This is a moment of sadness in Nigeria’s history. Eyes are filled with tears. And the hearts of many concerned citizens are heavy with grief. I had silently prayed for things not to degenerate to this level. But here we are. Today, I bemoan my nation, Nigeria, the country that wastes its best and pampers its criminals.
For the first time, I saw fear in my children. They just couldn’t believe it. I had tried my best to explain to them how unreasonable people holding trust for us in this country could be but apparently they didn’t get my point. Their reaction to the shooting at Lagos Lekki Toll Gate on Tuesday night showed that they didn’t get my earlier admonition. They kept asking me, as they saw different videos of security operatives opening fire on youths, if what they were seeing were indeed true. At the end of the day, everybody kept to themselves. They just couldn’t imagine living in a country that is being run like a zoo. I soon realised that my children were not the only set of youths in shock over the happenings in the country in the last few days. As a matter of fact, a report by Franktalknow.com shows that many Nigerian youths are having a similar experience. You can’t blame them. Many of them belong to either the Z generation or are millennial. It is probably their first time of experiencing a thing like this in their country.
Why are we this brutal to ourselves? And how do we explain our own contradictions as a nation? A country that can be so forgiving and generous to the extent of proposing a bill to send Boko Haram insurgents abroad for foreign study with taxpayers’ money even when it is obvious that such a venture may end up being a waste of resources. This is a country that treats bandits with kid gloves and begs them to have mercy on their victims -- a country where governors negotiate with bandits. This is a country where an Inspector General of Police could flagrantly disobey the President’s order to move to a state to restore order and forestall further attacks on villagers by suspected herdsmen. Yet the same country does not see anything wrong in deploying soldiers to fight peaceful protesters who were merely protesting against police brutality. Our security forces are afraid of confronting bandits, insurgents, kidnappers and other criminal elements in the society but eager to kill the weak and innocent. I have read accounts of people that claim the protesters were stretching their luck too far and that the government could not afford to keep watching them. Probably, such people should be reminded of the ongoing protest in Hong Kong which has been on for more than a year. The country is yet to open fire on these protesters.
For me, the events of the past few days have further proved the ineptitude of our leaders. It seems all that goes on in their brains is how to remain in power. They view all actions as being political, so they take rash decisions in their desperation to retain their positions. Unfortunately for us as a nation, we have a culture of subservience to our leaders. The leaders think they are too big to be questioned and the led have grown accustomed to swallowing everything they are served no matter how unpalatable. This is the culture that the protesting youths were trying to challenge.
It is a pity that deaths and bloodshed were all these youths could get for daring to challenge our culture of silence in the face of repression. The preponderance of opinion among these protesters is that this is their first time asking the government for anything. They said they never bothered the government when they had to buy their own generators for power supply, construct boreholes for water or provide other infrastructural facilities for themselves. They said they have not even forced the government to provide seats for them to sit in classes or toilet facilities or libraries. They have learnt how to cope without these basic amenities. To them, all they wanted was to feel safe in their own country and all they got was massacre.
I am more concerned about the mental health of these youths. One of the characteristics of the Z generation is that they are easily stressed and depressed. Already, the Coalition of Mental Health Professionals in Nigeria is circulating contact details of counsellors and therapists that youths could reach to protect their mental health. Many of these youths are probably in their mid-20s and early 30s. They’ve not seen a major uprising against the government before. Their idea of protest is most likely what they see in organised countries. And since they don’t see these countries killing their youths, they can’t imagine that their own government is sending soldiers to kill them. The last major bloody national protest in Nigeria happened in the 90s over the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election. Many of these youths were not born then and the ones born were probably too young to participate in the protest. Unfortunately for them, the Federal Government has removed history from the school curriculum. The subject was replaced with social studies and government. Meanwhile, these subjects cannot replace History as they teach things of the present whereas history is about studying events of the past in order to build our today and prepare us for tomorrow. Many of these youths don’t even know anything about the June 12 struggle. Can you imagine one of them telling me that the Lekki massacre was the worst thing that had ever happened in Nigeria? That tells you their level of ignorance of historical matters in this country.
One can only imagine the mental stress many of these youths are going through now, especially with stories like that of a Computer Science undergraduate of a federal university killed in this melee. This was someone who had written his final exam as far back as January and who should have gone for his mandatory one-year National Youth Corps Service but for the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). He was only waiting for the union to call off its strike so that he could complete his clearance. He was reportedly killed while sitting inside his compound on Wednesday. A few hours before his death, he had tweeted, “Nigeria will not end me”.
How can a government hate its people with so much passion? The soldiers in Sambisa Forest are complaining of lack of equipment to fight insurgents; they are being killed daily. Some of them are committing suicide in frustration. There are kidnappers all over the country terrorising, abducting, raping, killing and collecting ransom from their victims. Our security operatives are too weak in dealing with such; but very strong in rolling out military tanks against peaceful protesters. This was after the government had deceived them that they had the right to protest. They opened fire on protesters and described them as miscreants. Now, what on earth could make a government fighting miscreants send people to switch off the cameras, wiring and lighting at the Lekki toll gate before sending gunmen to kill peaceful protesters? And the same government still has the effrontery to tell the citizens that the shootings were measures beyond his control!
Is it not ironic that the youths’ agitation is centred round ending brutality and part of the reasons why they refused to leave the streets was because they were not convinced that the government was serious about the few pronouncements it made. The youths asked the government to end brutality and the government showed them the kind of brutality that they couldn’t imagine in their lives. Even if the protests have been hijacked as claimed by the government and its sympathisers, where is it written in our law books that miscreants should be killed extra judicially?
Now, hoodlums have hijacked the protest from the organised youths. Interestingly, we didn’t see this level of chaos and destruction before the so-called security operatives were called in to restore order. Yes, the real miscreants have taken over-the miscreants that come out of state vehicles to attack peaceful protesters. And as usual, our leaders will soon start negotiating with them. The miscreants needed to open the prison doors for their colleagues; they must unleash terror and arson. After all, they too have a right to protest. They are Nigerians and the creation of our system.
Nonetheless, it is worth emphasising that what we have seen in the last few days in Lagos especially is a clear case of poor leadership. One of the attributes of good leadership is the ability to predict the outcome of actions before they happen. This helps in determining the decisions to take and the ones to avoid. That is the essence of critical analysis. Anyway, there is no point crying over spilt milk. The deed has been done; we can only hope that our leaders will have the humility to learn from their misdeeds.
To the Nigerian youths, I salute your courage, hope and trust in this country. Let’s continue to be optimistic that the blood of the innocent would not be shed in vain and that we will all see a better Nigeria of our dream.
Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the Editor-in-Chief, Franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: [email protected]