President Buhari had in a virtual meeting with former presidents and heads of state on Friday said that the peaceful #EndSARS protests by Nigerian youths was hijacked and misdirected by some forces. The president, however, maintained silence on the shooting at the Lekki Tolll Gate, Lagos, by gunmen said to be in Army uniform.
Buhari stated that it is unfortunate that the initial genuine and well-intended protest of youths in parts of the country of the excesses of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police was hijacked and misdirected. He had insisted that the government will not fold its arms and allow miscreants and criminals continue to perpetrate acts of hooliganism in the country.
The President recounted the initial concessions made by his administration on the demands of youths protesting the excesses of some members of the SARS.
He recalled that the youths had demanded that the squad be disbanded, and further articulated the additional demands, including:
”The immediate release of all arrested protesters.
”Justice for deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.
”Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of Police misconduct within 10 days.
”Psychological evaluation and re-training of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be re-deployed; and increase in Police salary.”
The President had declared: ”We accepted all the demands and proceeded immediately to scrap SARS and started the process of addressing the other demands.
”Unfortunately, the protesters refused to call off the protest and engage the Government to address their grievances. Instead, they became emboldened and gradually turned violent.”
Buhari expressed concern that in the mayhem that ensued, many lives have been lost, a number of public and private properties completely destroyed or vandalized.
Buhari had in a broadcast on Thursday stated: ”We will continue to improve good governance through our democratic process including through sustained engagement.
”We shall also continue to ensure that liberty and freedom, as well as the fundamental rights of all citizens are protected. Here, I want to also reaffirm our commitment to preserving the unity of this country.”
The President added that ”Nigerians expect nothing less from responsible statesmen.”
Present at the meeting were retired Gen. Yakubu Gowon, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, retired Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, retired Gen. Abulsalami Abubakar, and former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Dr. Obasanjo was cited to have commended President Buhari on his efforts to bring the situation under control. ”I commend the speech of last night. The nation had been waiting. You made points that I believe need to be commended. Peaceful demonstration is part of democratic practice. The demands of the genuine protesters were accepted, and you are working on implementation. We commend you,” Obasanjo had said.
The former heads of state unanimously told Buhari that generation of employment and growing the economy, including through direct foreign investments were critical to checking youth restiveness.
They also expressed their condolences to the bereaved families of civilians, policemen and soldiers killed as a result of the violent protest, and reaffirmed the commitment to respect the fundamental rights of citizens, including for peaceful protest as enshrined in the Constitution.