By Sunny Awhefeada
The #ENDSARS protests which culminated in the October youths uprising has inscribed itself in Nigeria’s annals. Its sheer magnitude, spread, resilience and destructive propensity not only constituted socio-economic and political upset, but threw up many symbolic incidents which perceptive followers of the Nigerian story will find instructive in their analysis or evaluation. The humanities, a discipline that is besotted with significations and interpretation, is bound to throw up texts and contexts to which aficionados will give variegated, intriguing and often astonishing interpretations which are usually outside the intentions of the actors or those who initiated the events. Many commentaries have touched on the plural significance of the October youths uprising. Since commentaries are never time bound and endless in their discursive nature, the present intervention seeks to engage two symbolic incidents emanating from the #ENDSARS protests. The first is the picture of 11 years old Gift Osayuki wearing a police uniform of the rank of sergeant. The second is the video of an unnamed pastor who based his sermon on “governors wen dey steal indomie!”
Young Osayuki joined the protesters who pulled down police stations in Benin City. A fleeing police sergeant must have thrown away his uniform. Osayuki’s ambition was to become a policeman and he saw in the discarded uniform the shortest route to achieving his ambition. He adorned the uniform and immediately proclaimed himself the new Inspector General of Police! His friends cheered and saluted him! The situation under which Osayuki declared himself the IGP was an emergency and such situations often violate expectations and throw up anomalies. Had Osayuki and his friends grabbed one or two AK 47 and pointed it at the most senior police officers around and demanded that they saluted the emergency IGP, the later would not hesitate in offering very smart salutes to save their lives. It is the kind of situation that would make generals to salute a corporal! Osayuki savoured his moment as IGP and had his pictures splashed on different social media platform.
As the #ENDSARS din gave way to calm, the Nigeria Police arrested Osayuki and declared its intention to prosecute him in a juvenile court! Osayuki’s story parallels that of many a Nigerian child. Osayuki lost his father some years ago and had to help the mother to hawk in order to be able to provide basic needs. School was out of it. He was denied the social stability that the Nigerian state owed him like the other 13 million out of school children. Osayuki was however hopeful that someday he would join the police and through diligence rise to become the IGP! Like every Nigerian child on the streets, Osayuki knows the starkly unsavoury attributes of the Nigeria Police. The police known to Osayuki and other Nigerians are antithetical to the ideals of policing. It was this condition that informed Osayuki’s dream of joining the police, rising to become its IGP and getting it reformed.
A Non-Governmental Organization sought Osayuki’s release and some days later, he appeared in school uniforms. The symbolic step in his quest to reform the police has started. That dream must not die. The police needs reform, but its hierarchy as represented by Muhammed Adamu is living in denial. IGP Adamu has been going round saying the wrong things. He has been telling the policemen to defend themselves and that none of them should die while carrying riffles. He assured them that the government was standing with them, their salaries have been increased and bla bla bla bla. These are not the kind of things to say at this point and they come from the same mindset that sparked off the protests in the first place. Has IGP Adamu paused to ask what actually caused the crisis that turned citizens against the police that was meant to protect them?
IGP Adamu needs to find time to attend some of the sittings of the many judicial panels of inquiries set up by the different states to hear the gory tales of victims of police brutality. If he was living in the moon before now he would come to terms with the bestiality of how policemen threw an innocent man from the second floor of a storey building, got his spinal cord broken and looted his store with items worth 15 million naira. IGP Adamu would hear the cry of that teacher who lost two pregnancies in the hands of policemen who tortured her without ceasing. He would hear the sad story of the elderly man who lost teeth as a result of beating by policemen. These fellows were lucky in that they didn’t lose their lives. Others were not lucky as they were shot and lost their precious lives. What IGP Adamu ought to be doing is to berate his men and teach them professionalism. The primary duty of the police is to protect and save lives, but the opposite is the case in Nigeria.
The video of the pastor calling out “governors wen dey steal indomie”, is an indictment of not just the governors, but the ruling class that feeds fat on the masses. The pastor’s jibes were informed by the discovery of indomies, a brand of noodles, in large quantities in palliative warehouses nationwide during the #ENDSARS protests. The palliatives were donated by the Federal Government to the states to help cushion the effect of the lockdown on the masses. Many of the governors didn’t share the food items as required, but hoarded them. The protesters discovered the warehouses, opened them up and took what rightly belonged to them. Indomies thus became a metaphor for food. The pastor equated the hoarding of food with stealing and depriving the people for whom it was meant. If the ruling class could steal humongous sums meant for roads, electricity, water, schools and hospitals, why would they descend to stealing food meant for the people if not for acute wickedness?
While police brutality was the immediate cause of the #ENDSARS protests, other factors contributed in great measure to the melee. Bad governance was chief among these. The dearth of infrastructure: roads, electricity, water, schools, hospitals, etc, daily compound the predicament of Nigerians and make living hell for them. As I write, Nigeria has no roads. A man lamented how he spent twelve days on the road travelling from Auchi to Kano! Then one gun totting policemen would subject him to further harassment. Would such a man not get provoked and take on the policeman even if he were mounting an armoured personnel carrier?
Nigerians know that the state has given up on them. This is the reason why they are not only buffeted by the acute failure of governance, but by the brutality of security forces whose mandate was to protect them. This point was poignantly made last week when American security forces flew across continents to rescue just one citizen on Nigerian soil. Sadly, a day or two before that, Nigerian soldiers were busy flogging a lady for improper dressing in Ibadan! The police smarting from recent events have also refused to go back to their duty posts. Well, let them remain in their stations. Nigerians are the better for it. Were there no robberies and kidnappings while the police mounted roadblocks everywhere and anywhere? If Nigerians provide their own water by sinking boreholes, provide electricity through generators, patronize private schools and hospitals, why can’t they provide security for themselves. Vigilante groups have taken over the security of many neighbourhoods. The Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) and now Amotekun have since taken over police work. Forest guards were also drafted to the streets of Enugu.
The ruling class is playing games. Northern governors summoned a meeting of political, traditional and religious leaders and made some inane remarks about insecurity and the #ENDSARS protests. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation also did the same and didn’t deviate from the theme of the one conveyed by the Northern governors. The meetings asked religious leaders and traditional rulers to rein in the people. This will not work. Not until governments at all levels live up to the responsibility of governance which is the welfare and security of the people those in government should know that they have swallowed a long pestle. Injustice, exploitation, oppression and other such ills do have their expiry dates. Things must change. Let IGP Osayuki arrest those “governors wen dey steal indomie”!