HASHTAG ENDSARS CAMPAIGN: THE BIGGER PICTURE BY REV. FR. TIMOTHY ETSENAMHE

HASHTAG ENDSARS CAMPAIGN: THE BIGGER PICTURE BY REV. FR. TIMOTHY ETSENAMHE

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REV. FR. TIMOTHY ETSENAMHE

The year 2020 jam-packed by shock and agitation brings mixed feelings.  The swift emergence of the highly infectious Covid-19 disease brought shock and sadness, as it left many, especially in the western world, depressed. In the midst of this public health distress, the agitation for the dignity of the life of Blacks in America crescendoed with the killing of George Floyd, resulting to massive movements, not only in the United States of America but also all over the world, where black people’s lives are threatened making them feel that they have been prejudiced and treated as chattels. Under the auspices of the Black Lives Matter movement, African Americans and other coloured people, joined with their white sympathizers, took to the streets demanding equal rights, justice and an end to police brutality and impunity.  It was somewhat a joyous moment as it shifted some focus away from the horror of the pandemic. Besides, it evoked joy because black young people summoned courage to demand the reformation of the American justice system that has been unfair to the Blacks. It also reminisces Martin Luther King, Jr’s, Malcom X and the like protests for a free America and respect for the dignity of the black man everywhere in the world, because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.   This year, in fact seems to be a year of enlightenment, renaissance of a sort; a year of unbundling shackles that have held humanity to the ground. 

The wind of agitation has blown to Nigeria, a country that many are proud of only for sheer patriotism. Nigerians, particularly the youths want an end to the Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Police Force.  This agitation has been on. It began in 2017 on social media, precisely on twitter handles of young Nigerians, of prominence is Segun Awosanya – a Nigerian activist – who twitted the hashtag ENDSARS campaign which later took concrete stance and culminated into advocacies and protests which have been skeletal. Today this movement is faceless and it is described as spontaneous. Probably the reason the Nigerian Government has not been able to buy off the protests. 

The resurgence of this campaign came in full force on Saturday 3rd of October, 2020, when a video trended on social media about a SARS police officer shooting a young Nigerian in front of Wetland Hotel at Ughelli, Delta State. The video easily evoked public outcry and condemnation of police brutality and impunity, lawlessness and criminality.  Six days later, nation-wide protests and sit-ins on ENDSARS started. Nigerian youths have not been deterred amidst the use of tear gas, water cannons, among other riot control measures. Surprisingly too, hoodlums are also being used to harass protesters. The resilience of the youths warranted Adamu Mohammed, the Inspector- General of Police to announce the disbandment of SARS to at least make the agitation dissipate. This is only an illusion for many of the youths. The disbandment of SARS is not an end to their yearnings. There is more to this campaign than end SARS.

Hashtag ENDSARS is ontologically the yearning by the young people of Nigeria, that vibrant, intelligent and most significant group of people, whose strengths in numbers are pivotal to our democracy, for better and purposeful governance, equitable distribution of the Nigerian wealth, freedom to life and to good life at that. It is a march to end corruption. It is a fight for restructuring and to build a bridge over the wide gap between the rich and the poor; it is a campaign to fix Nigeria. SARS is an allegory of almost all the institutions of governance in Nigeria as at today.  The entire structure of governance in Nigeria is laden with high level Impunity, instituted criminality in the forms of bribery and corruption, disregard for the dignity of the human person shown in the bloodletting going on across the polar regions of the country, disregard for the dignity of Labour, externalized by the paucity of employment opportunities and poor remuneration for workers, flagrant disobedience of the rule of law, greed and avarice. These realities make one juxtapose governance in Nigeria with SARS. 

In fact these have been the banes of this great country since the military fingered our democratic governance.  SARS is one of the 14 units in the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department established to detain, investigate and prosecute people involved in crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and other forms of crimes. They soon grew in scope as internet fraudsters surged. They were successful in arresting cons in university campuses and vicinities but harassed and victimized innocent young people to the extent that Pulse.ng, a Nigerian News web site described SARS as a ‘national scourge.’ This picture in spite of the good jobs by some good officers of the unit, is what is painted about the men of this special squad because of their hasty conclusion about the identity of any ostentatiously dressed up Nigerian- those with dreadlocks, piercings, flashy cars, expensive phones- to be fraudsters.

In-like- manner, in 1960 when the British handed over power to us to run our own affairs, the country had responsible leadership and she was on the right course to development and prosperity even to the amazement of the international community. Nigeria was thriving in all spheres of life. In terms of economy, Nigeria was envied. Her educational system was a world class standard.  It is a fact that almost all of our tertiary institutions at present are near state of comatose, if not dead. To be appropriate, at the time this piece is being put together, our universities are considered to be in coma because for almost a year now ASUU has been on strike and Nigerian leaders are relaxed over it while their children and wards are in schools in the UK and US.  As a country, we have stopped winning and recording successes and moved to recording failure, mediocrity, impunity and stark insensibility to the plight of the masses. Our leaders, in the wisdom and words of the authors of the book of Proverbs, have swerved from the right path and delved with excitement into depravity.

Over the years, Nigeria leaders have brutalized, maimed and syphoned our common patrimony in their private pockets and those of their cronies. A certain Billionaire while granting an interview recently to BBC News Pidgin, alleged he made his money in the military regime through his military friends. One would wonder how possible this could be. But it states the obvious that perhaps his friends arbitrarily awarded contracts to him without merits and proper supervisions. We have been unfortunate with leaders. We have been left alone for too long on precarious circumstances to hew out a living for ourselves. In the midst of this hustle and bustle, citizens are ambushed and maimed, burnt, sodomized, and killed while some are kept to obtain ransom that they cannot afford. In Nigeria the common man lives in a near hell situation. What is baffling is that our leaders do not have a glimpse of what the masses go through. This is because they are not servants but Lords who are distant from their people. This is buttressed by the attitude of Mohammadu Buhari, the President of Nigeria, who feels a sense of surprise on the umpteenth time whenever the live-in experiences of the masses’ are brought to his knowledge because he seems not to be in touch with the realities Nigerians face. 

Bad governance is responsible for the menaces that SARS pretends to take care of today. The effect of corrupt and irresponsible governance has inputted on the psyche of some Young Nigerians to be thieving and aggressive, impatient, to have a crazy drive for quick and easy money. Fraudsters called ‘yahoo’ boys and girls, are on rampage because they have got no descent means of livelihood and have taken to con as an alternative. Their life styles are tailored to some of our political leaders and top government officials who have the wealth of our Nation in the pockets of their ‘agbada’. They have seen that politicians do nothing but get stupendously rich over night when elected to offices.  They see how everyone hails them and stampedes them for ‘bread and butter’. Sadly enough even some religious leaders that these young people look up to as their hope, appear to also join the band wagon of going cap in hand begging and bowing to politicians. The filthiness that has gripped our collective consciences created this crime.  However, this is not a justification for those involved in ‘yahoo’ and other forms of criminality like kidnapping just to get a living. It is not morally right, but this is what it is. Emphatically, it is very important to note that the vast majority of young and honest Nigerians detest the actions of fraudsters in Nigeria. We condemn their actions and craft and hope they repent. The government must assist us to bring this about.

We cannot continue to live by like this, the Nigerian youths must arise and demand for responsible, purposeful and accountable leadership; we must arise and demand for good governance. Our protest should not be limited to ending police brutality. We must move on to demand an end to the brutality we face in the hands of our political leaders and government officials, economic recklessness, leadership abscondity, the unimaginable gap between the rich and the poor; the fixing of  the state of comatose our nation has been plunged into; we must begin to concretely call our government to go back to the roots –  our founding fathers’ road map for this great country that they gave all of themselves for by asking for a referendum to decide the restructuring of Nigeria. 

This onus lies on the youths of Nigeria because the generation of our present leaders seems to have failed us. They are refurbished, recycled, and reused to the extent they have become moribund. And perhaps too, the system favours them so they would not make any moves towards a meaningful and purposeful change. We had thought that the change that brought the present government to power was real even though some knew it was merely propaganda yet we gave it a benefit of doubt and today it has proven itself to be truly illusion. For many years the Nigerian youths have remained passive in their right to pursue a better Nigeria. This I believe made the President say that ‘Nigeria youths are lazy.’  That jinx of laziness has been broken for a week now on the streets of the various cities in the country demanding an end to police brutality and criminality.

 What we are asking the youths to do is not to end the protest here. We should demand for better governance – that which is pro the people- that will provide all the amenities and infrastructure that are deficient in our country; a system that is not discriminative.   Let us demand for the Nigeria of our dream – ‘’where the son of nobody, becomes somebody without knowing anybody’’.  The struggle must continue because we are not there yet.  We are very far from this dream because at the moment our social amenities are in doldrums, infrastructure are dilapidated and our system is corrupt. Today in Nigeria if you want to buy good petrol with the right pump price, you would have to know the station’s manager.  We live indeed in absurdities in Nigeria! If the Nigeria youths leave the streets today and no meaningful thing changes in Nigeria but just some mumbling of words to disband SARS and some template called Police Act 2020 and a promise of Police Trust Fund, let us know we have not won yet! But we have not also failed! The win is that the elite are on their toes, they are now aware of our power; they know we are not lazy youths; they are beginning to think that in no distant time we would ask for something ground breaking. Hashtag ENDSARS is a campaign to end bad leadership, leadership brutality, political criminality and savagery, impunity and lawlessness.

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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Auchi, Edo State, Nigeria. He was ordained October 20th, 2018. He offers his daily homilies, talks and articles that bother on, faith, theology, morals and many other burning issues in religion and politics. Fr. Daniel writes poems, inspirational quotes and clips.