By UCHE CHRIS
The #ENDSARS protest and its aftermath has become a metaphor for all that is wrong with the nation and a reminder of things we have left undone. Although the protest has ended, its effect has continued to assault all sensitivity in the level of havoc wrecked. The past week has been one expressed by violence, looting and destruction across the country. No Nigerian would be comfortable at the anarchic reactions that trailed the military invasion of the protest venue to violently break-up the #ENDSARS protests, particularly the Lekki shooting.
Sadly government and the Army authorities have been trading blames on who ordered shooting, a clear indication that we have learnt nothing and may end as another ‘Unknown Soldier’ case. Luckily we have video footages of the event, and AI has further proved the complicity and culpability of the parties involved.
A few days before the protests and then the looting, most of our political leaders would never have believed what happened if they were told about it. There is this tendency by Nigerian leaders to assume that certain political and social events common in other countries are impossible here. There was a time Nigerians believed that there could never be a sit-tight leader in this country. Well, that was before IBB came and dribbled everybody for eight years, and left the country worse than he took it.
Then came Abacha, who was not only intent on staying for life by transmuting from military to civilian president; but actually compelled the entire political class to adopt him. After Obasanjo failed with the third term project, we thought there can never be a democratic dictator; well, that was before the coming of President Buhari, who has not only turned the rules of governance on his head, but has also captured all the three arms government and subjected them to himself.
This explains why the protest and the consequent violence and looting caught our leaders on the wrong foot, because the nation has been known for its resilience even in the face of the most intolerable abuse and provocation. Late Kenyan historian and political philosopher, Prof. Ali Mazrui, in The Africans, lamented of this propensity by Nigerians to live with and accept whatever their leaders threw at them. This had happened because of selfish use of ethnicity to divide the people politically.
Unfortunately, President Buhari has come to epitomize this mentality, as he rides roughshod over Nigerians in his messiah and righteous agenda of northernisation in complete disregard to the principles of federalism. But that would not have been a problem if government is effective and alive to its responsibility to the people. Sadly, this government is not notorious in its disregard to basic rules of governance but grossly incompetent to the performance of its duties.
There is no human and economic development index this government has improved on since coming to power. Even the three issues – security, economy and corruption – on which the party based its election have proved unattainable so far. All we have had and heard from them are excuses of how the previous government plundered the country. This comes six years after, and the previous government is still the reason why this government has failed to perform.
Invariably, President Buhari and APC thought that the patience of Nigerians is elastic and could be stretched beyond any limit, believing that what had happened in other countries, even in Africa, is not likely to happen here. Nigerians, he must have reasoned, cannot unite against a common project and take their destiny in their hand. Election outcomes are no more a test of leadership ability and performance, but a reflection of the whim and pleasure of the president. Until the ENDSARS protest!
It was a rude awakening for the government and the violence and looting, especially of government warehouses, is the expression of hunger in the land and anger against an insensitive and uncaring government. We can condemn the violence for all we can, but the truth is that government has failed the people woefully and life has become unbearable for them. A hungry man, they say, is an angry man.
Nigerians are angry because they are hungry, what we have experienced was the rage of anger against the government. It is not about a sense of outrage and indignation by some self righteous politicians that has trailed the looting and destruction, but a call to action.
It was bound to happen, sooner or later, and may still happen again if the right things were not done and quickly too. History teaches that hunger and deprivations are the seed of every revolution and social upheavals. This is the reason most societies or countries pay particular attention to the survival needs of the people, as most people can suffer deprivations of any kind without negative reactions, but hunger is a threat to life; and human endurance of hunger is inelastic.
Perhaps, Nigerians have been resilient because they had never been exposed to a situation of hunger before, as currently stares in them face now. So their reactions should not be surprising, given the destitution that is evident around the country. Government is thinking of railways, airports, expressways etc when the people are hungry and want food.
We need the infrastructure, but they are being built for people, who can survive the present hardship imposed on them for the purpose of those projects. People want bread but they are given stone; they ask for fish they are offered scorpion. A government that cannot feed its people has failed in everything.
Nigeria used to be a country of middle class people, because the oil economy had empowered most people, especially after the Udoji salary award in 1973, which afford them many luxuries of life, such as cars, elite education, good accommodations, foreign holiday, health care etc.
But since 1984 when Gen. Buhari first came to power, the middleclass has been under severe attack, and his second coming has completely obliterated them. The middle class has been pushed to the fringes of survival and the lower class to extreme poverty, which is why the country has become the poverty capital of the world.
It is these set of people, who society has ignored and abandoned that visited mayhem on us last week; and we are complaining. Are we complaining that we have been fair to them in the distribution of the national wealth, which only a small percentage of the society has cornered; or are saying they should not express the anger and the right to survival? We cannot beat a child and insist he should not cry; that is double jeopardy. Those who thought it would never happen in Nigeria have been proved wrong, and now is the time to amend.
Although the protest and the looting have abated, the anger and hunger haven’t; and this we must know, because it is not the end, but just the beginning. The people have discovered their power and the vulnerability and spinelessness of the leaders, so they will never be denied again.