By Lateef Adewole
Nigerians are very interesting people. Whenever there is any issue that bothers on the country, we usually have those who are for and against. A sizeable number are unconcerned. One common trait about the two extreme sides is their tendencies to be blinded by their positions. They can argue and defend their stand even in the face of contrary evidence. Another is the shallowness of the thinking that goes into such positions sometimes.
Oftentimes, they are quick to condemn others who have difference of opinion to theirs. The worst situation is when politics is involved. As we have those who hail government of President Buhari, so also we have those who “wail” about it. These two groups are always at loggerheads. Many public commentators like me are categorised along the same divide as well, depending on how their opinions about government activities are perceived, even if they do not belong to any political party.
Like me, who in most of my writings, called the attention of the government and public to things that I felt were going wrong, not properly done or could have been done better by the government, has most times been seen as a critic of this administration. Some go as far as ignorantly calling me “paid agent” of opposition or a PDP member. These always amused me. However, I am resolute that no such cheap blackmail will shut me up. Nigeria belongs to all of us, and I have no other country I can call my own.
It is in such premise that I am always called out whenever any incident happens that seemingly contradicts my positions in whatever I have written in the past. Such was case of the “Freedom Convoy” palava that Canada battled for over three weeks and the response of the Canadian government, and their political leaders to it. This was due to my opinions about the EndSars protest that rocked Nigeria in October 2020. I have been inundated with many tweets and comments from the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, the Deputy, and some others. As well as the press release by our very own Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed.
Truly, Alhaji Lai Muhammed’s press release was concise and it gave substantial “gig” to the “anti-Endsars” groups. It was another missile in their armoury (lol). However, those who rushed to gloat or grandstand based on all that transpired in Canada might be suffering from lack of deep thinking, mischief or outright ignorance. This is because, rather than take time to put things in perspective, they are quick to jump in the fray. It is like what the Yorubas usually say that: “amunkun, eru re wo. O ni oke le n wo, e ko wo isale” (a lame with bended knee was told that the load on his head is not straight, he responded that they were only looking up without looking down). I will like to contextualise these issues.
Let me restate my positions on the EndSars protest, for fear of being misunderstood, misquoted, or misrepresented, innocently, deliberately or mischievously. One, freedom to peacefully protest is a fundamental right of Nigerians. So, I did not see any unlawful act in the peaceful gathering and protest by protesters who protested peacefully during the Endsars. Two. I condemned unequivocally, any act of violence against persons or destruction of lives and properties, whether those of security agents or civilians, by either the security agents or protesters or anyone.
Three. Real Endsars protesters were peaceful for many days they protested. It was hired thugs wielding dangerous weapons, as seen in many viral videos, coming out of some tinted glass jeeps in Abuja and BRT buses in Lagos, who attacked the protesters and attempted to distrupt the rallies. Four. The most peaceful and well conducted rally was held at Lekki tollgate. Five. The coming and shootings of protesters on the night of 20th of October, 2020, by the Army, caused the chaos that erupted afterwards, rightly or otherwise. Police officers were accused of coming to aggravate the situation after the army left. Six. There was unresolved claim of deaths of protesters by those on ground zero but the army denied it. It’s their words against each other. That said.
What was the Freedom Convoy all about? It was a protest by hundreds of truck drivers who blocked a critical border road between Canada and USA, and some roads surrounding the the parliamentary building in Ottawa. What were the truckers protesting against? The protest started in opposition to the government’s introduction of a mandate requiring all cross-border truck drivers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This was driven by misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theory.
Could this ever cause such protest in Nigeria? Never! Do we even have the vaccines to compel the whole population to take compulsorily? According to Canadian Trucking Allian, about 90% of Canadian truck drivers were already vaccinated and over 85% of the resident population have been vaccinated. So, those protesting against it were in minority. Also, could the Canadian government’s directive cause deaths? Of course not. It was even made as a prevention of unnecessary deaths from the coronavirus.
This is unlike Endsars protest, which was triggered by merciless, endless and unconstitutional harassment, intimidation, assaults, maiming and killings of many innocent Nigerians, by the now disbanded notorious police unit called Special Anti-Robbery Squard (SARS) and general police brutalities. Anyone who watched the various panels set up to address the various cases of police brutalities across the country last year, would understand why the protest eventually happened. Could such endless brutalities have happened against Canadian citizens by security agents, and nothing would have been done by Canadian government, but allowed them to fester for many years, as seen in the case with the Nigerian government?
Police brutality was also preponderant to the extent that anyone and everyone was at risk, particularly young people, who became “endangered species”. Any semblance of good life seen in them was red flag to the police. Possession of good phones, laptops, to be well-dressed in good shoes and clothes, driving cars and so on, were the identification marks. How did these amount to being a criminal? That’s what many Nigerians citizens endured for years, with many lives lost in the process. I don’t want to start recounting incidents and names. How did protest against all these atrocious behaviours of our security agents comparable to Freedom Convoy protest about vaccination in Canada? EndSars protest became imperative.
One recurring criticism against the EndSars protesters was their blocking of some roads, and preventing others who were not part of them from accessing the roads for use, similar to one of the reasons given by the Canadian leaders. Personally, I will not condone inconveniencing others by any protester. Even though, that happened only in some locations like Alausa, Lekki tollgate, Lagos expressway, etc. It was not as if the whole Lagos was shut down. At the beginning, in most parts of Lagos, people were carrying on with their normal lives. Same in Abuja and other states.
However, I see this as hypocrisy, coming from the government of the day and their officials like Alhaji Lai Muhammed, as well as their supporters. This is because, when it comes to organising and mobilising for protests against successive governments or their agencies, the people and party members in government today are the “masters”. The phenomenon nature of Ojota rally during the protest against the removal of fuel subsidy in 2012 by the Jonathan admnistration cannot be forgotten in a hurry.
Same happened across Nigeria. Didn’t that paralyse the economy of the country and disrupt the lives of the people? Were people who didn’t support the protest not hindered from going on with their lawful duties? Why then are they just seeing that as an issue? Has any protest in Nigeria ever go without its attendant negative consequences? President Buhari, as a candidate of APC even protested in 2014. Same as in 2003. Why are they now scared of “peaceful” protests, same thing they called those ones in the past too?
In some people’s opinion, those Canadian protesters could be likened to “eni ti o yo tan, t’onwa bekunbekun kaakiri” (Someone who is fully fed and then looking for unnecessary trouble). Could people’s living conditions in Canada, when compared to ours, trigger the protest? In fact, those truck drivers are among the highest paid workers in Canada. Was their protest because of bad roads, incessant accidents and deaths as a result? Was it because of hunger, poverty, illiteracy, poor healthcare, lack of power, dilapidated public infrastructures, poor schools, inhuman working conditions, non-payment of workers’ salaries, fuel scarcity, and too many others problems plaguing us in Nigeria, too numerous to mention? No. It was not because of all or any of these but vaccination! That will be ludicrous in Nigeria.
I deliberately did not mention insecurities in my list above because, that one alone is enough to have consumed any government in such country as Canada. If 1% of the killings or kidnappings taking place in Nigeria by bandits and bokoharam haram on daily basis happened in Canada, Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau will not stay a day longer in power. Either he voluntarily resigns in admission of his failure or he will be forced out or impeached. It won’t even need protest from the people before the right thing will be done. But not in my country.
In the face of this breakdown in the security of the country, government officials, party members and their supporters could still shamelessly open their mouths to compare their government’s actions to that of other advanced country like Canada, as in this case. Even when genuine victims of banditry, kidnappings and killings in the north staged peaceful protest last year, didn’t the government unleash their security agents on them? What exactly will be an acceptable reason for the government before citizens could peacefully protest in Nigeria? Shame.
I understand that government wanted to justify their actions during Endsars protest by calling the Canadian government, CNN, Twitter and other international organisations hypocrites for supporting Canadian government against the truckers, contrary to their stands when EndSars happened in Nigeria. My question is: were the causes for the two protests comparable? One was about compulsory vaccination to prevent deaths, while the other was against ceaseless unlawful assaults, maiming and killings of innocent citizens by the Federal Government agents. Let everyone be the judge!
It is advisable and better to let the sleeping dog lies. Nigeria is Nigeria. Canada is Canada. If we could even get close to 25% standard of democracy, governace, and living of Canada, Nigerians wouldn’t be trooping to sleep at the foreign embassies looking for visas, just to “japa” (escape) from their country of birth, including to the same Canada. Haven’t we heard stories of Nigerians preferring to be in prisons abroad than to be free persons in Nigeria? Why? Daily Trust reported few days ago that many Nigerians in Ukraine would rather stay back and die in the ongoing war than return to Nigeria. This should be a serious concern for any responsible government and leaders.
Many Nigerians are tired of staying in Nigeria, except ofcourse, those stealing and squandering our commonwealth, whether directly or indirectly. Such people have every reason to defend this unworking, unworkable and unwieldy system we are running in the country today. Nigeria is not working as presently constituted. Enough of this nonsense.
In all, I know that no matter how much one tries to elucidate some issues of this national concern, some people will not understand or will not want to. That’s their business. My utmost concern is Nigeria and good governance, for the betterment of all of us, and not just for some privileged few in positions of authority. Nigeria is bigger than any party, any individual or any group. Nigeria belongs to all of us.
May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.
God Bless Nigeria.
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