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Trouble with president’s #EndSARS speech is what he failed to say

By Rose Moses

On October 22, 2020–the year of Covid-19 and good governance protests–the Nigerian speaking space gained additional vocab. “Speechless speech” enriched our blossoming political lexicon two clear days after the alleged massacre of some protesting youths at the Alpha Beta toll plaza in Lekki, Lagos. 

For about two weeks, youths staged a protest march in the place with the hashtag EndSARS. Their grouse was against police brutality and bad governance, generally. They were asking for a more equitable Nigeria with the right atmosphere for them to aspire and achieve their dreams.

The protest was simultaneously going on in almost all the states but the one in Lekki was outstanding.

Though Inspector-General of the Police, Mohammed Adamu, would announce the disbandment of the Special Anti-Riot Squad (SARS) as a result, he would immediately announce its replacement with SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics).

SARS was notorious for maltreatment and mistreatment of people, especially youths for things as simple as their physical appearances and lifestyles. Suspecting that there is no difference between SARS and SWAT, except for the name change, the youth group remained adamant, which led to another hashtag EndSWAT and hashtag EndBadGovernance.

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So, the well-coordinated protests across the country continued peacefully, until the Nigerian Army announced that it would commence a military exercise codenamed “Operation Crocodile Smile VI” from October 20 to December 31, 2020, the same time the protesters were on the streets

The exercise, the Army said, would be cyber warfare designed to identify, track and counter negative propaganda on social media. The army denied it was targeted at the protesters, even as most Nigerians thought otherwise, perhaps, because the Army had earlier warned “trouble makers” while the #EndSARS protests progressed.

Nonetheless, the military exercise was criticised by many Nigerians over fears that it was another tactic to clamp down on the hitherto peaceful marcher.


Not surprisingly, things began to head south, figuratively, soon after. A peaceful protest, even without defined ringleaders, would be immediately hijacked by hoodlums, who began to kill, maim, burn public and private property. The hoodlums were suspected to have been sponsored by politicians.

In Abuja, more than 50 cars were burnt at the Apo Mechanic Village by suspected hoodlums. In one video that went viral, some of the destroyers were being conveyed in a black SUV by men in suits to attack, ostensibly to counter the marchers.

Initially, it was suspected that those conveying the attackers came from the Department of State Services but a former assistant director of the secret service, Dennis Amachree, debunked that. In a television programme, he rather said the men in suits were a senator’s aides.

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So, when the Lekki shootings, now tagged ‘Black Tuesday 10.20.2020’, happened, doubts as to the motive behind the kickoff of Operation Crocodile Smile at the time the protest was ongoing seemed to evaporate.

Many would link the Lekki shootings, rightly or wrongly, with the exercise as soldiers deployed to control the protests opened fire on the protesters, instead. Although the Defence HQ denied deploying the soldiers to the tollgate, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu insisted the military carried out the shootings. He ordered an investigation into the rules of engagement adopted by soldiers who were deployed to the Lekki tollgate on the night of the shootings.

The shooting by soldiers deployed to disperse the protesters at the Lekki toll gate triggered more violence, with hoodlums burning down, at least, two depots of the BRT, a bus-based public transport system designed to improve capacity and reliability relative to a conventional bus system.

Buhari addresses the nation

The long list of destroyed public and private property in Lagos, according to reports, include Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government secretariat; the Oba of Lagos palace; Lagos High Court, Igbosere; Oyingbo BRT terminus; Ojodu Berger BRT terminus; VIO, Ojodu Berger; Lagos State Public Works Corporation, Ojodu Berger; Lagos City Hall and Circle Mall Lekki; numerous luxury shops in Surulere; The Nation newspaper house; TV Continental, and Shoprite, Lekki.

The police also counted their losses, saying that 25 stations were burnt in Lagos. They include Orile, Amukoko, Layeni, Ilasamaja, Ikotun, Ajah, Igando, Elemoro, Makinde, Onipanu, Ebute Ero, Pen-Cinema, Isokoko, Alade, Cele, Igbo Elerin, Shibiri, Gbagada, Onilekere, Makoko, Daleko, Asahun, Makinyo, Amuwo-Odofin, and Anti-Kidnapping, Surulere. Five police stations were vandalised but not burnt.

It has also emerged that over N1 trillion may be required to rebuild public and private property destroyed, going by a rough assessment of the financial requirement after a badly shaken Lagos governor did a site inspection on October 23, 2020.

Although the casualty figure remains controversial, Amnesty International says 12 persons were killed in the incident that sparked more nationwide violence with so many government and private property destroyed and or looted.

With global outrage over the incident, it was surprising that in the country where the tragic incidents occurred, the president remained mute. He was saying nothing, even when world leaders were unanimous in condemning the wanton shootings at peaceful marchers.

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On October 22, 2020, two days after the Lekki shootings, the president eventually addressed the nation via a recorded broadcast. His speech was immediately dismissed by many for lacking in empathy and hardly inspiring any hope. A speechless speech, they called it all over social media.

Worse still, there was no place in the broadcast, where the ugly incident of ‘Black Tuesday 10.20.2020’ was mentioned. No message to the youths killed or soothing words to their parents and loved ones. On the contrary, there was some tribute to police officers that may have lost their lives in the process.

“Let me pay tribute to officers of the Nigeria Police Force, who have tragically lost their lives in the line of duty,” the president read.

While that is quite commendable, but against the backdrop that youths were protesting police brutality, every leadership module points to the fact that a special tribute to the youths that also lost their lives in the process would not have been out of place.

The president’s opening statement in that ‘speechless speech’, betrayed him as highly detached from and oblivious of the sufferings of the people he leads as a result of his government’s harsh policies.

Presidents are known to rush back from any event, and straight to the scene of such tragedies to address the aggrieved. But that is not the case here. Or how are we supposed to explain that opening statement after weeks of peaceful protests that turned violent?

“It has become necessary for me to address you having heard from many concerned Nigerians and having concluded a meeting with all the Security Chiefs,” was how the president started.

Wand you wonder what kind of leader sees these happening and waiting until after two days for ‘concerned Nigerians’ to tell him to act? Or holds a security meeting to that effect for two days before acting? Does it mean that the president is not with, or is not one of us?

When such a level of violence erupts, especially in a country where most of its productive population are largely hungry, down and out… and living on about $1 a day, it is obvious that such a society is sitting on a keg of gunpowder. The scale of unemployment among the Nigerian youth is so worrisome to the point they are logged among the most vulnerable. That is why we hear such terms as Farmermoni, Tradermoni, Marketmoni, N-Power, N-Tech and N-Agro as measures targeted at alleviating poverty among the very educated young generation.

This, ironically, is in a country where senators, among other politicians/government officials, make tens and hundreds of millions of Naira a month!This is in a country also where the minimum wage and the amount paid by the so-called poverty alleviation initiatives cannot buy a bag of rice, for instance. Yet, the president told us “no Nigerian Government in the past has methodically and seriously approached poverty-alleviation as we have done.”

Whatever yardstick the president and his speechwriters used in measuring that, fact remains that Nigerians have never been this poor and hungry. Perhaps, except in 1984. While we have lived with lootings in high places by government officials, the level of looting that escalated after the president’s speech is hardly known in the history of the country. It all goes to make one statement: Abject poverty caused by very wicked leaders.

For instance, how does one begin to assimilate the fact that in the face of severe hardship resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, among others, any human with blood flowing through his veins, would contemplate stealing palliatives meant to cushion effect of the pandemic on the poor? That happened in today’s Nigeria. Angry and hungry youths on discovering where these palliatives were warehoused, have been looting them, ever since. Such is how low our society has degenerated.More pathetic and so depressing was having to watch a trending video of the looting of Sen. Victor Ndoma Egba’s home in Calabar, Cross River State. Watching people cart away toilet seats, mattresses, pots, frying pans, kettles, generating sets, every household item you can think of, makes one want to cry.

Egba served three terms as senator under the Peoples Democratic Party and when he lost his fourth attempt to return to the Senate, he defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress, which rewarded him with the chairmanship of the cash-cow Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). So, while he swims in affluence, his people eat from the garbage, so to speak. They only waited for an opportunity like the one we had last week to descend as low as was witnessed. And as I write, same fate befell former Speaker Yakubu Dogara.

Amidst gunshots, his house in Jos was also looted by another set of hoodlums.Am I supporting the looting? Hell, no! But the tragedy is that there are so many Ndoma Egbas and Dogara’s in our midst, though they comprise just about one per cent of the about 200 million Nigerians. They parasite, dangerously, on the 99 per cent of the populace.That and similar ugly situations are what Nigerian youths are asking the president to address and it is my prayer we do so soon so that we do not get to the point where the poor will get so hungry that they will start eating the rich exploiters.Activities of the last few weeks suggest that our country is not so immune, after all.