By Steve Nwosu
I’m somewhat reluctant to join the widespread gloating over the report recently submitted by the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Matters, otherwise called the ENDSARS Panel.
And the reason is simple: I’m unhappy that it has slapped another tar on the not-too-sterling image of our tarnished Federal Government. I’m not too happy that our government is being ridiculed and humiliated by netizens and just everyone else over the less-than-honourable manner it handled the ENDSARS protests and dubious narratives it spun to obfuscate the tragic turn of events.
No doubt, a few people in the Buhari government deserve public flogging over the handling of that landmark episode, I still feel it does not do us any good, both as citizens and as a country, to go gloating over the incompetence of our government. For its humiliation ultimately humiliates all of us as Nigerians. It doesn’t matter that some of us saw it coming and advised against this dubious stand of our government on the matter, but were branded wailers, and roundly abused by the government and its hirelings.
However, I’m not also impressed by the seemingly concerted efforts on the part of the establishment to discredit the report.
Needless to say, irrespective of the damning conclusions in that report, I’m not expecting an apology from Minister of Information Lai Mohammed or the government he speaks for. Not to CNN! And definitely not to us the chequered citizenry.
While at it, I also do not believe that the report is perfect, or that there aren’t one or two issues to fault therein. For there are quite a few.
I listened to the counsel of the Lagos State Government to the panel, and I can’t but agree with some of the objections he raised. I’ve also listened to Ebun Adegboruwa (SAN), a member of the panel, and a few assertions he made did not sit well with me. But then, he’s a lawyer. I’m not. But I don’t think the Lagos State Government is bound to accept everything contained in the report and all its recommendations, without as much as calling for a review.
I wish government, both the Federal Government and the Lagos State Government, would find a way to meet us halfway on this report, irrespective of the who, how and why the report was leaked.
The Presidency should not spoil an already bad case by continuing on the path of denial. The wisest thing to do at this point would be to cut your losses, in terms of reputational damage, own up on some aspects, promise to look into others, and work quietly behind the scene to address the glaring problems, while still saving face for the government, the lying military, the beastly SARS, and even the minister that often speaks from the wrong end of his torso.
Even if ego wouldn’t let you say sorry, let your action, in terms of implementing the recommendations of the panel, do the talking. Let that be your penance. For history would be very harsh on those who stubbornly stick to this denial narrative, in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.
We also need to identify, and punish, the officers who deliberately fed our president all those lies as to what happened at Lekki Tollgate on that fateful October 20, 2020 night. I mean, the people who looked us in the face and unashamedly told us we did not see what we saw. That we were gripped by mass hallucination.
Heads must roll!
We have to find a way of putting closure to this matter without, as it were, disgracing our government.
However, the current subterranean moves to discredit the report will not solve the problem either.
Going into legalistic overdrive about how the panel did not have the powers to do what it did, or that the ‘leaked’ report was a minority report does not do anyone any good. It just amounts to trying to hide behind one finger.
And nothing best illustrates this hiding behind a finger posturing than what President Buhari told visiting US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, last Thursday.
According to presidential spokesman Femi Adesina, President Buhari had pointed out to Blinken that “so many state governments are involved, and have given different terms of reference to the probe panels”. Lagos is only one of them, and it would only make sense that the Presidency would “have to wait for the steps taken by the states”, as a way of allowing “the system to work”.
“We can’t impose ideas on them. Federal Government has to wait for the reaction of the states,” Adesina quoted the president as saying.
Now, this position makes a lot of sense, if we weren’t talking about a Buhari presidency and its well-documented penchant for bypassing the same system it now claims to be “allowing to work”.
I wouldn’t know if Blinken was sold on that submission, but while we ‘wait’, it wouldn’t be out of place to remind our waiting president thus: As widespread as the ENDSARS protests (and subsequent riotings) were, there’s no denying the fact that Lagos was the epicentre, and that Lekki tollgate was the hallmark.
Apart from the fact that several states did not even set up any probe panels, as directed by the Presidency, most of those that did, in the hope that there could be another largess coming from the Federal Government, in the form of compensation and monetary bailout, have since concluded and handed in their reports.
But, I guess, the President had to say something to Blinken, to douse the allegation that his government had chosen to ignore the report and wasn’t doing anything about it. I suspect that long after the US secretary of state is gone, we would still be waiting for other states to submit their reports. And when they eventually do, maybe at the end of his tenure, we would still be waiting for action from the Presidency. President Buhari has to reconfirm that his, is not an administration sworn to lies.
Each time, in the last year, I drive through the Lekki tollgate plazas – either by Admiralty Plaza or the Lekki/Ikoyi Link Bridge, I genuinely feel for the Lekki Concession Company and the Lagos State Government. I shudder at the monumental revenue loss resulting from the non-collection of tolls for over a year now. Billions of Naira!
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I sometimes feel amusing guilt at the free flow of traffic that the absence of tolling has since engendered.
But before I get too sympathetic, I quickly remember the several N300 and N400 I had paid in the years gone by, and how I’d always felt the rates were not only criminal, but also the most inhuman and inconsiderate on Planet Earth. I also remember how, rushing out of the home to meet an appointment on the Mainland one morning, I had forgotten my prepaid access card at home, only to have the LCC’s roughnecks swoop down on my car at the pay point and make me pay a non-negotiable N1,000 to use that plaza access.
So, much as I feel for them, the imp in my subconscious sometimes does a serves-them-right giggle at the near-gunpoint extortion that those toll plazas represented.
Surely, they rank among the most expensive in the world.
And before anyone goes on the internet to download information on how some tollgates in America charge as much as $5, they should not forget to also download the minimum wage and poverty levels in those places. So we don’t compare apples to lemon. Because an $11/hour minimum wage economy is not the same as a N30,000/month economy.
However, when we consider that one of the main reasons for tolling any road, apart from enabling the BOT partner to recover his money, is to raise funds for continued maintenance of the said road, I think it’s in our ultimate interest to allow tolling resume (albeit, at drastically reduced rates), so we don’t lose the world-class infrastructure that both the Lekki roads and bridges represent.