“Freedom is not something that one people can bestow on another as a gift. They claim it as their own and none can keep it from them.” -Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
On October 20, 2020, members of the Nigerian Armed Forces opened fire at peaceful protesters who were demonstrating for the safety of their very lives in the country they called home.
For weeks, the country had been awash with a series of protests on social media and on the streets, demanding an end to the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which had terrorized the lives of Nigerians over the years from rape and unlawful detention to the murder of unsuspecting citizens.
Within the lawful domain of their rights, Nigerians stepped out in record numbers to seek an end to the torturous existence they were being subjected to, yet the most striking response from authorities was a crackdown on their protests fraught with abuse, assault, and yes- cold-blooded murder.
But the events of these last few weeks are only a crescendo of a long chain of happenings. Since 2017, there had been calls for the disbandment of SARS, which were all met with responses of their supposed abolition and police reform.
Through all these, SARS however remained in operation, tormenting the daily lives of Nigerians in the most grotesque ways, uncharacteristic of a democratic jurisdiction. It is now October 2020, and in the month of the commemoration of its independence, Nigerian streets run free with the blood of its people.
This is a crisis worthy of international attention. In a connected world where actions in one state affect another, the international community cannot stay out of this issue merely on the count of sovereignty. The very sovereignty of the Nigerian state and its government is undermined with the furtherance of actors like SARS, whose actions belittle the sovereign freedoms of the Nigerian people.
It is pertinent to speak up against such injustices regardless of where they occur because as a human race bound by the sanctity of life, the violation of and threat to life anywhere is an affront to the very essence of humanity.
And what’s worse, the feeble responses from the state and federal governments against these issues, despite all these protests is an insidious sign of autocracy and a failing democracy.
Despite the relative stability of Africa in recent years, vestiges of the insurgence of such kinds continue to rear their heads across the continent. With all the efforts to enable the democratization of our continent, such occurrences set us back on the path of peace and progress.
As the most populous African nation and the economic powerhouse of the sub-region, we cannot watch unperturbed as Nigeria continues down this path of destruction.
The democratic culture that is needed in Nigeria is not one relevant to the safety and perpetuity of it as a state alone, but for the advancement of many others on the continent.
Nigeria’s influence as a key actor in the ECOWAS and the African Union makes it well-positioned to check relevant matters of political interest within the region. The philosophy underpinning its government would thus have a spillover effect in the affairs of the African people due to regionalization, making it even more essential to ensure that it is within itself as a state, stable and well-positioned.
It is unfortunately worth noting, however, the silence of many leaders across the African continent throughout this crisis. The symbolism of silence in the face of such evil is not just of nonchalance, but tacit moral complicity in the ongoing wrong.
The growing calls for remarks from African leaders were not to signal an invasion or push for any such actions, but to take an unequivocal stance against evil. To say that these actions do not reflect who we are or who we choose to be.
It is essential because the character and spirit of a people are embodied in the character of their leadership. The regrettably protracted silence of many African leaders has proven unhelpful to the solvency of the situation, and implicitly creates an untoward impression about ourselves to the rest of the world, as a people without a central sense of unity.
In a prospective bid to address the situation in conjunction with the Nigerian federal government, we ask that the ECOWAS advocates for accountability for the offenses of SARS against the Nigerian people. We also expect a comprehensive and systematic reform of the entire security service of the country and an absolute disbandment of SARS and all such similar operations.
The government must also aid in seeking redress for families who have lost loved ones in these protests and those who have suffered in some way or the other due to the casualties of the protests.
The recent statement from the incumbent President, H.E. Muhammadu Buhari, was one that sidestepped the core issues surrounding the protest, attempted to create a notion of shared culpability on the part of protesters, and spiraled into different tangents on existent government policies which do not address the prevalent situation.
It is such statements and responses that the Nigerian people have heard times without number and without concrete action. The government must bear full responsibility, commit to pursuing needed action for stability, and guarantee the right to peaceful protest for its people, as is characteristic of a working democracy.
This is an opportunity for Nigeria to rebuild. It is one that the country could redefine into the dawn of reawakening for the correction of wrong, or one that could be forgotten in no time with a return to the old ways of institutional failure.
We stand on the path of the former, in faith that with the best spirits within itself and a common heart beating towards progress, Nigeria will emerge stronger.
“Oh God of creation, direct our noble cause, guide our leaders right. help our youth the truth to know, In love and honesty to grow And living just and true, Great lofty heights attain. To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.” (2nd Stanza, National Anthem of Nigeria).
Source: Solomon Omani-Mensah, Jeremiah Kobby Sekyi, Maureen Kyere