The ongoing nationwide protests are shifting from ending police brutality to institutionalising better governance, reforms, economic equality, equity, jobs and better infrastructure. “We want a new Nigeria where we will have the same opportunity as children of politicians and the rich,” said Ogundele Amos, who joined a horde of protesters at Ilasamaja in Lagos on Tuesday.
“I finished my National Youth Service (NYSC) in 2016 after graduating from a federal university the previous year with a second-class upper degree, yet I can’t get a job. When you have a problem as a young Nigerian, you are on your own. Is Nigeria’s wealth for politicians and their families alone?” Amos asked, rhetorically.
Nigerian youths started #EndSARS protest almost two weeks ago to put an end to the activities of a rogue police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The Federal Government has since changed SARS to Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), but young Nigerians want total police reforms and prosecution of rogue police officers involved in killing Nigerians extra judicially, especially officers at Awkuzu, Anambra State, and those indicted in APO Six massacre of Nigerians.
Protesters are now demanding better governance, youth development and education reforms, reduction in cost of governance as well as constitutional, public office, health and institutional reforms. On his Twitter handle on October 17, Joe Abah, an institutional reforms expert and former director-general of Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), said, “We should all have the humility to admit that none of us have ever seen anything like the #EndSARS protests. You can say it’s about police brutality/reforms, or cost of governance, or arrogance of politicians, or injustice. It’s all of them. It is the youth saying ‘Otoge.”
‘Otoge,’ a Yoruba political campaign slogan meaning ‘enough is enough’ was used to dethrone former Senate president Bukola Saraki in Kwara State. But language experts say it represents change in the way Nigeria is structured. On Tuesday, protesters along Lagos-Badagry Expressway demanded that the state government fix the largely collapsed road linking Nigeria to the West Coast.
The protesting youths, who marched on the expressway brandishing placards with various inscriptions, turned back both incoming and outgoing commuter vehicles, forcing them to discharge their passengers without refunding the fares already paid. When our correspondents took a long distance walk on the expressway to monitor invents as they were unfolding, it was observed that many of the passengers, rather than returning to their houses, preferred to trek to their destinations where, according to some of them, they needed to get to for their daily bread.
“Really, I do not know what next to do. I need to get to my shop today else my family will starve. To get to where I am now, I have spent N800 on transport, yet I am not close to where I am going to,” a man who introduced himself simply as Raphael said. Raphael added that he left his house quite early and had to trek much of his journey because of roadblocks by protesters. “And motorists have increased their fare by over 300 percent. Before now, the fare from Agbara to Igbo-Eleri First Gate was N150. Today, I paid N400 to get there and my destination is Igando,” he said in pains.
A young lady at the Igbo-Eleri bus stop, who introduced herself as Rose Mustapha, agreed, disclosing that she had gone to pick her daughter from school and had spent over N1,000 for a journey she used to spend between N400 and N450. Mustapha, who was angry with the authorities of her daughter’s school for asking parents to come and take their children home, slammed the whole of Nigeria’s leadership for insensitivity to the plight of the people. “What the youth are doing is the right thing to do. People are hungry and tired of this country,” she said.
The protesters, who had no apology to anybody for obstructing movement on the Expressway, contended that people living in that part of town were not regarded as citizens of Lagos State and that was why they had been allowed to suffer on an expressway supposed to be an international route. “It is wrong for anybody to call this road an expressway because it is not one. The whole road is full of deep potholes and nobody cares. If you are moving on the road from the Benin Republic, it is smooth until you leave the border between Nigeria and the small West African country. Just imagine that,” one of the protesters who refused to disclose his name lamented.
The Lagos-Badagry Expressway is a Federal Government road that links Nigeria to the countries of the West Coast including Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana. The Lagos State government in 2009 undertook the reconstruction and expansion of the four-lane Expressway to 10 lanes with a light rail track. Eleven years down the line, the road is still under reconstruction with less than 40 percent of the work done. Successive governments in the state have been paying lip service to the reconstruction of the Expressway.
Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the current governor of the state, on assumption of office, went on tour of the road and boasted thereon that the expressway would be completed in December 2020. Recently, the governor recanted and moved the completion date to December 2021. The protesters took a swipe on the governor for what they called “inconsistency and insincerity,” insisting that the road would be blocked every day until the governor made a firm commitment on when reconstruction work would actually end on the expressway.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has warned that it will not fold its hands and watch a group of people with ulterior motives hijack the #EndSARS protests across the country to destabilise the government and cause anarchy. Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, told members of the Diplomatic Corps in Abuja on Tuesday that in the last couple of days, arsonists and those with sinister motives had infiltrated the peaceful protests attacking, killing and destroying people’s property, blocking roads and causing mayhem.
He said despite the fact that the government had been responsible and responsive to the genuine demands of the protesters, some subversive elements had hijacked the movement and exploiting it to make unreasonable demands including calling for the end of the President Muhammadu Buhari government that was democratically elected. He said, “No responsible government will fold its hands and allow the country go into anarchy,” adding, “The government owes Nigerians a responsibility to protect their lives and property.”
Speaking earlier, Geoffrey Onyeama, minister of foreign affairs, said the government had taken adequate steps to respond to the demands of the protesters and had largely met them. With curfew in Lagos after an attack by hoodlums on police stations at Orile and Ajegunle areas of the state, the situation seems to be getting out of hands. As a result, the Senate on Tuesday urged President Muhammdu Buhari to urgently address the nation on issues raised by protesters. The Senate also appealed to the protesters to end the protests and allow government deal with issues raised in their five-point demand.
The requests followed a motion moved by the Senator Biodun Olujimi (PDP -Ekiti South) at the plenary presided over by the Senate president, Ahmed Lawan. In Edo State, the state government said the 24-hour curfew imposed in the state on Monday would continue till further notice. The Edo government had on Monday imposed a 24-hour curfew across the state with effect from 4pm. Despite the announcement, majority of the residents, especially suspected hoodlums in the guise of the protest, defiled the order and continued with the protest.
The youths suspected to be genuine #EndSARS protesters also defiled the government curfew order. At Upper Sakponba, Ikpoba Hill, Sapele Road, Ekenwan, Ugbowo (at the University of Benin Main Gate), New Benin and Aduwawa, the protesters barricaded the roads. The suspected hoodlums also barricaded Upper Mission Extension by Lucky Way Junction, Lucky Way Junction by Ramat Park, Evbuotobu, Dumez Road and Agbor Road all in Benin City.
They also set bonfire and prepared meals on tarred roads while vehicles, especially private owned and few commercial transporters, were seen moving on the road. There were no presence of security operatives on the roads to enforce the curfew, except at the University of Benin main gate, where #EndSARS protesters converged, and being monitored by the men of the Nigeria Police Force. Some hoodlums also attacked and set ablaze the Oba Market Police Station.
They had on Monday attempted to burn down the station, but their action was resisted by the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and other officers who released tear gas canister to chase them away. There was however reported case of gunshots exchange between security agents and hoodlums at Santana Market along Sapele Road in Oredo Local Government Area. A civil servant who pleaded anonymity said thugs and street boys had hijacked everything including the curfew from the government.
Meanwhile, some youths were seen along the Benin/Agbor Road, with a coffin, saying they were “burying the present Federal Government with its bad policies.” However, a statement by Crusoe Osagie, media aide to the governor, on Tuesday said the 24-hour round-the-clock curfew imposed in the state on Monday was active till further notice. Osagie said by the order everybody was expected to remain indoors, saying security agencies had been deployed to the streets to ensure full compliance and that anyone found contravening the directive would be dealt with according to the law.
Culled from BusinessDay