There is still no certainty about the number of deaths from the shooting of protesters at Lekki Tollgate yesterday evening but popular groups are already in sharp disagreement with that approach. Between eleven and 20 are being circulated as the number killed. Violation of curfew imposed by the Lagos State Government earlier in the day appears to be the only possible reason anyone can refer to as the basis for the shooting but the shooting took place before the deadline for the curfew. In any case, observers took note of how the cameras were removed well ahead of the operation.
It is absolutely open to debate if a violent response to a largely discursive revolt involving unarmed actors is creative enough. The huge popularity of the protest should have immunized it against that option. The fact that it hasn’t is evidence that the authority or a segment of it can only see an agenda of regime change or break-up of Nigeria in the protest and may think it is sending a message to those it perceives to be inspiring the revolt. Whether this view will help anyone remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the Socialist Congress of Nigeria, (SCON), the platform of the broad Left in Nigeria whose voice has been missing is expressing solidarity with the protesters. Similarly, the Northern Elders Forum, (NEF) is expressing disappointment with what it sees as the tepid and disjointed responses of the administration. It is particularly taking note that “the administration operates under the impression that the pressures and multiple interests behind these protests can be accommodated by routine and pedestrian approaches in administrative and policy styles”. The forum is, instead, asserting its conviction that the protests have registered a historic level of concern that Nigerians will no longer tolerate impunity or leadership which fails to accord the highest consideration to accountability, security and welfare of citizens.
It is also appreciating that this has been achieved by the younger generation which it says have the most stake in the future of Nigeria, pointing out that “One important lesson the nation must learn from these protests is that young Nigerians have raised the stakes in their substantive participation in all matters that determine how citizens of our nation live now and in the future”. But, it is calling for an end to the protests on the condition that, amongst others, the government would set up a Judicial Commission of Enquiry into the protests.
SCON, on its part, said in a statement by Prof Toye Olorode, the Secretary, that “the gains the masses will make from the monumental sacrifices the Nigerian youths are making through their protests will depend ultimately on a coherent answer to the question of why the law-enforcement agencies in Nigeria have been so consistently punitive, brutal and unaccountable since the colonial days!”
The statement is reproduced verbatim below for reason of its historical tracking of this crisis:
GOVERNANCE AND THE CHARACTER OF LAW-ENFORCEMENT SYSTEM IN NIGERIA
A Press Statement by Socialist Congress of Nigeria (SCON)
The Socialist Congress of Nigeria (SCON) is in full solidarity with Nigeria’s youth (#EndSarsNow; #EndSARS; #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria; #EndInsecurityinNigeria) who are on the streets across Nigeria and in diaspora insisting that the masses of our people, the REAL owners of Nigeria, deserve a humane, patriotic, and more accountable law-enforcement system. We solidarize with Nigeria’s labouring people and their allies today as always.
We believe that the gains the masses will make from the monumental sacrifices the Nigerian youths are making through their protests will depend ultimately on a coherent answer to the question of why the law-enforcement agencies in Nigeria have been so consistently punitive, brutal and unaccountable since the colonial days!
It is important to trace briefly the historical character of policing in Nigeria to its colonial root. In this regard, we recall the punitive expeditions against ordinary Nigerians of the colonial army and police in the early- and mid-1900s at Iseyin; in the tin mines on Jos Plateau; the Enugu Coal Mines; Bakalori, Sokoto massacre; Aba riots! Straddling colonial and post-independence periods in Western Nigeria, we remember the brutal police violence against tax-payers and farmers in 1952 and 1969 especially.
Since the Nigerian ruling class-imposed SAP in 1984, the army and police have visited horrifying violence on farmers (as in Bakalori), university students (Zaria, Ile-Ife, Benin City and Nsukka), women and other ordinary Nigerians. And since then, there have been catalogues of violence at Odi, Zaki Biam, Southern Kaduna etc. The colonial character of the police as a repressive and oppressive agent has remained because post-colonial economic and socio-political policies have continued to generate mass poverty, exploitation, ruling class impunity creating gulfs of inequality.
Since the mid-1980s, the Nigerian ruling class have embarked on stripping Nigeria naked auctioning public assets, incurring mountains of debts, paying dubious creditors, privatizing health care, education and public utilities. Meanwhile citizens continue to see scandalous private wealth among the rulers and their cronies who do nothing. The democracy that ordinary Nigerians made so much sacrifices to wrestle from military dictators has been reduced to a sham of fake and fraudulent electoral promises that are abandoned immediately after the equally fraudulent elections!
Is there anyone who still doesn’t know why the Nigerian ruling class always needs punitive policing and a brutal police force? Is anyone still at a loss as to why law-enforcement in Nigeria remains underdeveloped and the police is underpaid and treated like slaves of the ruling class? Is anyone surprised that government and their policing policies prohibit protests and public gatherings routinely or why they brutalize and kill protesters without facing the wrath of the law?
The defiant expression of public anger against police brutality in the last few days has forced government to make deceitful promises of reforms and scrapping of SARS. The same time as government is announcing that it had disbanded SARS protesting youth are still being killed for protesting! This means that under the economic and socio-political policies of this ruling class, police brutality is a systemic phenomenon; and it will not matter whether the name is MOPOL, SARS, SWAT, or CROCODILE SMILE!
What is to be done?
This struggle must advance based on insistence that the people and its youth own Nigeria.
- The electoral system must shift power away from dark money and deep pockets.
- Cost of governance must be curtailed drastically and decision-making powers must be devolved significantly to local levels.
- The auctioning of public assets must be stopped. All previous privatisation of public utilities must be reversed with their control put under democratic control of the people.
- Public-funded health care and education must be revitalized.
- Basic services like water supply, power, roads, environment care and ecological monitoring must all get substantial public funding.
- The vast amounts of public funds estimated at over N90 trillion in private custody or unremitted from various public agencies such as NNPC, DPR, PPPRA, Central Bank etc must be retrieved for urgent public financing of education, health and public services.
The Nigerian ruling class serving as lackeys for transnationals with the World Bank and IMF backing them with unconscionable anti-people policies have again reached the end of the road. They will be re-setting and re-grouping. The masses across our country and their allies must reject ethnic, regional and religion-based explanations of social and economic inequality; we must remain united and vigilant. We must support the youth to fight for the real issues militating against Nigeria’s development and youth creativity. #EndSarsNow; #EndSARS; #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria; #EndInsecurityinNigeria.
Comrade (Prof) Omotoye Olorode, (General Secretary)