By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, it is difficult to imagine the amount of mayhem that visited Lagos this week. Let me just put it bluntly, our worst nightmares became reality, in a jiffy. The peace and tranquillity that Lagos had enjoyed for decades as the heartbeat of Nigeria was shattered into smithereens within a twinkle of an eye. On Tuesday, October 20, 2020, the mega and cosmopolitan city instantly joined the comity of other Nigerian States that have been mercilessly ravaged by terrorism and wars of attrition. The only difference was that the terror and insurgency was unleashed on the people by the Government itself using the very same security forces that have sworn an oath under the Nigerian Constitution to protect the entire country and its citizens, including the hapless residents of Lagos State.
A simple and straightforward protest, primarily about police brutality and national insecurity, that was put together by different groups of very bright Nigerians was turned into a theatre of war and their blood flowed due to no fault of theirs. The protesters had turned the Lagos LEKKI Tollgate into our own Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. We’ve never witnessed such orderly, accountable, visionary and transparently honest organisers in this clime. We were all excited that for once we are much closer to our destination. But the forces of darkness, as usual, were hovering in the wings, with their fiendish plans. As masters of the game, they struck unashamedly. In Abuja and Lagos, they brought out their hirelings with daggers, cutlasses and cudgels. As if bewitched, we saw some young people, some looking underaged, with bloodshot eyes who were ready to inflict maximum damage on the two most important cities in Nigeria and its inhabitants. The one in Abuja looked coordinated, as in broad day light we saw hooligans and thugs being corralled and marshalled by agents of State and ushered into areas of pacifist protests that these hoodlums would turn into hotspots of bedlam and mayhem.
I will not bore you with details which are already in public domains courtesy of unprecedented social media activities. Nigerians waited patiently for President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene. To be fair to him, he did initially by receiving the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the harbinger of the message and requests from the #EndSARS movement. The Governor was well applauded by the youths. The President was seen receiving the letter from the Governor, but his response was only a dry smile, in his famous taciturnity. One may need the power of clairvoyance to understand what Buhari is thinking and planning, most times. His dead pan looks, and straight poker face can never be deciphered and translated into meaningful statements.
I had advised the President last week to resist the temptations of unleashing terror on the harmless, defenceless and peaceful protesters. Any reasonable government would have protected them rather than open fire on those who were merely seeking a better life in their own country. The Nigerian Army had issued a press release about its intention to engage in nationwide military drills that would include cyber operations and manoeuvre’s codenamed “operation crocodile smiles,” whatever that means. I immediately smelt a rat and had the premonition and foreboding of the tragedy to come. One didn’t need to consult a Prophet or the Oracle to imagine what President Buhari is capable of doing. His records are not hidden. I was old and mature enough in 1984-85 to remember the massive human rights abuses which the regime of sorrow, tears and blood, which he headed, wreaked on Nigeria. His administration wanted to be known as one that employed strong arm and bully boy tactics, displaying not a hint of weakness, and I found those elements in his latest broadcast to the nation. It beggars belief that a leader of a democratic nation, not to mention one that’s considered a shining light in the African firmament, would even suggest something like this.
I was one of those who foolishly believed that anyone with such military meanness as the President possesses could change and become a reformed Democrat overnight. Leopards don’t change their spots indeed. I’m deeply sorry I sold that big lie and today I’m wrong while those who attacked us then were right, after-all. I was taken in and persuaded by my personal involvement with our President. In all my interactions with President Buhari in Nigeria and London spanning ten years now, both before and after he became the President of the biggest black nation on earth, I realised that I liked his simple mien and sense of humour. However, I have also discovered that his sense of managing people and resources is abysmally awkward and poor, to put it mildly. He appears to love to delegate when it is inappropriate and improper to do so. It would have been fantastic if he delegated to men and women of knowledge and wisdom. The most dangerous and calamitous of his personality traits is his apparent lack of empathy, which has become the biggest curse and burden on Nigeria today.
So, people died in Lagos last Tuesday. I do not believe that there can now be any doubt about that. On my part, I believe the question that is posed is whether people died on the scene or in the hospitals. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has come out to declare that at least one person has died in hospital. Nevertheless, there still seems to be a raging debate that no one died at the Lekki Tollgate, but clearly all parties agree many were injured. I have watched the video posted by DJ Switch and I’m reasonably convinced she’s a well informed and credible witness. Despite the futile attempts by the military to hide behind one finger, there was ample evidence of their irresponsible recklessness and that obviously endangered and compromised innocent citizens, turned a peaceful protest into a bloodbath and a usually serene part of Lagos into an ocean of blood. The cowardly heavily armed, well armoured and bullet -proof clad military personnel who rained bullets at unarmed, cowering and surrendering protesters, against all rules of military and civilian engagement and ethics could not be seen when the properties of government and some targeted citizens were being vandalised, looted and ravaged. The orgiastic and gratuitous debauchery and violence was yet to be totally quelled as at last night.
Now back to President Buhari. The big masquerade finally came out of his gilded shrine two days ago. His suavely charming National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd.) was quoted as saying earlier in the day that the President was going to make some major announcements in his evening broadcast. Rumours soon developed wings like bushfire in the harmattan and we were being regaled with tales and stories began to fly that a state of emergency was about to be declared in Lagos State. No one knew the source, origin and veracity of the report but it seemed believable going by the hocus-pocus that was ongoing in the State. Several reasons were adduced. The conspiracy theorists swore that the Fulanisation agenda was real and the hawks were ready to descend and pounce on one man they considered too powerfully dangerous to take them on in 2023, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. It sounded plausible when they added the fact that the rioters wasted no time in attacking his media empire, at TVC and The Nation newspapers, respectively. How come the same military that had more than enough ammunition to fire on vulnerable, and unnaturally exposed youths in Lekki had gone funereally silent by the following morning and was allowing the savagery and bloodletting by unhindered unhinged youths to continue without respite, response or resolution? Of course, I dismissed the rumours as products of fertile imagination, but more rumours came in torrents. One thing seemed clear to me, that kites were being flown by Machiavellian persons intent on exploiting the rapidly degenerating situation for their own selfish and nefarious ends. There was yet another audio recording in circulation with the audible voice of the IPOB leader giving instructions to some specific men on where to destroy in Lagos. There was no confirmation as well and the motive could not be immediately established but it caused some anxiety.
As if to confirm the fears of those who saw Asiwaju as the target and the Lagos State Governor, MR Babajide Sanwo-Olu, as collateral damage, the speech by President Muhammadu Buhari was a veritable anti-climax, a non-event of no consequence whatsoever. It was bland and rambling. We waited endlessly for the monumental announcement, a declaration of some profound policy shift, a statement of great statesmanship and vision, but it was like waiting for Godot. This incidence of deja vu further confounded and infuriated Nigerians. The President totally glossed over Lagos, only mentioning the desecration of the palace of the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu. By so doing the President registered and confirmed his disdain for, and denigration of, the most economically powerful State, bigger than many African countries, and under the control of his own ruling political party, APC. It would have been impossible for Buhari to become President in 2015 without the epic support from Lagos and the South West in particular. It is sad, disturbing and distressing that the President could pointedly and studiously ignore Lagos. He thus failed to give hope and succour to a State that was almost on its knees, one which is often described as the California or New York of Africa.
Memories are indeed very short. I remember with nostalgia how Lagos was one of the places Buhari used to visit regularly in those good old days before he attained power the second time. Is it that the name Lagos has become so bitter to be mentioned in his speech? Is it that Nigerians who died, were injured, or lost their possessions in the ill-fated attacks and wanton destruction deserve no sympathy or empathy whatsoever? I’m shocked that our First Ladies, who often parade themselves as our mothers, are nowhere to be seen mourning the dead, consoling and comforting the injured and commiserating with their hapless and helpless families.
To worsen the situation, virtually all the party stalwarts of APC in Yorubaland went mute like victims of hypnotism. Their heritage was on fire, but they chose to bury their heads in the sand like the ostrich. The PDP which should have been a loud, voluble opposition, shouting from the rooftops in support of the remarkable protesters, has been missing in action. What an opportunity lost! What is it about this earthly power that makes some people become so squeamish about speaking up for their people?
Unfortunately, and to compound matters, what started easily as a very non-partisan, non-religious and non-ethnic movement is being deliberately turned upside down. It would take some wisdom for the organisers to bring this progressive movement back on track. My candid opinion is that their initial strategy has achieved its first aim. Their message has resonated globally and most Nigerians at home and abroad have bought into their ideas and ideals. They must not be discouraged. The time has come for them to restrategise. Since there is nothing more to hide at this stage, they should unite and pick their own leaders and form a formidable organisation. A crusade and campaign without structures will eventually give rise to anarchy, especially if it is infiltrated by nihilists and subversives, who are up to no good, as has been the case this week. The aim at this stage should not be political. It should be how to reactivate and eventually actualise their demands. They are craftsmen and women who have created a sustainable and resilient platform. They now need to find a way of reaching out to the angry youths, the bitter destroyers, who have been going on rampage and committing acts of gross brigandage. These destructive elements have been neglected for far too long and no one should be too surprised that they are now extremely angry and giving vent to their pent-up frustrations. Our leaders and all the elites are culpable, and we must collectively accept the blames. When the wealthiest of the world live side by side with the poorest, and the rich pay no attention to the sorrow, pain and anguish of their neighbours, anything and everything can happen. The dark tomorrow has arrived on Nigerian shores, despite the good well-intentioned, nationalistic and patriotic actions of the craftsmen and women who originated the #EndSARS protests. By whatever means, next must come the magnificent, triumphant dawn.
It would take a miracle to have a change in Nigeria speedily. There are just too many problems to tackle. But our problems are not insurmountable. All it would take is a determined and committed leadership. The absence of love is the beginning of destruction. The love for our nation and love by its people was openly demonstrated at the beginning of the #EndSARS protest. Government in its typical uncaring selfish and self-preservative ways chose to turn it into enmity and destroy our brittle, fragile fabric by unleashing unbridled and unrestrained terror on the populace!
We can surely do better, and the President must be the first to recognise this and change his ways. Like I keep telling President Buhari, it is never too late to make amends. Lagos State, like Nigeria, is greater than any individual or group of individuals. The President must remember his oath of office, and his promise to the nation and the great people of Nigeria to make their lives better. He must unite the country and heal its wounds. The best place to start is with Lagos State. The time to start is now! He must recognise and speak out against the terrible outrage, atrocities and savagery that have occurred and remedy them. He must be fair and do justice. He must be the Father of Lagos State and the Nation.