“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone”Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy
On 1 October 2020, Nigeria marked 60 years of independence from British colonial rule. Unknown to merry makers and observers, barely a week later, a sequence of events would lead to young Nigerians demanding independence from a faux democratic elite symbolised by the infamous police unit, the Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS). Within two weeks, events have evolved from peaceful protests led by an educated base to unmatched rioting and looting led by the uneducated thugs we love to fear.
There are many articles that have been written about the #EndSARS movement and I can bet that at least one book and one movie would be released based on the events around the protest. Therefore, I would neither dive into the heinous criminality proudly executed by unscrupulous police officers and licenced murderers, nor the agile fundraising and logistics management leveraged by a “leaderless” hotchpotch of Nigerian youths with some support from the older generation. This article takes a different approach to the issues.
As at the time of writing this article, riots have broken out in at least eight states across Nigeria. By chance or design, the security architecture seems unable to handle rampaging mobs. Police stations and barracks have been attacked, with some burned. After thugs went on a rampage in Lagos, a chance discovery of a warehouse containing COVID-19 palliatives (read: “food”) morphed into a seemingly uncoordinated attack on similar warehouses across different states. Businesses and homes have been attacked and looted despite an existing curfew ordering citizens to stay indoors. Nigerian citizens comprising civilians and security personnel have lost their lives to the fracas. For all intents and purposes, it is the Wild Wild West across Nigeria.
Before I proceed, let me make something very clear. I consider all forms of looting that have occurred as criminal. Having said this, I think the erstwhile peaceful protests and the subsequent rioting symptomize a nation in need of healing. Many wounds have been inflicted by the largely peaceful protests, legal and unconstitutional responses by Federal and State Governments, and the free-for-all rioting. However, putting aside these fresh wounds, many poorly stitched scars have reopened. These are wounds that we either pretended never existed thanks to bizarre lies, or that we thought would be forgotten with time, but they never healed. Some of these wounds were inflicted during similar protests in the past, but even those protests occurred because the elites conspired and continue to conspire to throw Nigerians into a pit.
This pit was dug by weaponizing Poverty, Illiteracy, and Tribalism. In order to maintain a demonic hold on power, the Nigerian elite understand the importance of keeping a vast majority of Nigerians poor, illiterate, and eternally conscious of tribal and religious differences. This way, poor Nigerians can be given humiliating pittances to vote for their oppressors, illiteracy can be tapped to build armies of thugs willing to disrupt elections and attack opponents, and the masses can be kept busy with in-fighting instead of collectively asking for their rights as citizens.
What the elites fail to see is the danger in maintaining such a large army of vulnerable citizens. Nigeria is estimated to have about 200 million citizens today, with projections of around 400 million by 2050. I doubt that all security agencies combined have the capacity to quell spontaneous riots in every state in Nigeria at the same time, while battling Boko Haram, bandits, killer herdsmen, and the seething threat of militancy down south. With a population largely comprised of youths, maybe its time for Nigeria to reconsider the use of deadly force as a primary response to protests, especially as we seem to approach an era of “if we die, we die”.
Pulling citizens out and filling up the pit is essential for long-term stability in Nigeria, but that is not all. In the immediate term, we need to heal wounds that have been inflicted by the actions and inactions of the state. Many Nigerians are pained by one or more of emotional, physical, and economic wounds. These need healing, with the state at the forefront to chart a path after first accepting responsibility for its role in the mess. Indicted persons need to be held accountable for crimes against Nigeria. We need the truth about hurtful events at key moments of our nationhood, and we need to be reconciled with the police that ideally ought to be our partners in progress.
The Nigerian elite have a choice to face reality and amend its ways. I wonder if any of the crooks above have considered that stealing 5% of a vibrant economy could be worth a lot more than 50% of a broken economy. Maybe they would choose to address issues today rather than hide their faces like ostriches in the sand. Or maybe, like the biblical King Hezekiah, they would push the problem to their children, to an era when a lot more bullets would be required to maintain their hold of fear, to an era when the inmates may finally overrun the asylum.
PS. We remember Nigerian citizens murdered at the Lekki Toll Gate on 20 October 2020