As SARS Goes To Rest

There’s no doubting the fact that this is another defining moment in our socio-political history after the civil war of 1967 to ’70. So many things are happening in quick succession at the same time, perhaps to shape and define the political direction of our future.
This is a new dawn propelled not by political slogans nor by a club of self centred individuals but occasioned to awaken the sleeping giant within us. A careful observer would have noticed that the political topography of our land has been infected by an infectious virus, far beyond the novel pandemic, for good measure, if you ask me.
The resultant effect is that it has ignited a firestorm of new political consciousness driven by a genuine desire for a structural change in the polity. The youths, the acclaimed leaders of tomorrow, I daresay are the vanguards of this movement or political force following the abject failure of leadership at every strata of governance. For once the youths had no option than to pay deaf ears to the sterile musings of government.
There are two albeit three intractable issues in the front burner of our national discourse at this auspicious moment. I will with your kind permission take them head on, one after the other in subsequent articles in the days ahead.They all confront us with equal aggression and ferocity. Of course they also have equal catastrophic consequencies if not tackled systematically with care and candour.
Besides the endemic subject matter of restructuring which has over the years threatened to polarise the geo-political amalgam midwifed by the colonial overlords, the other two issues that beg for urgent attention are– the perenial case of flood ravaging our homes in recent times as well as the #EndSARS protest embarked upon by the nation’s youuths.
I am yet to reconcile myself with the fact that some of our compatriots are ill at ease with the idea of renegotiating our corporate existence as a people. It is obvious that the beneficiaries of the present lopsided condition are the ones afraid of restructuring.
Come to think of it, if you have lived in a house for upwards of sixty years, common sense dictates that the occupants should restructure such an edifice periodically to avoid collapse. It is time to restructure the house to give room for development and population. By the way that is a subject for another day. In the meantime let me restrict myself to the protests making waves in the landscape.
Although, we’ve had protests in the pasts–national , regional and state wide, never have we had such a magnituitude as we have witnessed of late.This could be a time bomb waiting to explode. If care is not exercised in dousing the rousing tension, it may consume all of us. This is a new phenomenon never experienced before, at least not at this massive and spontaneous dimension. The youths who are the arrow heads of the protests are determined to give the government a run for their money. They seem to be adamant pressing forward with their demands for better Policing in the country despite efforts to infiltrate the rank and file of the protesters.
Sadly though about 170 persons have lost their lives and thousands more have been injured in the course of the agitations throughout the length and breadth of this nation, since the protests began less than two weeks ago.
The idea of a nationwide protest was conceived by some persons in Lagos to put a stop to official violence as perpetrated by the dreaded Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS). The protest has since snowballed into a mass movement against the Police. The youths who are at the receiving end of Police brutality have made up their minds to remain in the streets until concrete steps are taken by the government to reinvent the force in line with international best practices.
Large scale protests have always been a weapon in the hands of the masses to press home their demand for a change of attitude by government’s all over the world. We saw what happened in China in 1989 where thousands were killed and many more were maimed for life by the repressive Communist regime of the day.
Otherwise known as June Fourth protest at the Tiananmese Square in Mainland China was a brazen display of Police brutality against the pro-democracy protesters.
Again, we witnessed similar occurrence in Hong Kong and Egypt last year which spilled over to this year. In the two incidents thousands of youths were killed and maimed by the agents of government intolerant of contrary opinions. The United States of America has had a fair share of massive protests over the years.
I recall the civil rights movement of the 1960s led by Martin Luther King Jnr which was carried out by African Americans against institutionalised discrimination, disenfranchisement and racial segregation. Millions of our black brothers and sisters died in pursuing those legimate and fundamental rights.
There is one particular incident in America which may interest you. The story illustrates my earlier submission that if the government does not exercise caution in handling the protests, it may likely snowball into a larger than life incident as experienced in the US.
Sometime in 1992, a motorist named Rodney King was flagged down for reckless driving. In the course of the arrest, he was savagely manhandled by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department. By a fluke of luck, a resident in the neighborhood recorded the event on videotape; during the next several weeks, the tape was shown on television screens over and and over again across the nation.
Eventually the officers were arraigned before a court but they were subsequently set free for want of evidence, the inner city of Los Angeles erupted in the worst riot in US history. By the time peace was restored no less than then forty four persons were brutally murdered and thousands injured, entire city blocks were in flames in south-central Los Angeles– resulting in over a billion dollars in property damage. Needless to say, there were a great many underlying causes of the riot. But certainly one of the triggers of the protest was the apparent miscarriage of justice especially when the officers were seen “korokoro” beating their victim.
It is important that the government and it’s agencies understand the psychology of the protesters. They are united and are desperate for reforms in the polity. Government must find a way of managing rumour that may likely emanate from among the protesters. Government must demonstrate sincerity of purpose in dealing with the youths. The protests are continuing despite the disbandment of SARS because the Police High Command lack credibility. Moreso, when SARS was said to have been disbanded five times in the last four years when the excesses of the SARS operatives became unbearable. The protesters are demanding for justice for those 170 plus persons killed by the Police operatives.
What the government need to do urgently is to set up a judicial inquiry for the purpose of dispensing justice for the victims of Police brutality. The establishment of Special Weapons Tacktical Team SWAT, a replacement of the defunct SARS is rather hasty which indicates lack of sincerity on the part of government. If we must avoid the escalation of the protests, government should be honest with the youths with regards to all their demands. The deployment of the military chase and combat the protesters is no more than using a sledge hammer to hit a fly.
A stitch in time, they say saves nine. Government must be seen to do the needful instead of being rash and hasty in its decisions to asuage the anger of the protesters.
This is my stand
Thomas Ebikabowei Peretu
A social critic and commentator on national issues.

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