Members of the PENPUSHING Media, an online and WhatsApp group news platform devoted to publication and analysis of authentic news, held an intense virtual discussion session between October 22 and 23, 2020 on issues arising from the #EndSARS Protest which has rocked Nigeria in the last two weeks.
In the various contributions from across the globe, members took introspective and retrospective look at the issues arising from the protest, the response of the government to the issues, and made prospective suggestions on the way forward.
From the discussions members:
* Fully associate with the #EndSARSProtest as it represents the exercise of the fundamental human rights of citizens guaranteed in Sections 35, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
*The platform specially commended the leadership, superb organisation, discipline, accountability, responsiveness, inclusivity and unity of purpose displayed by the youths in the #EndSARSProtest.
*The platform noted with delight that the demands of the youths in this protest as enumerated in their ‘5for5’ agenda – (i) immediate release of all arrested protesters (ii) justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families (iii) setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days (iv) in line with the new Police Act (2020) psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all SARS officers before they can be redeployed and (v) increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens – are not only desirable but are measures capable of contributing to the socio-economic development of the country.
*The platform recalled that the Buhari administration was itself a product of protest having utilized same as a veritable platform to mobilise the populace in support of its plan to take over power.
* For the reason in Point (d) above, it is believed that the Buhari administration ought to encourage peaceful protest as a way of expression of legitimate grievances by Nigerians and therefore be able to effectively and efficiently manage the #EndSARSProtest by providing adequate security for the protesters while also devising viable ways of constructively engaging with them.
*The platform also reviewed the much-awaited and widely canvassed broadcast to the nation by President Muhammadu Buhari and concluded that it was short on substance and long on rhetoric. The broadcast lacked the empathy expected from the father and leader of a nation at this critical period. The platform noted that the Presidential address in addition came a little bit late as a damage control measure.
*It is believed that the refusal of the President to make any mention of the unwarranted and unprovoked attacks on protesters by elements in the military at Lekki Toll Gate, especially, and in other parts of the country was a big minus to the positive impact and national healing which a presidential broadcast is expected to achieve at this point in time in the country.
*While not supporting the needless and regrettable destruction and arson wrecked on public and private properties, particularly in Lagos, Abuja and other cities by some elements in the society who were not originally part of the #ENDSARSProtest, the platform notes that in a country now known as the headquarters of poverty in the world and where about 120 million people out of an estimated population of 200 million survive on the global benchmark poverty level of less than $1.9 per day, the reactions of various strata of the population will vary in a crisis period as created by the confusion following the violent dispersal of peaceful protesters.
* The result of frustration and desperation were manifestly demonstrated in the aftermath of the Lekki Toll Gate killings. Thus, the Penpushing Media believes the events of the last few days arising from the protest were symbolic of the bigger socio-political and economic problems confronting the nation.
*The Platform stands in solidarity with well meaning individuals and groups seeking to initiate redress with International Court of Justice (ICJ) on violations and killing of innocent civilians holding national flag and singing national anthem in Lekki.
The Platform therefore recommends the following as way forward:
*That the youths behind the #EndSARSProtest should sustain the platform and grow it to become a viable and strong pressure group that can be used for real and positive transformation of the country. It is believed that the demographic statistics which suggest that about 60 percent of the population are youths favour them in taking over the present and future of the country for the purpose of creating a better organised, disciplined, united, law abiding, transparent, progressive and productive society. Indeed, the platform believes that power belongs to the youth.
*That the government should immediately take pro-active measures in securing strategic government and private properties across the country to prevent the escalation of violence which resulted from the killings at Lekki Toll Gate.
*That the government should be sincere and strategic in addressing the demands of the #EndSARSProtesters, particularly to use the opportunity presented by the protest in carrying out a comprehensive reform of the police and the entire national security apparatus. The reform should include training, welfare, equipment, recruitment of more hands, formulation of rules of engagement with the civil populace and general discipline.
*That government should always encourage dialogue as a standing means of resolving issues and grievances by citizens. Instead of seeing dialogue as a sign of weakness, the government should adopt it as a strategy for de-escalating tension which is a regular feature in a multi-ethnic and religious country where majority of the citizens are already grounded by poverty, lack of social welfare programme, deficient infrastructure and obvious distrust of government.
*That government should recognise that protest is an integral part of democracy and should devise an enduring plan for providing protection for protesters, instead of antagonising them.
*That government should immediately move to revamp the economy, introduce genuine social welfare package like heath insurance policy and sincere provision for the vulnerable members of the society, rebuild infrastructure and make genuine moves to drastically reduce corruption.
*More importantly, government should quickly develop policies and programmes aimed at harnessing the abundant talents, skills and energy of the youths. The #EndSARSProtesters have created a momentum which can be seized to get Nigeria moving fast towards realising her goals and objectives for national development.
*That government should bring to justice officers and men of the Nigerian Army involved in the Lekki massacre.
Members of Penpushing platform believe that their resolutions on this issue are not absolute but should contribute to the ongoing debate on the event of the last two weeks. However, it is imperative that the Government needs to respond quickly and effectively to the young people’s demands by implementing a range of ambitious reforms across the education and skills systems to underpin all sectors of the economy. Lessons must be learnt from the youths, on how we can make lemonade out of the lemon they provided us as a nation.