition of woes.