By Udeh Okoro Emmanuel
The #EndSARs peaceful protest has come and gone but to many at government and individual levels, the losses are still very fresh. Lives were lost in violation of the constitutional right to life; these include civilians and security men and women. Public and private property were vandalised and looted; the latest being the looting of warehouses where COVID 19 relief materials were stored.
Women and girls were raped in contravention of the new national resolve to end sexual and gender-based violence. While the mayhem was in progress, many businesses were forced to close and lost productive hours. This is coming after the COVID-19-induced closures which had inflicted serious harm on the economy. Social events were postponed, and airlines had to suspend flights while travellers on road were trapped due to road closures. The economy must have lost hundreds of billions if not a trillion or so due to these challenges.
Flowing from the foregoing are urgent questions that need to be resolved and lessons that need to be drawn to harness the opportunities. Otherwise, these adverse happenings would have been in vain and those who died would have lost their lives for nothing. A little suffering and deprivation for a better future should be a great opportunity.
The first lesson is the need for government at all levels to be attentive and listen to the voice of reason during times of peace. So many civil society organisations, intellectuals, cultural associations, etc. have been involved over the years in a plethora of workshops, lectures, publications, drafting of bills and produced very well-nuanced documentation on not just the need for police reforms but also the exact contours of what needs to be done. As usual, the authorities arrogantly refused to grab the opportunities provided by these free consultations to reform the Nigeria Police.
Complaints upon complaints of violations of fundamental rights by the police were overlooked until the protests. The wrong message may have been sent by government that until people protest strongly and ground national activities, no one would listen or act. The proper lesson is that government should not wait for any issue to get out of hand before initiating reforms once there is public consensus that a system is not working.
The second issue and lesson are strong messages to the youths. They outnumber the decadent old generation who have set Nigeria on the path of economic, social and political ruin. The political actors in the two dominant parties whose only stock in trade is organising to rig elections through violence, bribery and exploiting the faultlines of religion and ethnicity have lost the plot and can no longer hold Nigeria down. The protests have shown that the youths of Nigeria can mobilise, hold out and win the long-distance battle of wits to reclaim the soul of Nigeria.
Moving from the above is the need to sustain the structures that piloted these #EndSARS protests and turn it into a political machinery to contest power in 2023, with clear cut fundamental ideas of modern governance to propel Nigeria out of the doldrums. Disbanding this network would amount to missing a great opportunity.
This mobilisation and organisation must start immediately to build a true progressive party. Part of the movement will be to engage the respective agencies who hold the key to specific reforms. This will include the National Assembly who should amend relevant laws, especially on electoral, political and economic reforms.