Nigerian governors are using all theatrics on the book to play the democrat as a sudden youthful rebellion spirals out of control
By Elijah Olusegun
In this Twitter age, things get mixed up fast. And as the world watches the seventh day of peaceful protests by Nigerians against police brutality, the impressions those afar are coming away with might be worlds apart from reality.
Nigerians are not protesting, for starters. At least 16 states across the nation will have nothing to do with the protest—though some of them admit the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), now scrapped, was a brute. Katsina and five other states in the northwest, the region where President Muhammadu Buhari comes from, don’t even like how the APC-led federal government cringed under the protest, and dissolved the squad.
“By staging this protest to call for the disbandment of the SARS, I’m afraid we may be descending into greater problems, especially where I come from,” said a former senator from Zamfara, Kabiru Marafa.
“At the end, the same people will come out to accuse the government of failing from protecting the lives of the citizens.”
Zamfara is a PDP state in the northwest. But that matters little. Gov Bello Matawalle sees SARS as important for peace and security in Nigeria. According to him, SARS has helped the state tamp down its crime upsurge. “Here in Zamfara , we cannot afford to do without their immense contribution to the success of our peace initiatives against banditry and other criminality, ” he said through his spokesman Zailani Bapoa on October 11.
Apart from Kogi, Kwara, and Abuja, all APC-controlled, other states in the north-central, including those of the PDP, believe the ENDSARS protesters are simply barking up the wrong tree. Non-partisan institutions and leaders are not different in their opinions either. Monarchs, CSO leaders, youth leaders, and market associations prefer a protest about reforming the squad, if at all they make sense of any protest like that going on across the south.
Joseph Gimbiya, chairman of a coalition of CSOs in Taraba, said SARS only needed a regular psychological evaluation and testing for drugs and other substance abuse. That would have to ensure that they were in the right frame of mind. For him, the squad was carrying out important tasks of ridding the nation of criminals.
So, as the youth heat the polity to a boil, the major bloc of Nigeria’s electorate (46 percent of voters in the last election came from the north) can only wonder: why is the south alone taking itself too seriously about SARS?
In reality, the south is not going gung-ho about #ENDSARS. Only the region’s Gen Z demographics are in on it, and they seem to be having a blast (DJ, musicians, comedian on open mic in Lagos) sustaining the protest. The reason is not entirely about their raging hormones and Twitter-woke tendency. With their hip haircuts, laptops, Iphones, and flashy lifestyles, they, many believe, were the ones taking the hit from SARS. So they are right airing out their frustration. “Our daughters will not be able to prophesy and young men will not see visions if we don’t keep them alive. I support the youths in this peaceful protest as they “speak up” to #EndPoliceBrutality #EndSARS #ENDSWAT,” said RCCG General Overseer Pastor E. Adeboye, one of Nigeria’s most influential citizens.
The backing Adeboye and other old-generation influencers are offering the youth in the protest could be a morale booster. Hashtagged ENDSARS, the protest has turned a movement since it trended on October 8, days after musician Naira Marley backed off his plan to organize one. Support, locally and internationally, in cash and kind, has been overwhelming, especially from tech start-uppers and other young entrepreneurs of that generation. Flutterwave, Bundle Africa, Quidax, and others have pitched in millions of naira to bankroll hospital bills of those injured, and legal fees of others arrested.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has also shared the hashtag and links, and has urged his techpreneur circle to club together in funding the protest.
“#EndSARS. Flag of Nigeria,” Dorsey tweeted.
If, with that tweet, he suggested a Nigeria-wide event because it’s all over Twitter, he has to prove it offline. There are millions of Nigerian youth—and dozens of CSO coalitions—opposed to the ENDSARS protest, even countering it. And they are all up north.
In Kano, for instance, a protest is going on. And the protesters are youth. And their agitation is about police brutality, too, like their southern and Abuja counterparts. Only that the approach and sentiment are opposite.
The Movement for SARS Reformation in Kano is protesting what the protesters in Lagos, Abuja and other southern parts could call achievement: the scrapping of SARS.
Khalid Kani, the leader of the movement, asked Kano Gov Abdullahi Ganduje to make Buhari walk back his word—that SARS has been dissolved—and reform the police and the squad.
In Katsina, ending SARS means worsening the insecurity in the state, according to the state’s pro-SARS protesters which include CSOs, the National Association of Nigerian Students, market associations, and others. The leader of the protest, Adamu Kabir Matazu, told newsmen their own peaceful rally is to show solidarity for the squad.
“Indeed we in Katsina are in need of SARS particularly the women and children. We want all the SARS operating in the country to be all deployed to the state,” said Khadija Saluwa, chairman Women and Children Awareness Initiative. “…The disbandment of SARS is injustice because they are the only ones helping us in this trying time”. Saluwa noted as she cited cases of widows and children bandits displaced across the state.
As Force PRO Frank Mba initially confirmed to the youth in the early stage of the protest, SARS had also been in the heat of terrorism and banditry in the northeast. Little surprise civil society organisations and trade unions in Borno staged a counter rally against the southern protesters.
“The SARS operatives have contributed immensely to the fight against terrorism,” said Ahmed Sheu chairman of a CSO coalition in the state. He complained they didn’t like how the other parts of the country are taking the protest.
Marafa has a deeper take on that, especially considering the timing. If the protest is about death and insecurity, the north has been the biggest victim, though Nigerians have been killed across the nation.
Between 2011 and September 2020, 73,648 citizens, according to the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), have been killed by Boko Haram terrorists, bandits, and state actors, including police, and officers of the armed forces. About 50 percent of the killings (32,235) happened in Borno alone. Adamawa has 3,998, followed by Zamfara’s 3,629, and Kaduna 3607 in the same period. Down southwest, Lagos for those nine years recorded the highest, 691 deaths. South-south, Rivers recorded 1153, the highest in the entire south-south, southeast, and southwest.
Across Nigeria, no fewer than 37,868 (over 50 percent) of the deaths happened between June 2015 and last September—all in the six years of the APC government.
Of all the deaths, 11,037 were perpetrated by state actors, between 2011 and now. But under Buhari’s nose, since June 2015, the police, army, navy, air force, DSS, the NSCDC, and other security agents have killed 7,486 Nigerians, according to the NST, an American Council of Foreign Relations database. Though it might be difficult sorting out killings by SARS alone, or even the police in general, in this light.
It’s, however, clear the number of deaths by these state actors rose steadily from 2015 till 2017, falling to 841 two years ago. The rate at which the security agencies kill Nigerians has been soaring since 2019. In this year alone, all the security agencies have killed 1,896, the highest in six years—higher than the 2019 figures, with a margin of 497. The safest year under Buhari, as far as state-actor’s killing goes, was 2015—with 687 deaths.
Again it’s hard to know which region is worst hit by the state killers. Extra-judicial killing by the federal troops and other security agencies fighting terrorists in the northeast and banditry in the northwest and north-central could sway the highest figure to the north.
It then baffles Marafa and others—that Lagos, Osun, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, Edo, Rivers and others less hit states in the south just suddenly realized SARS has been a killing machine.
“I cannot see the reason why in a village of not more than 3,000 people, more than 200 people were killed within two hours, but nobody staged a protest against it,” he said. “But because of some misguided actions of a few SARS operatives, you now staged a nationwide protest, calling for dissolution of SARS.”
The APC senator then called Buhari’s attention to the wheel within the wheels of this south-wide ENDSARS movement. That’s the politics of it.
Obviously all of the northern governors, irrespective of their party, don’t buy the ENDSARS youthful rebellion. And most of the citizens, except those in Kaduna where there was a brief anti-SARS protest, feel same way as their governors do—about the anti-SARS Twitter movement.
“Doubtlessly, those who are vehemently against the operation of SARS in the country have more questions to answer from Nigerians,” said Matawalle. For Borno’s Gov Babagana Zulum, one man’s meat is another one’s poison. He told the visiting Interior Minister Rauf Aregbesola Borno wants Buhari to deploy to the northeastern state the operatives of SARS dissolved in the south. Zulum said, in Borno , SARS made remarkable achievements against Boko Haram.
Most of their PDP counterparts in Bauchi, Benue, and Sokoto haven’t said much against SARS either.
That politics of silence equally reverberates in the south where the agitation is heated. It was only Rivers Gov Nyesom Wike, who did a double take, and Oyo’s Seyi Makinde, the southwest PDP opposition mouthpiece, and Enugu’s Dep. Gov Cecilia Ezeilo that identified or sympathized with the ENDSARS movement.
Other governors have been measured in their response to the massive protest, warning the youth to be peaceful first. Ekiti’s Gov. Kayode Fayemi (chair of the Nigeria Governors Forum), his Ondo counterpart Rotimi Akeredolu, Osun’s Gboyega Oyetola, and Ogun’s Dapo Abiodun have mostly kept quiet, sitting on the fence, as it were.
Both sides of the fence, really, are too volatile to take for any of the governors. On the few occasions IGP Mohammed Adamu and Buhari were forced to heed the protesters’ request, like when the president dissolved the squad in response to the protesters’ five-point demand, the governors would merely urge the protesting youth to be patient. A nice way of playing safe.
The hardest the NGF has done so far is to re-echo answers Buhari already gave three days ago—answers which the protesters rejected. “Governors were unequivocal that all police officers who participated in the abuse or actions that might have led to injury or the death of innocent citizens must be fished out and brought to book while other Nigerians who have been adversely affected by police brutality or other actions that were injurious to them or their loved ones, should be compensated,” Fayemi said at the end of a meeting on October 11.
That position is neither here nor there for a nation in the middle of an emergency. Perhaps because there isn’t much at stake for many of the governors. Unlike Lagos’ Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu whose state, the epicenter of the agitation, has been paralysed by the near-violent daily protest. The disruption has put the governor on the trot. Sanwo-Olu has made two trips to Abuja in the last few days. He already set up a N200-million fund to take care of the victims of SARS’s brutality. And he’s all pleas as he dutifully reports to the protesters who chose the state’s two key economic hubs—Lekki and Ikeja—to stage their carnival of a protest.
“I joined the #ENDSARS protesters in Alausa and received a letter of their demands and once again I reiterated my support. I am now on my way to Abuja to meet with H.E Pres.@MBuhari and the goal of the conversation is clear,” he tweeted before the last trip.
Fayemi, too, as the NGF chairman, was probably forced to come down from the fence. And, on his way down, he made some more political statements. “Essentially, the idea is not to diminish the essence of the current #EndSARS protests but rather to affirm that we band together and side with Nigerians,” he tweeted. “As decision makers, we recognise our role to work with the Federal Government in bringing a total end to the menace of SARS.”
Obviously, the NGF is divided, considering the second version of the story Fayemi doesn’t like to share. The Northern Governors Forum, under Plateau Gov Samuel Lalong, is not banding with Fayemi’s. Lalong told newsmen at Aso Rock in Abuja Thursday the disbandment did not sit down well with the northern governors. In fact, he said their approval was not sought. That was a direct contradiction of Fayemi’s claim—that the 36 governors supported the ENDSARS protest. To further expose the crack, Lalong said the Special Anti- robbery Squad, the menace Fayemi’s forum worked to end, has been useful in the fight against insecurity in the north—and that the presence of a few bad cops in the squad can’t be strong enough reason to ban it.
Even if Fayemi’s statement is a harmonized spin on the deliberations of the governors who went into the meeting with their divergent positions on whether dissolving SARS cuts it or not, the politics of the whole thing is glaring. And divisive, too. Just like the politics driving the ENDSARS movement itself.
With the party spirit and youthful exuberance of the kids daily joining the movement, the protest is not about to end. One can say that for sure. But where its politicking is heading, amidst this confusion, many believe, remains unpredictable.