by Andrew Erakhrumen
In the night of the 20th of October, 2020 and thereafter, hearts were broken, emotions were openly betrayed, with local and international condemnations freely offered, when unverified videos of security personnel purportedly shooting live rounds of ammunition at peaceful protesters camped at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos, Nigeria started circulating, and later became viral, on social media platforms and on the internet. The sights in those videos were unsightly! It was initially unbelievable to us, that the sounds of machine gunshots were from weapons that were not aimed at any internal or external enemies of Nigeria and Nigerians but against unarmed peaceful protesters holding Nigerian flags and singing the national anthem. It couldnt be, some people argued! Denials came, as usual, from those whose hands we entrusted our security into. It was a ding-dong affair for days concerning the truth behind these alleged shootings, of peaceful protesters at the Lekki tollgate, by “our own security forces. We still do not want to believe, that the same weapons bought by the Nigerian people have been used against them. No! No!! No!!! We do not want to believe, even with information emanating from the military that they intervened to restore normalcy based on the request from the Lagos State Government as ..the situation was fast degenerating into anarchy.
Undoubtedly, there were unpleasant incidents, some with gory descriptions, in parts of the country, where discontented (or disgruntled?) people described (rightly or wrongly) as miscreants/hoodlums, descended heavily on some publicly and privately owned properties, as resources to be plundered. These invading mobs, with the intent to pillage, and commit arson against, public and private properties, tend to have been spawned by the alleged shootings and other earlier strong arm tactics adopted by the government. Simultaneously, these undesirable mob actions also seem to give a level of (rationalisation) for governments high-handedness. It must be clearly stated that these lootings and arson are reprehensible, and as such condemned, by right thinking citizens even as government and its agencies have been fingered to be complicit in these unfortunate calamities. For instance, it is in the public domain although not acceptable that one of the major public properties being attacked by these looters and arsonists are locations harbouring what they described as palliatives meant for the vulnerable people during the country-wide lockdown and compulsory stay-at-home that resulted from the ravaging coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The belief widely exists that the said palliatives were horded, for unknown reason(s), by politicians and some state governments.
Irrespective of the belief that those people mentioned earlier hoarded the palliatives (rumoured to have been corroborated by a high ranking government official), there were similar attacks on private business entities and warehouses. In the eyes of the law, there may not be a good justification for resorting to this kind of self help” by engaging in looting and arson. Apart from this, the peaceful street protests were initially against the excesses, recklessness and brutality of a notorious arm of the Nigeria Police known as Special Anti-Robbery Squad SARS. The scope of the peaceful street protests was later expanded to address the entrenched malaise in the Nigerian governance structure, but was exploited by some people to perpetrate heinous acts of looting and arson. While the peaceful protesters were engaging in constitutionally recognised freedom of expression, within the confines of law and order, the other people planned and carried out looting and arson. The question is: What is the difference between them (the looters and arsonists) and those in, and out of, government who are currently looting and/or earlier looted this countrys wealth? Yes, they say a hungry man is an angry man, and may not be able to think clearly. Even so, there are unverified claims that there were persons, not known to be “hungry”, who participated in the rendezvous for these lootings and arson.
The implication of the foregoing is that there seems, and apparently so, to be an almost perennial case of we against them between those in government and those being governed in Nigeria. This scenario has been in existence as far as we can situate it but can be more comfortably situated for the sake of this interaction within and after the colonial period in the erstwhile protectorates and the resulting country put together since 1914. The aim here is not to extensively interrogate this aspect of our history but to briefly note that this phenomenon of we against them between those in government and those being governed in the country had its roots, just before, and within, this historical epoch. This can be captured by quoting Walter Rodney (19421980) where he states that .. [In Europe] the peasantry had been brutally destroyed and the labour of men, women and children was ruthlessly exploited. Those were the great social evils of the capitalist system.. but, on the issue of comparative economics, the relevant fact is that what was a slight difference when the Portuguese sailed to West Africa in 1444 was a huge gap by the time that European robber statesmen sat down in Berlin 440 years later to decide who should steal which parts of Africa”.
From that point described by Rodney onwards, these geographical entities, encompassed by artificially created boundaries, not delineated in conjunction with people living within them, were never seen beyond being conquered/occupied territories by colonialists. Consequently, the colonial governments, and their successors, after attaining what they termed as independence, established and sustained occupying forces (police, military and paramilitary) whose trainings and orientation centred on loyalty to those in government as against the country and its people whose resources are used in funding the countrys security apparatus. This is why we agree with Frantz Fanon (19251961) that ..it is a common place to observe and to say in the majority of cases, ninety-five percent of the population of under-developed countries, independence brings no immediate change. Certainly, it is not totally the fault of Nigerian security personnel because they are to obey the last command even as we know that few unscrupulous ones among them abuse instructions. The people who found themselves in, or forced their way into, power see their interests as mirror images of their national interest pushing these interests, for realisation, using resources from the public till.
To prevent questioning from, and accountability to, the people they govern, these vagabonds in power, as they were referred to by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (19381997), also use the publicly funded security apparatus to intimidate and coerce the commoners into submission. The common people, mostly poor and helpless, with the short end of the stick, resorted and rightly so to seeing their governments as oppressors and anything associated with them as oppressing. Unfortunately, sometimes, those in private business, especially those linked to government, may be wrongly perceived as the same as, and/or appendages of, their oppressive governments. Regrettably, but not unexpected, this is where we are, today, as a people. If truth must be told, the relationship just described is one of the reasons behind the highly condemnable lootings and arson. This struggle, simplistically described above, between the contending forces (classically described, by the Marxists, as class struggle) has been on, for long, even if we did not, and still do not, acknowledge it, as African governments like living in denial. The struggle becomes more complex when participants cross from one side of the clear divide to the other, based on conditions and realities.
Nevertheless, one significant defining distinction (although not a final distinction in itself) is that the people in government today are the same people privileged to be in power, or in the corridors and bedrooms of power, since 1966 when they were in their 20s and 30s. They have only been able to incorporate some younger clones (mostly from close relatives and associates) into the government they, clearly, currently own and are obviously fighting tooth and nail to retain. These are people deceiving themselves that the children, in the 1960s and 1970s, would be the leaders of tomorrow. The tomorrow has come, now, but they refused to leave the stage. They are changing the rules when the game has started! The youths of the 60s are still the “youth leaders” in 2000s! They are within the political space where septuagenarians are holding the position of “youth leaders” while those in their 20s and 30s are standing well-well with weapons, to serve as political thugs. There are some of these thugs that have been educated but are carefully and systematically marginalised by the same damning repressive Nigerian politico-economic system. Some of them have gone into social vices to keep body and soul together while others have found their way out of the country.
A country and its leaders, that deliberately, by their actions and/or inactions, through poor state institutions that are not intended to be improved upon, keep the teeming young vibrant population in a state of political and economic disempowerment, risk the kind of recently organised peaceful street protests that were exploited, unfortunately, by those described as miscreants/hoodlums. These disenchanted groups of people are unnecessarily plentiful in todays Nigeria. Go to the north, south, east and west of the country; the story is practically the same with different intensities. The peaceful protesters have been able to learn from democracies in other climes that peaceful protests are viable means of getting this kind of government in Nigeria to hear their voices. Of course, their voices were “heard” but not without the vain arrogance associated with all Nigerian governments. This is the reason for our conclusion in an earlier article that [The peaceful street protesters] are Nigerian citizens born shortly before, and during, this democratic dispensation. Many of them have acquired digital and other valuable skills but they have not been given the deserved opportunity by the Nigerian state. Intimidating these peaceful protesters, using the military, will not work in the long run. If the people in government do not know this by now, we will like them to know, very swiftly.”
Obviously, the advice above did not make sense to people in government. That is why, going back to where we started from in this article, they still went ahead to “allegedly” deploy personnel in military fatigues to shoot at peaceful protesters camped at Lekki tollgate. Investigations are still ongoing on what is already an “open secret”. We are awaiting the outcomes of these investigations and those of the Judicial Panels of Inquiry. We do not want to, so we will not, pre-empt anything now, accordingly, we stop here on this Lekki tollgate matter. We cannot stop, just like that, without reminding ourselves that police brutality and systematic oppression are not unique to Nigeria. It is experienced, within and among people(s) with same and different skin complexion(s), at different scales. This is what some of us discovered listening to “Sound of da Police, one of the rap lyrics done by KRS-One (Lawrence Parker). This rap, done in 1993, and similar others before and after it, criticise age-long systematised and systemic oppression leading to death, for example, of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA on 25th of May, 2020. A very similar event, which did not lead to death, also occurred on 16th of July, 2020, in north London, UK, where footage showed a police officer kneeling on the side of a suspects head and neck. We do not intend to racialise this argument.
If the scenario concerning police brutality, painted above, can still occur, for example, in this age, in USAs and UKs early 21st century, it therefore means that more work, expectedly, need to be done in Nigeria, beyond the #EndSARS, #EndSARSNow and #EndSWAT peaceful street protests. If there can be #BlackLivesMatter in 2020 USA, then we should brace up to face the reality that Nigeria, with weak institutions, is a serious work in progress. We are not only to see the Men at Work signs; men/women must really be visibly at work as Nigeria is precariously hanging in the balance. Quickly, what does Lawrence Parker mean by this stage name, KRS-One? Simply, it means Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone, (with emphasis on knowledge). Taking a cue from this, the youths need to acquire more knowledge. We are very careful with the word “youth” here because there are those that have been youths since the 1960s, there are those that are youths by engaging in brigandage and hooliganism, there are youths who hear nothing and say nothing about prospects for developing this country, there are youths” who are only interested in inanities, there are youths whose interests are to abuse substances like drugs, and there are youths genuinely interested in this countrys future their future. Yes, it is their future!
The last group of youths mentioned above and those that will be converted, genuinely, into their ranks, within the country and those in Diaspora, embittered by what is happening in, but envisioning a glowing future for, Nigeria, are the ones being advised here. Let us derive some knowledge from the words of Wole Soyinka, a professor of comparative literature, where he states that ..we need not wait to be visited or infiltrated by beings from outer space to arrive at the state of fear and loathing that is associated with being manipulated by a force outside our own will And we do know that in order to ensure absolute submission, that alien force must first lay a track of fear on which it rolls its juggernaut of domination For a start, power takes away the freedom of the other and replaces it with fear”. The point, here, is that the youths, through the civil peaceful street protests in parts of the country, have been able to demonstrate that they have successfully broken the shackles, known as fear, used for a long time, in restraining the people of Nigeria. This is what the Gani Fawehinmis, Beko Ransome-Kutis, Festus Iyayis, Bagauda Kalthos, Ola Onis, Chima Ubanis, and many others, have been fighting to achieve for decades. Unfortunately, the struggle is not over!
Struggles should be kept alive because the Nigerian ruling class may have been caught off guard, for now, with the civil peaceful protests but they are not remaining asleep. They have gone back to the drawing board to fine tune their strategies. These strategies simply revolve round dividing the ranks of the youths through distraction by tokenism and returning the manacles through the back door. We need not be reminded of this because history has recorded similar cases worldwide while antecedents of governments in this part of the world also support this fact. Please, be assured that very soon government and its agents will dangle cheap carrots (e.g. N75bn) to some youths to be corrupted including unsustainable and never meant to be sustainable short-sighted poverty alleviation programmes. If these fail, they will go for the strategy they are best known for: The use of brutal force, a stratagem already gradually unfolding with Nigerian soldiers occupying our roads and streets to maintain law and order. These soldiers are also engaging in some of .. the bad and the ugly our Nigeria Police (and SARS) were accused of, that eventually led to the #EndSARS peaceful street protests. The mindset of most of these soldiers, as described earlier, (although some of them are very courteous), is that of occupying soldiers soldiering in an occupied territory.
Apart from the governments strategies stated above, already known to us, the youths who want to retrieve and control their future should expect and prepare for social and traditional media censorship with the aim of gagging them and those media. In addition, indiscriminate arrests and prosecutions should not be unexpected. It is important that the social media and internet should be used responsibly and in healthy ways. Well meaning Nigerians and traditional media, particularly radio and television, should assist through their reach and programmes to call out, based on verified facts, people identified to be generating and spreading fake news and hate speech. In order to be able to navigate these stormy waters, knowledge, as we stated earlier, is required and proper education is a prerequisite for acquiring it. This takes us to the issue of Nigerian public universities that have been without real academic activities since 23rd of March, 2020. Universities, worldwide, are where universal knowledge is supposed to be generated, nurtured and disseminated in order to dispel ignorance. However, a serious government “opened its eyes” and allowed university scholars (do government see them as such?) to down tools for agreements government freely entered into with them. Where else, today, does this kind of irresponsibility by government occur, if not in Nigeria?
Please, let us simply limit our arguments to the continent of Africa. Some of the African countries such as Egypt, Ghana and South Africa, where Nigerian government functionaries and their cronies are currently training their children and wards, (with resources obtained from the public till), do not allocate anything less than 20% of their annual budgetary allocation to their education sector. What about the emoluments for university scholars in these places? Compare those emoluments with that of a Nigerian professor who go home with less than N400,000.00 (about $1,000.00) monthly. Take home pay that cannot take one home! Reader of this article can use the African average for analysis. We will not go far into this aspect of our discussion in order not to lose focus. Information regarding the foregoing is freely available and verifiable, even on the internet. We need to state, again, that we are not talking about universities out of Africa. However, agents of the neo-colonialists, interested in encouraging Africans to remain in darkness, caused by perpetual ignorance, will be floating nefarious and vapid ideas that governments have no business funding public education in developing (under-developing) countries. It is tragic that some Africans are buying into this misinformation when governments in their (developed) countries still actively fund public education, as we speak.
In explaining some of the neo-colonialists agenda, we will quote Comrade Omotoye Olorode: “neo-liberalism with its capitalist globalisation is built on exploitation; it generates poverty, violence and social crisis among nations and within nations.. [Neo-liberalism] came into full bloom in the 1980s and 1990s. Its ideological elements were less government, individualism, private enterprise and privatisation, deregulation, trade liberalisation, devaluation of national currencies, removal of subsidies and reduction of the public sector and public-sector spending on social services (housing, health-care provisioning, education etc.)”. These are some of the tools deployed by the imperialists/colonialists and their African collaborators to ensure that Africa do not develop. However, as Africans, (concerning imperialism/neo-colonialism), we need to look inwards and ask ourselves salient questions. Examples: If some people think, and say, that you are brainless and incapable of thinking for yourself and after examination of realities, you prove them correct, whose fault is it? If because you have demonstrated that you are incapable of thinking, nor ready to do this by, and for, yourself, and someone put himself/herself forward, arrogantly, to think for you, whose fault is it? We have always argued that if you cannot think for yourself someone will do it for you!
Let it be put on record that one of the reasons for this intervention is to challenge the youths toward interrogating the false but seemingly true narrative that the best way to hide information from blacks” is to put it in black and white. They should not allow history to be revised, for them, by those who want to permanently hide their crimes against the people, and the state. They need to dig deep, ask vital questions from the right sources, and seek knowledge that will assist this countrys, and their own, future. This is part of the quest for education we have been advancing. Youths should not accept those that ran this country aground as role models, anymore. They should not allow themselves to be divided, using state of origin, tribes and religion. As we were saying before now, Nigerian governments (state and federal) MUST fund public education! There is no two ways about it! Nigeria, undoubtedly, has the wherewithal for this compulsory endeavour. We are not fooled, so, do not let anyone fool you that this country, Nigeria, cannot afford to fund public education. Facts and figures have been presented, severally, to the different levels of governments, by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Nigerian governments know where the resources, which can be productively channelled into education, are, and how they are continuously being frittered away.
The governments (past and present) are always in the mode of deceiving the public through deliberate misinformation and finger pointing. For instance, the current Minister of Education in Nigeria, Malam Adamu Adamu, was quoted in newspapers to have purportedly stated that the insolvable problem that had resulted in incessant strikes by ASUU was that a government in this country went and sat down with ASUU and agreed on some conditions that it would pay universities N1.3 trillion. This statement is not only deceptive but also clearly deflective from the complete truth! Putting it rightly, in 2012, Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and ASUU jointly conducted NEEDS assessment in federal universities and found that these universities would need at least the said sum spread over five years for their revitalisation. The assessment was done when FGN continuously found ASUUs long-standing position, concerning poor condition of our public universities, unbelievable. Truth was deciphered, unwillingly, by them, back in 2012/2013. Quoting him again: I think the basic problem between .. ASUU side and .. Government side has been deciding on what to do about this N1.3 trillion”. Nonetheless, it sounds good, if the minister was correctly quoted, that: “If a government appends its signature to an agreement, it is an agreement.
This is a country where government blatantly use public funds to bail out banks, electricity distribution companies and airlines operators which are well known to be their private investments. It is in this same country that monetary resources meant for COVID-19 emergency were used for reasons other than what they were meant for. There are current allegations of tear-inducing corrupt practices surrounding the COVID-19 emergency funds which will definitely be brought to the fore in the nearest future. Perhaps, the people in government think that we are still in the 60s and 70s when information were deliberately and easily hidden away and made unavailable to the public. They want to continually hoodwink the public and sustain a system, according to Vanguard Newspaper Editorial of 4th of November, 2020, ..that has only produced mass poverty, endemic corruption, inept governance, mutual hatred and killed the aspirations of the Nigerian youth. The government, through Dr. Chris Ngige, is giving the public the impression that it is awarding ASUU free money by making ambiguous statements. Let it be said again that the demands of ASUU are all products of collective bargaining and not what to be begged for, or be used as propaganda tool. The fund for university revitalisation is not going into ASUUs pocket, so the blackmails must stop!
Let us conclude this discussion by, once again, encouraging the Nigerian youths both within the country and in Diaspora. We are referring to those with positive plans toward the future development of this country. These youths should not be unmindful of the central role of educational institutions, particularly universities, in the pursuit of national development. Therefore, in addition to their efforts, they need to support ASUU in its advocacies and struggles to ensure that the fast collapsing public universities are rescued from the impending total collapse. They should remember that those of them within the country alone make up more than 50% of the countrys population of roughly 200 million. This population is significant enough to make the necessary changes we desire. Thus, struggle against the wicked insensitive ruling class should not be done through unproductive violent take-over of government, as some initiated in 1966 terminating in 1999, but through intellectual revolution which, surely, requires education. Nigeria is under civil rule, so we will like to ask the youths: Do you have your Permanent Voters Card (PVC)? If you do not have your PVC, go and obtain yours, now, so that together we can flush these clueless leaders, out, come 2023.
Andrew Erakhrumen PhD is of the
Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria