BY CHRIS GYANG
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
- Langston Hughes (1951)
In 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American lady, refused to relinquish her seat in the ‘coloured only’ section of the bus to a white man in the city of Alabama. That set in motion unprecedented events in the civil rights movement which culminated in the desegregation of buses and granting of other rights to African Americans.
In 1989, a Chinese pro-democracy activist dared his country’s communist dictatorship when he confronted a tank in Tiananmen Square. Later, he was fondly referred to as the ‘tank man’. His action drew international attention to the the Chinese Government’s repression of its citizens and the complete absence of democracy and civil liberties in the vast country.
In 2011, a Tunisian fruit seller set himself ablaze in protest against the social, economic and political injustices that were making life unbearable for his fellow countrymen and women. That act of self-imolation ignited the revolution that became known as the ‘Arab Spring’ which swept through Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Today, young men and women all over the world have once again seized the gauntlet and are plodding that difficult road that Rosa, the ‘tank man’, the Tunisian fruit seller and many others before and after them equally took towards restoring hope to the peoples of their various countries and societies.
No doubt, little acts of courage and altruistic sacrifice have the potentials of lighting candles whose lights can brighten the lives of millions, even billions today, tomorrow, even in millenia to come.
From Chile to Belarus, Sudan to Thailand, Mali to Hong Kong, millennials have become the arrowheads of stiff resistance against an assortment of desperate and outdated autocratic dictators, so-called democracies mired in extreme kleptomania, nepotism, abuse of basic human rights and brutality against citizens who dare to speak out.
And, for good or ill (depending on where you stand), Nigerian youth also took the bull by the horns about three weeks ago and joined their peers and compatriots elsewhere in the quest to restore dignity to a world that has been turned upside down by a self-centred few. And our country has not been the same ever since.
THE CATALYST; THE LAST STRAW
It is ironic that Buhari, who ordered the formation of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in 1984 when he was military head of state, is today desperately struggling to contend with the effects of its malignancy 36 years later as civilian president. And, apparently, he has been doing a very very bad job of it – which is to be expected, anyway, going by his anticidents in governance.
Mr. Fulani Kwajafa (an Assistant Commissioner of Police at the time), set up SARS with the sole aim of combatting violent crimes that were becoming widespread, especially in the Lagos area – Nigeria’s capital at the time.
In an interview he granted Jide Babalola of THE NATION newspaper 3 years ago, Kwajafa explained: “SARS was established by me under the directive of the IG, Mr. Etim Iyang, expressly to fight violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping, anything violent. We never went for burglary cases, we didn’t go in for pick-pocketing, market theft and such things.”
Even as far back as three years ago, he was well aware of the rot that had set into the police unit he so concsientiously set up and professionally led to glorious heights in its hay days. He lamented: “It is terrible that, today, when some people suspect someone of chasing their wives, they take the person to SARS and brand him as an armed robber; such nonsense is not what SARS was meant for…. SARS is being misused for selfish interests, especially by politicians….”
And in a recent interview with the BBC’s Focus on Africa after SARS was ‘disbanded’, Mr. Kwajafa declared that he regretted setting up the unit because it had grown into a monster which had turned on the ordinary citizens it was supposed to protect. And with regard to the new SWAT which the government set up to replace SARS, the retired police officer expressed fears that it may also fail if there’s no “change of mentality” on the part of the police and political leaderships.
But the question many Nigerians are still asking is whether the difference between SARS and SWAT is not merely in nomenclature. We shall consider this in more detail later.
The United Nations and many reputable local and international human rights groups have over the years presented well documented evidence about the series of abuses perpetrated by SARS personnel. These range from illegal detention, extra judicial killings to extortion, rape and kidnapping, among others.
Because government’s serial promises to either ‘reform’ or completely scrap this unit had been half-hearted or completely false, SARS continued to gain more noteriety and audacity in perpetrating heinous atrocities. And ordinary citizens, especially the youth, were continually at the receiving end with no hope of any respite coming from the state.
Therefore, it was this abject state of affairs that finally served as the catalyst for the epic protests that broke out which have rocked Nigeria in the past three weeks or so. Essentially, this was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
But as we shall see later, there are other far more fundamental issues at the heart of these patriotic protests than ending SARS’s free reign of terror. And to think otherwise, just as the government and its jaundiced hangers-on are trying to hoodwink unsuspecting Nigerians and the international community into believing, would only amount to temporarily pushing the problem under the carpet. Definitely, if a whollistic approach is not adopted in handling this matter, then we should be ready for even more dreary days ahead.
SWAPPING SARS WITH SWAT: TERRORS OF THE SAME DIFFERENCE
Those who insist that the protesters should have stopped because the Federal Government has met their demands by, first, disbanding SARS and, second, directing states to set up judicial commissions of inquiry to listen to citizens’ cases against SARS operatives must either be trying to be deliberately mischievous or are simply patently ignorant.
To be sure, because the Nigerian state has never showed any sincerity in handling sensitive matters that border on the safety of the lives and the welfare of citizens, most Nigerians realised that scrapping SARS was just a cosmetic measure aimed at temporarily assuaging them. It was a mere salve meant to calm the frayed nerves of protesters to make them get off the streets and stop embarrassing President Buhari, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and leading members of their government.
And as it has repeatedly happened before, the government planned to then surreptitioisly rescind the decision without the knowledge of the people because Nigerians are known to have very short memories. But the government was forced to immediately announce the formation of SWAT when it realised that ‘disbanding’ SARS had not succeeded in deceiving the protesters into abandoning their cause.
But as it has turned out, even the SWAT ruse has woefully failed to quell the fire in the belliies of our resilient and robust protesters. This is because they know that SWAT is simply a regurgitated version of SARS – which many Nigerians believe only makes the same difference. This understanding is also anchored on the benefit of hindsight.
Now, what about the judicial commissions of inquiry? Analysts say that this is yet another deceptive strategy intended to lead citizens into believing that they are being offered a means towards restitution and retributive justice for their horrific experiences in the hands of SARS officers.
But since the Nigerian police is not answerable to a state governor, can the governor exercise any real authority in the trial of an officer over whom he has no constitutional jurisdiction? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Which further exposes government’s lack of sincerity and seriousness over the issues in contention and their unwillingness to take practical, concrete measures to permanently address same.
EXPLOSIONS OF DREAMS DEFERRED
As pointed out above, there is a diliberate attempt by the Buhari administration and some state governments to mislead the world into believing that the protesters are only clamouring for the scrapping to SARS and conviction of complicit officers. This is for from the truth.
The real truth is that the #ENDSARS campaign was simply the rallying cry and symbolism for all the existential challenges threatening the very foundation of Nigeria. Some of these are encapsulated in what most statesmen and commentators have for a long time referred to as lack of true federalism.
This has essentially led to few parts of the country having undue advantages in the distribution of natural and other resources of the commonwealth. As a result, President Buhari has unilaterally made his fellow Muslims heads of 99% of the country’s security institutions and given others choice ministerial portfolios.
The unbridled and shameless corruption of the political and bureaucratic elites is another issue on the front burner. While the nation is daily regaled with reports of government officials, political appointees, parliamentarians, top civil servants, etc, squandering billions of naira, the largest percentage of the youth remain unemployed, university dons have been on strike for the best part of one year because government has failed to meet their basic demands, the country has the largest number of the poorest people and out of school children in the world, etc.
Add to these the almost permanent state of insecurity in the country, Fulani herdsmen’s terrorism (for which not one of them has been brought to justice because they are the president’s tribesmen) and the intractable Boko Haram terrorism, among others, and you will realise that, surely, Nigerians have far more than SARS to contend with and, therefore, protest about.
In short, the very soul of the Nigerian state is in desperate need of a systematic overhaul – what patriots have consistently referred to as restructuring.
It is the fundamental defects inherent in the Nigerian system that have made the dreams of most Nigerians, especially the youth, to be perpetually “deferred.” Thus, the current “explosion” of these dreams through the anti-SARS protests being witnessed in most parts of the country is only a matter of course that was long overdue.
And until the entire superstructure of the country is radically changed in the interest of the greater majority of its citizens, the current “explosion” may well be a mere tip of the iceberg. Then, curfews and lame promises of equally lame reforms will not be enough to diminish to earthquake that would consequently follow.
OF PROTESTERS, BOLA TINUBU, OBASANJO & BISHOP KUKAH
No doubt, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been at the centre of these protests more than most of his other fellow politicians. And this is because the epicenter of the protests has been his main political base – the ever effervescent Lagos and neighbouring states.
But unlike other times when this ‘national leader’ of the ruling APC would bask in his immense political influence and stupendous financial clout and gleefully dish out perks to his minions, the ‘jagaban’ must have prayed for that this terrible cup – the protests – to pass him.
This political heavyweight who earned his hallowed place in Nigeria’s politics through protesting against the Abacha dictatorship is now caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Should he support the protesters who see him as leader and are making just demands from the government he supports or should he continue being subservient to Buhari, who will hand him the crown that would finally make his lifelong dream of becoming Nigeria’s president a reality?
It appears that he chose to take the path that would better his chances of becoming president as he supported government’s use of lethal force on unarmed demonstrators in his beloved Lagos and other parts of the country.
Hear the statement he issued on Tuesday: “The objective of the organisers of the protests is to achieve stated objectives on police reforms, which the government in principle has accepted. It can certainly not be their motive to cause generalised anarchy or effect regime change.
“If they give the impression that that is their goal, then any government will necessarily have to act with requisite decisiveness and force to restore law and order and preserve constitutional rule.
” However, the protesters should must be careful not to set the stage for the erosion or destruction of the same democratic process that gives them the freedom and right to protest in the first place.”
What strikes me most from the above quotation is that parts of the second paragraph have intimations of a coup speech; a throwback to the period of military dictatorship. Ironically, here is a Bola Tinubu, an avowed progressive democrat, using language that smacks of military fiat and diktat to warn aggrieved youth who are today undertaking the very kind of struggle he embarked upon a few decades ago.
But, of course, for Tinubu, the entire tapestry has dramatically changed. Now, by virtue of his wealth and political clout, he is in the vulnerable position Abacha was when he (Tinubu) used NADECO to make governance uncomfortable for him. Now, those youth have assumed Tinubu’s position of those days telling today’s Tinubu and his people in government that it’s time to make real and fundamental changes to the status quo.
But we wonder if the Tinubu of today, so stupendously rich and blinded by the inordinate quest to be president, will hearken to the voice of reason so that he does not go the same way as Abacha.
In his own reaction, which was issued on Wednesday, ex-president Obasanjo truck a reconciliatory note in which he called for understanding between the government and protesters.
While appealing to young Nigerians engaged in the protests to give peace a chance, he condemned the killing of peaceful demonstrators by government forces.
He argued: “The shooting and murder of unarmed protesters, no matter the provocation, has never been effective in suppressing public anger and frustration. Instead, such actions only reinforce the anger and frustration of the populace and close the window of dialogue and peaceful resolution.”
The inimitable Bishop Kukah contended that it’s not right for a president to remain so quiet and passive while innocent citizens were being shot and killed by supposed agents of the state. This, he said, is fraught with great danger for the corporate existence of the country. He made his position known Wednesday in an interview on Channels Television.
“Unfortunately for us,” he stated, “we have a president that seems almost unwilling to respond to the kind of reflexes that show evidence that he is listening to wise counsel…. You cannot kill people on the streets of Nigeria and 24 hours after, the president has still not spoken.”
The Catholic bishop further flayed President Buhari’s lackadaisical attitude to burning national issues: “Now, this culture of ‘I-don’t-care’ has matured to this point were we see corpses on the road and nothing has changed…. Ordinarily, it is not possible that we have this much blood on the streets of Nigeria yet there is no national broadcast, there is no show of sympathy and nobody has lost his job.”
While underscoring the significance of the protests, he warned: “And let the truth be told, we are not going to see the end of this so soon unless and until the president somehow wakes up to the fact that we have a major crisis in our hands.”
As I write, I’m being informed that President Buhari is finally making the much awaited national broadcast.
Could this not be a little bit too late? He may even be making the broadcast merely to placate those cynics who have strainously insisted that he address the nation for close to three weeks now.
Anyway, we should give him the benefit of the doubt and expect that the broadcast will reflect some of the fundamental issues raised above.
If not, the “deferred dreams” of Nigeria’s millennials shall continue to “explode” with even greater verve, intensity and perverseness in the days, weeks, months and years to come.