By Francis Ewherido
I have been disoriented for much of the week. I have done very little this week. I had even planned not to write this week because contradictory emotions have left me completely disoriented.
When the EndSars protests started, I was completely fine with the way the protesters conducted themselves. That’s the standard of protest you see in very advanced climes.
I would gladly have let my children join the protest, if they were of age and wanted to. Even when it got mixed up with mee-tooism (people who saw the protest as a fashion trend and joined the bandwagon, or seemed to be using it to enhance their brands), I did not also have any issues. “All join,” I said to myself! I started getting worried, when stories, photos and videos of hooliganism started surfacing online.
Then came my first major worry: I saw the videos of the razing of the police station at Orile in Lagos. I saw young men carting away arms. What do they want to do with the arms?
This really got me worried. At that point, I felt bad eggs had infiltrated and hijacked the protest. I thought it was time for the protesters to retreat and restrategise.
Then the curfew was announced in Lagos. We had to hurriedly close the office. I learnt it was later extended to 9pm. The Lagos State Government erred in the first place by making the curfew too abrupt. It was an unnecessary panic decision.
Also, shooting at peaceful protesters at the Lekki tollgate is something I have struggled to understand. It still has not made sense to me because the protest was still orderly at that time. Events took a twist in Lagos, especially on the Lekki corridor, after the shootings.
The question has been asked: should a curfew have been declared in the first place? Why was the curfew declared? Was it to truncate the legitimate EndSars protests or to stop hoodlums from hijacking the protest to loot, maim or cause mayhem?
Only the Lagos State Government can adequately tell us why it declared the curfew. For me legitimate protests should have been left to continue, while acts of criminality are dealt with in line with the laws of the land. But I also know that is easier said than done.
Unfortunately, bad elements took over a legitimate protest and left, in its wake, arson, lootings and destructions. Many families have been left in grief because of loss of loved ones and loss of sources of livelihood.
The protests have ended abruptly, but the demands of the protesters should not end here. It goes beyond the disbanding of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), as many observers have pointed out. It also includes a comprehensive reform of the police force.
When you travel from Lagos to Benin, especially between Ondo and Edo States, there are over 30 police checkpoints and about four army checkpoints. SARS only mounts about two of these checkpoints. The others are mounted by other policemen. These checkpoints are meant to check frequent cases of armed robberies and kidnappings on that route.
I must confess that the police and the army personnel have succeeded substantially in making that route safe. But they have created another problem. You can spend one hour at some of these checkpoints. A journey of four hours can take 10 hours because of these checkpoints.
There are also a few of these checkpoints that are very notorious. Those who use their personal vehicles on that route say your vehicle papers can never be complete at those checkpoints. One inspector general after the other has reiterated that policemen on the road should only ask for three vehicle documents: Vehicle license, driver’s license and insurance certificate.
Proof of ownership, vehicle registration papers, E-CMR, etc., are not part of what policemen on the road should ask for, according to all the inspectors general of police.
But how dare you “teach” policemen at those checkpoints their job? You will spend the whole day with them. Some even ask for C-caution, jack, spare tyre and other items that the Federal Road Safety Commission usually demand from motorists. This campaign includes cessation of brutalisation of Nigerians by policemen on the road.
For me, the EndSars Campaign is about the desire for a better Nigeria and I am very happy it is being spearheaded by the youths.
The youths, who have a greater stake in the future of Nigeria, are not happy with the status quo and they are ready to do something about it.
The youths have raised my hopes about a better, free and fair 2023 general election, where the will of the majority will prevail.
But there is a problem. Unscrupulous politicians have always used some youths as thugs to frustrate the will of the majority. Now the youths started a legitimate protest and again some unscrupulous youths derailed it with violence and looting.
Yes, the people, who went about looting and burning of buildings are youths. Many people in my generation no longer have the strength to carry out the level of looting and mayhem I saw; they also do not have the legs to run.
Age and debilitating ailments have restricted our level of physical activity.
Between now and 2023, the youths must now reorganise themselves. They have the numbers to determine who governs us in free and fair elections.
In doing that, they must fish out the bad eggs among them. The same youths, who derailed the EndSars protest by turning it into a burning and looting spree, can also truncate the will of the majority in 2023.
Perhaps what happened might just be an eye opener for youths to know all the areas to focus on in 2023 to ensure they determine who governs us.
At times like this, we should not focus entirely on the shortcomings of governments. These arsonists and looters, where did they come from? Homes, of course.
Parents must rise up to their parenting responsibilities and bring up their children properly. Shops of ordinary Nigerians were looted and burnt. Where do these families start from?
How do they pay their bills and feed their children. Once you start inflicting pains on ordinary people, your actions become indefensible. The grievances were legitimate, so were the protests, but the killings, looting and destructions are indefensible and reprehensible.
We have heard the cliché so many times that “the youths are the leaders of tomorrow.” Youths, you have proven with the initial EndSars protest that your tomorrow is here.
The elections of 2023 are also nearby. You have the numbers, organise yourselves, fish out the bad elements amongst you, who can derail your plans, and take over Nigeria.
If your will power continues to endure, no moneybag can stop you. I just want a better Nigeria and I will be very happy if the youths can bring this to reality.